I’ve been told many times that to be successful at anything hard work is much more important than luck. Sometimes though, luck is much more important. For instance, quite awhile ago there was a girl in my neighborhood who would be playing baseball, basketball, and football with the boys if she was born 12 years ago, rather than back when I was a kid. I’ve forgotten her name mostly because even though she was my age, she went to a different school and I only knew her for a few weeks. I’ll call her Susie.
Susie was quite pretty: blonde, blue eyes, some freckles, but she was tough and I imagine most of the boys who knew her well were afraid of her. I hardly knew her at all, but I was afraid of her.
One 5th grade day during recess, when I got out to the playground I walked into this conversation between some of my classmates.
“You’re kidding! She didn’t really?”
“She did. She did. She conked him right on the head.”
“Jimmy, naw? Nobody conks Jimmy and gets away with it.”
“I told you she did. Susie walked right up to him, said somethin‘ to him, I don’t know what, then hauled right off and smacked ‘im in the mouth. Flattened ‘im right there in front of everybody. Then she just turns and walks away. Jimmy‘s layin’ there in the dirt, tryin‘ to hide his mouth, but we can see there’s blood comin‘ from it.”
“And he didn’t do nothin‘?”
“Nothin‘ at all. What’s he gonna do? She’s a girl.”
Jimmy Wilton, was a tough, spunky guy. If somebody pushed or hit him, he’d push or hit back… and he was strong. He was one of the leaders of my elementary school class, mostly because he was funny and brash. You wanted Jimmy to like you, and if you were honest with him, he usually did. If you didn’t bother him, he didn’t bother you. You didn’t want to get on his bad side, though.
Susie on the other hand was a bully. From the little I knew about her she was mean and nasty. She’d hit or kick or spit on just about anybody for getting too close to her. She also knew and used every dirty word any of us knew and a few some of us only imagined we knew.
Jimmy never said what happened between them, but it was said that after that he did his best to avoid her. If she was walking down the street toward him, he crossed to the other side.
During the summer between fifth and sixth grades we moved into a new neighborhood. As it turned out, it was Susie’s neighborhood. Until we moved I had no idea who she was. There was the Jimmy story and other stories I’d heard about her, but if I saw her I wouldn’t have guessed. She didn’t look at all like the girl I’d pictured in my mind… a muscular, ragged, scowling beast.
The house was brand new; no grass in the yard, no shrubbery, no trees, just dirt… so much dirt that there was a hill of it, twelve feet high. It was left there from the basement excavations of our house and the house behind ours. It was a great place to live as far as my brothers and I were concerned. Not only was the yard a place where we didn’t have to worry about digging up the grass, much less cutting it, but that pile of dirt was its own playground. With it in our yard we didn’t need the playground across the street.
At first the hill was a challenge to climb because the dirt was still fresh and loose. It didn’t take us long to pack the dirt thanks to the daily pounding it took from our feet.
We’d been there a couple weeks when one of us noticed a small indentation in the side of the hill and started digging at it, making a small hole. We saw the beginnings of a cave, a secret hideaway, an underground clubhouse. We went to work with our mom’s garden tools and a small bucket, hauling dirt. It took us most of a Saturday, but by the end of the day there was a cave big enough for the three of us. I found a piece of plywood and nailed a rope handle to it so we could pull it behind us to cover the entrance. It was our secret hideout.
There wasn’t much to be secret about. I barely remember what we did or what we talked about while we sat in there. It was just fun to sit in the cool darkness and giggle at each other. I’m sure there was talk of bears and bugs. Could a bear sneak in at night? What about worms, ants, and spiders creeping in? A flashlight was our only light and I remember spending a lot of time shining it on the walls watching for crawling things.
A few days after we finished our cave, I met Susie. My brother, Richie, and I were sitting inside when someone started knocking on the plywood door.
“Who’s there?” I shouted, thinking it might be mom.
“It’s Susie, can I come in?”
“Susie, who?” I didn’t know anyone named Susie, so I thought she might be one of Richie’s friends.
“You know, from down the street.”
I pointed the flashlight at Richie. He was shaking his head no.
“No, you can’t come in,” I shouted, “this is for boys only.”
“You better let me come in,” she screamed.
I thought, who does she think she is? This is our yard and our hill and our cave. We don’t have to let anybody in.
“No this is ours, go away,” I shouted.
“Yeah, go away,” Richie echoed.
Suddenly the plywood door flew away from the entrance. A pretty, tiny, blonde haired, little girl stood there. When she told us what she thought of us in the way she did, all the stories I’d heard about Susie rushed across my memory and I knew who she was. Too late I saw Richie sticking his tongue out at h er. She punched him in the shoulder, knocking him back into the cave. He started crying. She said something nasty about crybabies. I grabbed Richie’s hand and we ran into the house. From there we watched Susie jumping up and down on top of the hill till our cave collapsed. As she walked down the hill she turned, saw us watching her, shouted something vulgar, and walked away.
Now, I was positive I’d met the girl who punched Jimmy and that the stories about her were probably true.
About a half hour after she left, when we thought it was safe to go out we inspected the damage. The cave no longer existed. It was replaced by a large crater in the top of the hill. I got a small shovel to re-dig the cave, but the dirt was too loose. I’d dig a few inches into the hill, but the dirt quickly filled the new hole. Meanwhile, Richie dragged the piece of plywood to the top, got in the crater, and pulled the board over himself.
“Look, Bobby,” I heard his muffled voice saying, “I’ve got my own cave.” Then he pushed some dirt aside, making an opening, and slithered out. We looked inside. It wasn’t much of a cave, about 12 inches deep and three feet across, but it was a start. Again we set to work, digging and digging. The first thing we noticed was that we needed a bigger piece of plywood. Whenever we tried to enlarge the cave, the walls slid in and the plywood sank.
There were still a few houses being built so it didn’t take long to find a suitable piece of wood. Now we had a large piece for the roof and the other piece for our door. We figured a wooden roof was the perfect thing to keep Susie from destroying our secret hideout again, especially since we piled dirt on top of the plywood to disguise it. Being the experienced cave builders that we were the new cave was finished before dinner. It as an even better cave than the old one, sturdier and roomier. Also, we hadn’t thought of this when we started, but the entrance was now facing away from the road so unless someone, meaning Susie, came looking they would never see the new cave in the hill.
About that time another family moved in down the street and I met my new best friend, Jack. I introduced him to the cave, which he thought was great.
We’d been inside barely a half hour when dirt started tumbling inside. Dust was filling the air. Someone was jumping on the roof. I heard the board cracking. Jack and I scurried outside. Susie was and one of her friends were jumping with as much force as they could muster.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “You can join our club, just don’t break the board.” She said something to me my parents would never let me repeat, kicked me in the leg, and said to her friend, “let’s get out of here.” I stood there, rubbing my leg as I watched her walk off.
“Who was that?” Jack asked.
“Susie. I don’t know the other girl.”
“Which one was Susie?”
“The one who kicked me.”
“Is she in our class?”
We’d already talked about school. Jack would be going to my school and since we were the same age, we would be classmates.
“Nope, but just about everybody knows her.”
Jack was a baseball fanatic. I wasn’t, so he started teaching me about baseball and how to play. We spent a lot of time across the street playing catch. It wasn’t long before Jack heard about a daily game at our school’s playground. Our first day there, Jack talked the other kids into letting me play. I wasn’t very good and they knew it, but I now that I had a friend who liked the game, I paid attention and tried hard.
End of the Cave:
On our way home that first afternoon at the school playground, we were so deep in a conversation about the game I didn’t notice what happened to the cave until I was across the street from my house.
Not only had the cave been destroyed, it was gone.
This time it wasn’t Susie.
The entire hill was gone. While we played baseball the hill was loaded into a dump truck and hauled away. Now our back yard looked like the rest of the yard. That weekend my dad bought some grass and bushes, seeded the lawn and planted the bushes. A month later there was no sign there had ever been a cave in my backyard.
As for Susie, I never saw her again. Apparently her family moved away. It’s funny but I thought she was cute, pretty. She showed up at the time in my life when I was starting to notice girls as more than people who weren’t boys. She was the first girl I ever really noticed. Even as she was cursing at me and kicking me I was noticing the freckles across her nose and deciding I liked them. If Susie had been just a little bit nicer, I might have found myself searching for her and might have ended up like Jimmy Wilton. Then again, while I was rubbing my leg and watching her walk away I realized she was not a girl after my own heart.
I didn’t know what it was she was after when she crushed my cave, but it seems she was launching the first attack I’d ever seen for women’s rights. Who knows, maybe she planted the seed that told me women are equal to men, and often more than equal.