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A Hole to China

According to various blogs and other unreliable internet sources, the phrase “I’m digging a hole to China” first originated in the 1850s when Thoreau commented on a hole his neighbors were digging in their yard. I highly doubt they were actually planning on digging a hole to China, but their true intentions were never documented. This phrase combined with boredom and the desire to escape the mundane life of a 6-year-old led me to dig my own hole.


I don’t remember how I met Lindsay, but we became good friends. She lived down the street and we both owned dogs, which was enough to spark a friendship. One dry summer day, we were kicking the cracked ground in Lindsay’s backyard, mini dust clouds forming, trying to find something more exciting to do than classify bugs based on leg count.


“Want to dig a hole?” Lindsay asked, pulling a foot-long stick from beneath dehydrated brown leaves.


“OK,” I said, thinking it sounded better than staring at centipedes and beetles. “What are we digging a hole for?”


“To go to China,” she said.


I had never been to China, let alone anywhere outside the United States, but I was eager to free myself from school and parental authority to travel abroad. Selecting sturdy sticks with diameters of about half an inch, we chose a spot 10 feet away from the edge of her backyard patio to start the dig. Flakes of dirt skirted out of the way as we thrust our sticks into the ground and scratched a series of nickel-sized dents into the earth. After poking the dirt for another 10 minutes, nothing appeared to have changed. If we had stopped for lunch and came back out later, I don’t think we would have found our digging site. We needed some help.


Lindsay went inside to get a cup of water.


“The water will turn the dirt into mud so that we can see our spot better,” she said, turning the plastic cup upside down, tap water pooling at our toes.


It was easier to dig after that, and we spent the rest of the afternoon stabbing the ground as if we had steel picks instead of blunt tree branches. With mud-covered shoes and the hems of our jeans crusted in dirt, we quit for the day, vowing to continue the next morning.


For the next week, I woke around 9 a.m. and walked across the wide street separating Lindsay’s house from mine. There, we continued to dig, each day getting closer and closer to China. While we dug, we imagined what we would do once we got there. I wanted to play with the red-and-white Chinese dragons and comb my fingers through their Santa Claus beards to see if they were as soft as they looked. Lindsay wanted to eat fried rice and dumplings, claiming Chinese was her favorite food although I had never seen her eat any. And at the end of every day, dirt hanging on the ends of our blond hairs, we set our sticks aside and looked forward to the next morning when we would start again.


Beneath a Maryland sun, heat pressing on our skin, we dove deeper into the earth, making our way through the ground, guessing our way to the Asian country. I imagined walls of soil with roots poking through the ceiling and earthworms sliding in and out of the walls surrounding me. After a week of probing the dirt, we made some real progress, and Lindsay decided we would leave for China the next day.


“We’ll pack tonight and leave in the morning,” she said. “But don’t let your parents find out where we’re going.”


I promised not to say a word and skipped across the street to my house.


That night, I anxiously awaited beneath my comforter for my parents to find their way into bed. Seeing the hall light extinguished and hearing their bedroom door close, I waited another five minutes before slipping onto the carpeted floor next to my bed and crawling to the door. Gently turning the brass knob, I cracked the door and peered into the hallway. Assured by silence and darkness, I stood up in my Winnie the Pooh pajamas and tip-toed downstairs to the kitchen, doing my best to avoid creaky steps and holding my breath when I passed my parents’ room. Underneath the sink were a pile of brown paper bags that my parents had accumulated from the grocery store. I grabbed two and took them back to my room. Using a flashlight to see, I opened the bags and grabbed my most personal belongings to fill them – topping off one bag with my bright green Crayon bank, figuring I would need some money once I got to China. Satisfied by knowing I would have my Matchbox cars and My Little Ponies, I turned off the flashlight and slid back into bed.


The next morning, my mom working at the local hospital and a sales call distracting my dad in his home office, I dragged my brown bags across to Lindsay’s place. I placed them in front of the hole in the backyard and knocked on Lindsay’s patio door.


Opening the door and stepping outside, she said, “What are those for?” and pointed toward my paper suitcases.


“Stuff I’m bringing to China,” I said.


She laughed before saying, “You know we’re not actually going to China, right? We’re just pretending.”


Glancing at the six-inch deep hole, I said, “Oh, I knew that. I’m just pretending too.”


We stopped digging the hole that day.

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