I looked down into that small hole out in the back yard. It was a hole that I had begun digging the day before. I had dug it with the small garden shovel that my mother called a trowel, and that spent most of its time hanging from a nail in the shed.
I remember digging the hole when I heard my dad talking about a gas shortage and something about the Chinese. I said to my cousin that I might try to dig all the way to China, as I was intrigued after my dad had been talking about it. My cousin assured me that it would not work, as he and a friend had tried doing the exact same thing last week and they had no luck. “You end up in India,” my cousin said, “and they don't speak any English there.”
I got myself ready for the dig and for the trip, nonetheless. I packed a small bag with some necessary items, including some adhesive bandages, the flashlight that I took from a drawer in my mother's sewing room, and a couple of pixie sticks. I figured that the pure cherry-flavored sugar would keep me well fueled for the journey and might also make good trade items for bartering with the Chinese or the Indians – pixie sticks were probably legal tender anywhere you might go.
There were a couple of things that I didn't put in my bag that I could have but decided against. I did not take a firearm, although I considered packing the rubber band gun that my brother had made for me out of a wooden ruler. I did not take with me any of my G.I. Joes, although I thought they might have been good company. I did not take any of the pencil drawings that I had made while watching The Flip Wilson Show, nor the not-even-close-to-scale model that I had made of the World Trade Center (which had opened that very spring!) that I thought might be a nice peace offering to the Chinese. I understood little about geopolitical affairs, you see.
And so I stood there on the edge of the small hole that I had begun the day before, and the spirit of adventure percolated just below the surface of my heart. My sweaty little grip on the garden trowel tightened.
“Tommy! Come and get cleaned up! It's time for dinner!” Mom was leaning out the back door, calling to me.
I could smell the casserole. Even out here in the back yard, on the very edge of my journey through the earth, I could smell my mother's casserole coming out of the oven.
A little later, over dinner, my dad said that Secretariat had won the triple crown. I had no idea what that meant. “So, Tomaszu, what did you find out in the yard today?” he asked. He always called me that when he was having a really good day. I didn't appreciate it until I was nearly 30. I didn't miss it until I was 42.
“Oh, nothing,” I replied.
“You know what they say,” he said, smiling at me, “if you dig deep enough, you might get all the way to China.”