Recently I was at my local Chick-fil-A, on my way to grab some sweet, holy writing protein, when I saw a dirt pile from the drive-thru line.
This was not just any dirt pile. This was a grand 30-foot-tall mountain of sedimentary glory, and as I stared at it, an absolutely Pavlovian burst of happiness blossomed inside me. Fine memories of my childhood blasted out like fireworks manifested in clods of red clay and rocks, and for a moment, I sat in utter nostalgic bliss. 😊
When I was young, my grandparents decided to expand their house and, in the process, add a basement. Tiny me was excited about this – basements were magical places to me for some reason – but did not anticipate the excitement that would come even before the basement was completed.
See, to build a basement, you need to dig a huge hole in the ground, and when you dig a big hole in the ground, you get a big pile of dirt. 😀
My family has always been creative. My grandpa keeps scraps of every material he finds simply because he might build something out of it someday. My parents live at home improvement stores. When we were kids, my sister and I would go with them and imagine all the tools and screws and light fixtures as weapons or magic items or enchanted whatevers and make up our own worlds in the family cart.
Which is to say, when we saw that dirt pile, something inside us exploded. 💫
Mom banned us from playing in the dirt. It was red clay. That stuff’s harder to clean off than blood.
But our grandma was sneaky. Every day after school she’d let us play in the dirt, and every day before Mom came to pick us up, she’d hurry us into baths and fresh clothes. We had designated sets of Dirt Pile Clothes that we hid from Mom and cherished. 😁
Dirt is nature’s play-doh, y’all. And just as dirt forms the earth itself, we built entire universes out of that dirt pile. We shaped forts. We built castles. We packed a vague mini facsimile of Pride Rock that we pretended to murder each other on, Scar-and-Mufasa-style, ALL THE TIME. An interesting rock became the magical MacGuffin that drove the story of the day. I knocked one of my sister’s baby teeth out over that MacGuffin. Our imaginations were hardcore.
But then came the time to finish the basement and return the dirt to its natural place. And suddenly the basement was not exciting to us. It was a tremendous waste of a neat hole in the ground, and the stuff that filled that hole.
We buried our adventures in the dirt around that basement.
We went to imagine new ones.
But to this day I remember all the magic we made from that dirt, and to this day, when I see a pile of dirt, I wonder how much of my adult creativity I owe to the worlds we built from that soil.