My Childhood Domain

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

The Hole

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.


  1. You are ABSOLUTELY a writer!!! I only wish I had half your talent!!!

  2. Thank you so much! Of course, I read a lot, but I am humbled by the number of books that you and the other book bloggers make it through in a year!

  3. I read blogs in hope of finding treasures like this!

  4. Honestly ... I'm really, really pleased you enjoyed this one Vincent.

  5. I went to school (I was boarding at that time) with a boy called John Perkins who lived in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. His father ran a tobacco farm, and it was through John that I learned to smoke, through some home-dried leaves he had brought with him which we used to roll in brown paper and smoke in the school garden. I learned six months ago from his younger brother Philip that he had died.

    My cousin Mark went to school in Kenya. Hesther came from Zambia - Stella from one of those countries too. etc etc.

    Beth, Africa is my soul-country, my roots are there (same as all humanity's, but I acknowledge them on everyone else's behalf.) Any stories you have to tell, I would soak up like a nostalgic exile. But I have never been to Africa, even if my genes have.

  6. I'll keep that in mind. I almost didn't post that one. I'm glad now that I did.

  7. Oh the memories.. quite a gem, really

  8. kk ~ Look at you digging back through the old posts! :o)

  9. Beth,

    I remember the hole or the catacombs as we called it. I believe Jimmy and I hid there a few times to avoid punishments.

    I love your are an awesome writer.

  10. Aprile ~ Thank you for the compliment! Yes, I think many a missionary kid took refuge in that location. Alas, I think enough renovations have taken place that it no longer exists as we remember it.

  11. This remains my favourite post on your blog, Beth.

    The incident of the smoke rising up through the floorboards into the tearoom recalls the climax of that great film about a school, if.... directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell who was also the star of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

    If you have not seen if.... (it has lowercase and four dots following) then do.

  12. Even though you told me this story in its abridged form, I truly adored the written original! Now I will have to seek-out the hole whence I return to Brackenhurst!


"Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?" ~Walt Whitman


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