We used to have this hole in the backyard. It was meant to be a new drainage area for the septic system and was one of the many of dad's unfinished projects. He'd always get jazzed up about one thing or another and we'd spend a weekend digging holes or re-roofing the house or sawing wood or banging nails into this or that. I always knew he was serious when he'd remove his shirt and put a sweatband around his forehead. Normally a crewcut engineer with a pocket protector and slide rule, it was not a reassuring sight. If you've ever seen Michael Douglas in Falling Down, you'll know what I mean. He was a weekend warrior with a very short expiration date. Once Monday morning came and he put on his name badge and pocket protector the project was over, whether it was finished or not. And it was never finished. That's why there was a big hole in the yard for about fifteen years.
One day, long after the hole was started—when I was the ugly age of fifteen—I decided to burn all my airplane models. Some years earlier, when I was eleven, those airplanes were my pride and joy. I especially loved the WWII fighters—P-38 Lightnings, P-51 Mustangs, and, of course the glorious Spitfires. I had them hanging from the ceiling of my bedroom. They were all there, in an eternal and frozen dogfight. I'd look up at them in the middle of the night and pretend I was in one of the cockpits, a hero in the midst of an ace maneuver. Anytime a visitor came into my room they looked up in amazement at the expertly-painted and painstakingly-constructed planes. Then one day I grew up, got sick of them all and burned them—in the big hole in the backyard.
At the age of eleven, everything was just about right in life. It was before girlfriends and cars and peer pressure. Fun was playing a board game on Friday night or maybe Pinocle with my grandmother and her friends. There was no booze or lust. Cynicism was rare. I liked to build model planes and hang them from the ceiling. When I'd finished one, the next big goal in life was to start another.
A few months ago at an air show, at the age of 53, I saw my first Spitfire in person. Coming through the gates I saw it right away and ran up to it. "Jeez!" I proclaimed in my eleven-year-old voice. It all came back. I could see my own, miniature Spitfire hanging from black thread and a thumbtack. I recalled how carefully I'd painted the camouflage. My daydream was jolted when the real plane's propellor began to turn. The aircraft roared down the runway and flew into the sky. "Jeeeeeeeez!" I said again as I photographed every minute of its ascent into heaven. Ten minutes later it was gone except for the smell of its exhaust fumes. It disappeared to the south.
When I could no longer hear the Spitfire, I wondered why I'd burned all those models. I so wanted them back again. Then I remembered the acrid smell of the burning plastic and winced. I'd never want to be fifteen ever again. But eleven, now that was the perfect age. It was right around then that we started digging the hole in the backyard. I suppose, by now, it's all filled in, at least I hope so.