It was a quintessential cold, foggy Tigoni morning (which leads me to believe it was July or August) when J and I decided to venture into “The Hole” for the first time… much to the awe of our peers.
“The Hole” was a gap in the wall of the main building at Brackenhurst Conference Center. This particular structure was built into a hill and one outside wall was punctuated with rounded porticos that created a secret passage of sorts under the building. “The Hole” was located at the furthest point of the inclining passageway where one went from walking to crawling as the hill met the building and there was little light. There, at the very back was a gap in the brick, approximately one foot square.
The older kids used to spin tales about what was in “The Hole.” A favorite was the story of pirate bones buried under the building because the Indian Ocean used to reach all the way to Brackenhurst… 300+ miles farther inland than it is today. (I wonder if my older brother remembers this detail since he used to spin this tall tale!) There were a number of stories and each was specifically tailored to scare away us little kids.
J and I, however, both being of unsound six-year-old mind, fearless, and willing to take on anything, decided that we were going into “The Hole” to see what was there for ourselves. Too lazy to go looking for a flashlight (or afraid we would lose our nerve in the process) we entered through the portico and crawled our way back to the entrance. We lay there. Quietly. Hearts pounding, our heads were touching as we strained to see… using what little light was in the passage. “The Hole” was a dark abyss. We were unable to make out the most basic of shapes but we had made a decision and nothing was going to stop us. In I went. Feet first. I wiggled my skinny little body through the one foot opening and dropped several feet to the uneven bottom. John was right behind me.
What we found was a room littered with rocks, bricks and small boulders. The walls were brick and beginning to crumble slightly in spots. There were indications the space had been utilized many years in the past… perhaps as a wine cellar or some other sort of storage when the property was still a Colonial British hotel and golf course. What we didn’t find was pirate bones. Not one bone. No nests of giant poisonous spiders. No demons. No snakes. No ghosts of Maasai warriors. In truth, I think we were slightly disappointed.
Unable to see well and still too lazy to go to my house (about a half mile away) for a flashlight, we decided it would be a great idea to build a fire so we could see and be warm. Out we crawled and I stood lookout while John borrowed absconded with some firewood from outside a nearby cottage. Green wood. Green and wet. It was always green and wet. I don’t remember where we obtained matched, but we managed to come by a few of those as well. Back into “The Hole” we crawled where we lit our fire using green leaves and then proceeded to pile on green wood. Obviously we had no understanding of the concept that green wood doesn’t burn very well. Pretty soon, above our heads, we heard the quick pounding of running feet.
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … to the left.
Muffled voices of concern.
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … to the right.
Muffled voices on the fringe of panic.
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … back to the left.
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … back to the right.
It took a few minutes for reality to dawn on us as we looked upward and realized we could see traces of light above us as the cellar type space we currently occupied was directly below the tea room/lounge area and our “ceiling” was the tea room floor and our smoke, was filtering through the floorboards into the main building.
In a matter of seconds, with barely any hesitation, we bolted to the hole. With a jump and a scramble I was through. J was right behind me. Positive no one was yet aware of our presence, we progressed from crawl to shuffled crouch to full out run as we maneuvered down the passageway … convinced we would make our escape. It was then, in our all-too-brief moment of victory, that each of us lost footing as soon as we exited the portico. Only a parent has that kind of reflexes. J’s mom was waiting and had grabbed each one of us by an arm in our attempt to sprint into open air and keep going until we reached the hedge that served as one of our many hiding places.
We were busted and so were our little behinds. Personally, I found the adventure well worth it as “The Hole” was the one area of this, my childhood domain, which I had yet to explore.
Incidentally, we never did try to build a fire in “The Hole” again but it did become a favored hide out … and, in the grand tradition of our older siblings, we spread rumors of what might be down in there in order to frighten and intimidate those kids growing up behind us.
Today the one foot square opening to “The Hole” is filled in and the porticos are blocked preventing passage of curious little minds; but, J and I still laugh about the time we almost “burned” down the building with our smoke predominant fire of sizzling, sappy green wood.