Fifty-one years ago today, "The Great Escape" debuted. In the following weeks, since none of us were old enough to own a motorcycle, the boys of Center Line were busy digging tunnels in every vacant lot and field available. At first the tunnels would collapse because they were barely under the surface, then we children smartened up and became human moles by digging deeper before burrowing off perpendicular. We used scraps of lumber to sheer up the walls and ceilings. The lumber was acquired from local construction sites. When the adults caught on and we were warned off the sites, we resorted to dismantling our tree forts for the much needed wood.
There is a lot of work that goes into digging a tunnel, but when you have a dozen determined boys devoting all their free time to labor, then the improbable becomes inevitable. At first, the boys were groups of two or three, each working on their individual tunnels, but when one group failed, they would latch on to another group that was succeeding. And there was failures. Looking back, it is amazing that no one was buried alive. The worst injuries were blisters from using shovels. So as tunnel after tunnel collapsed, there was one tunnel that remained strong. It was located about a half block from my home, on a corner lot. There were trees on the lot, and it's my belief the roots of the trees is what kept the tunnel from collapse.
In between the trees on a corner lot was our tunnel. It went from a hole about four feet deep, under the ground for around twelve feet, and exited into another hole. There was an offshoot in the middle of the tunnel that had been abandoned. Once the tunnel was complete, the beginning of the offshoot was widened and deepened into a three by three box. The tunnel itself was a tube that was less than two foot across and even less from top to bottom, barely enough room to crawl through. But it was a working tunnel with a small room in the middle. Two boys could enter the tunnel at one end. Boy 1 could cuddle up in the middle room allowing boy 2 to pass and thus exit the tunnel in reverse order from their entrance. We could re-enact the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Elmer Fudd chases Bugs through a hollow log only to have bi-passed Bugs somewhere in the tight quarters.
And for a short while the tunnel was our secret! Only us boys who dug it, knew about it. Then one day Ronny showed his little sister, trying to impress her I suppose, and she ran right to their father and snitched us out. Ronny's father collapsed our tunnel that same afternoon. He had us watch and claimed it was for our own safety and welfare. I thought back then, and I still do, that some adults just do not want to see kids have fun.
So that is how I spent the last summer of John Kennedy's presidency. In case you're quizzed later.