After Moxam we moved to a place on 22nd avenue and 4th street. It was a small apartment above a grocery store. There were two apartments on the second floor. The other one was occupied by an elderly Chinese Grandma. I’m pretty sure she was the mother of the grocery store owner; she was about five hundred years old. Our apartment was there on the second floor right off the balcony, above the green dumpster.
There, on the left at street level is the patio where today Original Joe’s hosts customers. But back when we lived there, in 1964, that space was just a dirt patch. Not a yard, really, but still it was a place to play. So, one day I dug a very deep hole there. So deep and wide I could stand in it. The hole I dug in the side yard was deep, to me. I was short. When I stood in the hole it came almost to my shoulders. I had dug all day. Passers-by on the street stopped and observed my digging. They were impressed, mostly. Praised my labor, though one claimed I was making a foolish mess. A foolish one.
I thought about President Kennedy while I dug. He was killed to death not six months before. I was in Miss Bilton’s class when the news came over the PA system all electric and crackled like it was news coming from outer space. I thought about Caroline and John John as I dug and wondered if I would dig all the way to the place where graves came together and they would be there with their father someday. Then I thought that was silly, I would probably just dig to China.
From the window of my classroom we could look all the way to Spy Hill and I wondered what was spied on from there. I wondered if they could spy all the way to the place where the President was killed. He was assassinated, the PA said. I didn’t know that word so at first I took it to mean that someone had insulted him, like saying bad words. I didn’t know until later. So when I learned for real, I went home and started digging this hole in the side yard. I was not a fast digger and I came back to the hole many times and dug a little more and a little more.
I found a penny covered in clay as I scooped out a spade of dirt onto the pile. Just a penny. Unspectacular except for the face of an old King on the front of it, the Queen was not the Queen when that penny was made. 1936 was the date on the back. The oldest penny I ever found, in the dirt in the side yard. The only one I ever found there. It had a tiny dot beneath the date, between the 9 and 3. It was buried deep. I wondered how it got to be hidden so far down. And how I knew to dig a hole right there to find it.
A passer-by said, “What are you digging?”
I said, “a hole.”
He said, “it’s deep.”
I said, “I’m part Chinese.”
I showed him my penny and he told me it was the King who was dead.
I said, “Like our President.”
He said “Yes but Kennedy was not our President because we are Canadian and he was the President of the people way across the border.
I asked what a border was and he told me. I asked if we could see it from Spy Hill and he said he didn’t think so. I asked who was our President and he said we didn’t have one because we are Canadian. I asked what we had and he said a Prime Minister and a Queen. I looked at the penny but it had a King on it. The man said the new ones had a picture of the Queen, the one we sing to every morning before we have to start learning.
I stood in the hole but stopped digging because the President did not belong to us. The Chinese Grandma yelled at me from her balcony but I couldn’t understand her words. The man asked if she was my mother and I said ‘no, I’m only part Chinese, she belongs to the grocery store man.’
That side yard where I dug, when I was ten, is an outside patio for Original Joes now. The old walk up, where we lived in the apartment beside the Chinese Grandma, is still there. The Chinese grocery store has grown into a little restaurant. A little Original Joe’s. The Chinese grocer once paid me to help unload the truck and bring new groceries into his store for him to sell.
My hole is still there, I suppose, though it is filled in. It waits beneath the concrete slab to become a sinkhole. I left the penny there. Just a penny. Left there as a treasure for a future digger to find. Left it there because my mother called me in for supper and made me put the dirt back first.
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