Play Dirt

Dirt and boys—they just go together. When our son was a toddler, his idea of hitting pay dirt was getting to play with it.
His fascination for fine dry soil started a dirt-kicking phase. It all began when he followed me under the slat-covered porch one day to clean out all the debris that had gathered there. The soft dirt caught his attention as the setting sun highlighted the dust that our feet stirred up. He was mesmerized like a moth drawn to a lantern. The look on his face of intense interest with the drifting clouds of dust was cute at first but then his fascination got annoying.
After figuring out that kicking dirt made dust clouds, he became obsessed. The 4 foot high space underneath the porch was easy for him to run up and down the sloped ground to create a dust storm that eventually ran me out of there. All summer long he kicked dirt under the porch and it was like having Pigpen of the Peanuts Gang living with us.
Kicking dirt consumed our boy as if it were his job to mine dirt. He HAD to go to under the porch everyday for hours at a time from the moment he woke up and got his ball cap and bib overalls on to go roust dirt.
He’d run up the slope, stop to watch the dust float away then run back and watch it again. The more time he spent under the porch, the more he perfected his technique to produce bigger dirt clouds around his feet before it drifted away. He discovered wearing his grey, fake alligator skin cowboy boots accomplished this quite well. They became his dirt kicking boots. Nothing stirred up dust like those grey hand-me-downs. He’d drag his foot inward like he was pigeon toed as he ran, for maximum dirt fluffing and wore them everywhere in case he found dirt to kick around at other places.
I had to bathe him daily after his dirt mining work. Fine grit would cling to his sweaty little body and he always felt sticky to the touch when he came in. His forehead would have a black horizontal line where he wore his cap, black rings around his lips and nose, grime in his ears and sweaty wet hair.
Besides kicking it, he liked to have an audience watching him work. He’d pester whoever was around to come and watch him. He was a loyal dirt miner who loved his job and didn’t need much supervising. I would just occasionally peek over the porch to see if dirt was still coming out from under it while cooking dinner or working in the house.
Once he discovered this fine dust, he was constantly checking out dirt in other places like the barn, wallows that cows frequented, soft spots in driveways and other people’s dirty shop floors. One time he stirred up the dust in another rancher’s shop so bad that the old-timer finally said, “Stop kickin’ that dirt!”
It wasn’t long after that he grew out of his grey cowboy boots and his dirt kicking phase. I didn’t miss the hassle his phase caused to keep him and his clothes clean before having to go somewhere, just the dirt cheap entertainment that it provided.
This column was originally published June 14-20, 2009

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