He ran up through the backyard as fast as his little legs would carry him. With a small shovel in hand he finally reached Pa’s screened back door. Knocking hard he yelled,” Pa! Pa! Let me in, I have a prize!” The shovel now hid behind his back.
Pa opened the door and JJ came in stumbling across the walkway, holding on to the shovel as if it were his bedtime bear. “What kinda prize?”
Quickly bringing the red shovel out from behind him he said, “I brought my shovel so we can dig to China.” The excitement exuded from his little voice.
JJ loved Pa as much as his own dad. Pa taught him how to catch a baseball. Plant tomato plants in the garden. In fact JJ had his own plant that he watered and cared for every day. Pa put JJ on his first tricycle, and even helped potty train him. These two did almost everything together.
Pa got his big shovel and JJ had his little red one. Searching the yard they found the perfect spot behind the pecan tree. The digging began. “How deep do we have to dig ‘fore we see China?”
“Don’t know son. It may take us a few weeks, or months.” Pa stopped to take a draw off his cigarette, sweat dripping from his forehead. Breathing harder than usual and coughing now and then. But he kept digging with JJ until the hole was almost a foot deep and just as wide.
“Can we dig some more tomorrow?”
“Yeah, after school. You bring your shovel and we’ll dig a little more.”
The two hard workers went inside to get a drink. Kool-Aid for JJ and a beer for Pa. They sat down on the couch, with JJ as close to Pa as he could get. They watched Road Runner and fell asleep, JJ’s head on Pa’s shoulder.
One day after school JJ’s mom told him Pa was in the hospital.
A few weeks later she told him Pa was leaving to go to heaven.
JJ went to visit Pa. To say good-bye? A boy of 9 years old just couldn’t grasp the meaning of heaven. Didn’t understand he would never see Pa again.
Did it mean the dig to China was over? How about the ‘mater plants, how would they ever live? What about bicycle lessons, basketball, pop flies in the outfield? He promised.
JJ would not get close to anyone again. He’d keep his distance. It wasn’t worth the pain. Lesson learned.