Tucked into the Kenya highlands (7,000 feet above sea level) and surrounded by tea fields that blanket the rolling hills like a vibrant green carpet sits Brackenhurst Baptist International Conference Center. On the grounds of a Colonial British hotel, Brackenhurst was my childhood domain. I had the freedom to explore not only the grounds of the conference center, but the surrounding areas as well. I knew every inch of forest and was familiar with every path leading through the tea. As long as I was home by dark there seemed to be no concern about where I went and what I was doing.
Brackenhurst was also the site of our annual mission meetings and the language school for new missionaries. Because of this, my friends were constantly coming and going as their parents attended conferences or worked on their language skills. I loved the opportunities when various friends were staying for extended periods and I was able to share with them the depth of my knowledge regarding my domain. One friend in particular, John, was notorious for being an active participant in many of my childhood schemes. This is the account of one of those instances. I remember the event well though the year and our ages escapes me. I think we were six or seven at the most.
"It is familiarity with life that makes time speed quickly. When every day is a step in the unknown, as for children, the days are long with gathering of experience . . ." ~George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft
It was a quintessential cold, foggy Brackenhurst morning (which leads me to believe it was July or August) when John 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. This building was built into a hill and one outside wall was punctuated with rounded porticos that created a kind of secret passage 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 that pirate bones were buried there because the Indian Ocean used to reach all the way to Brackenhurst. (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 one of them tailored to scare away us little kids.
John and I, however, being of unsound 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. Our heads were touching as we strained to see using what little light was in the passage. It was like a dark abyss but nothing was going to stop us. In I went. Feet first. I was an extremely skinny kid so the size of “The Hole” was not an issue. I dropped several feet to the uneven bottom. John was right behind me.
What we found was a room with rocks on the floor that had probably been used at one time as a wine cellar or some other sort of storage when the property was still a hotel and golf course. No pirate bones. No nests of giant poisonous spiders. No snakes. 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 great to build a fire so we could see and be warm. Out we crawled and I stood lookout while John stole some of the infamous green firewood from a nearby cottage. I don’t remember where the matches came from. 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.
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … to the right.
It took a few minutes for reality to dawn on us as we looked upwards and realized we could see traces of light above us as the cellar type space we were currently occupying was directly below the tea room and our “ceiling” was the tea room floor and our smoke was filtering through the floorboards into the main building.
You have probably never seen two children jump and crawl through a one foot square hole so quickly. No one knew we were there. How could they? Progressing from crawl to shuffled crouch to full out run as we maneuvered down the passageway … we were convinced we would make our escape. It was then that each of us lost footing as we exited the tallest portico. Only a parent has that kind of reflexes. John’s mom was waiting and had grabbed each one of us by an arm in our attempt to sprint past.
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 my domain that 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.
I wonder how long our stories lasted before one or two brave kids ventured forth to determine what "The Hole" was for themselves.
". . . the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain." ~Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
Now I am Six
~A. A. Milne
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.