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Buried in the Backyard

Image: Not camping in Ohio

Did I ever tell you about the time we came home from the mall in the early evening and there was a line of Sheriff's cars --including a K9 unit-- in the driveway, lights flashing? It was terrible. Andy, my older brother, and his friends had found a grave in our favorite backyard campsite. A freshly dug grave.

This was the summer of 1974. Growing up in the farmlands of central Ohio, we spent much of the summer camping out in the backyard. Since we lived on a farm, surrounded by thousands of acres of farm fields and wooded pockets, camping out in the backyard typically had nothing to do with camping in our actual yard. Our favorite place was across the street about a half mile from the road, in a small wood perhaps an acre in size. It was big enough to be totally secluded from the surrounding farms, with trails that wound through the trees that lead to a clearing in the center of the wood. The clearing had a stone fire circle surrounded by log seats and room for several pup tents. I would guess the clearing had been used as a campsite for decades, rediscovered by each generation of kids as they explored the area.

Seeing all the Sheriff vehicles in the drive was pretty exciting, and scary too. We were all curious to discover what had happened. We could see a group of officers in the field across the street, headed away from the house. A deputy had been left behind at the house to coordinate things and told us he was waiting on the county coroner to arrive. My parents were beside themselves because Andy was nowhere to be found. The deputy reassured them Andy was fine. Andy and our neighbor Pat had gone out to the campsite to gather wood for a fire that night and had stumbled upon a grave right on the edge of our campsite. They had immediately left the camp and come home and then called the Sherrif's office to report what they had found. When the deputies arrived they needed Andy to take them out to the camp and show them what he had found.

Rudy, who was next in line after me and Andy, and I were freaked out. We had been out to the campsite early in the day and had seen nothing of the sort. The deputy was interested in what we had seen so he questioned us.

"What time were you out there?" Probably between 10 and noon.

"What were you doing out there?" Playing army.

"What did you see?" Nothing unusual at all. In fact, it sounded like the grave was very close to where we had been playing. Apparently, we had missed the killer by just a few minutes. The hair on my neck rose as I realized how close we had come to possibly being killed ourselves.

"Did you see a shovel while you were playing?" the deputy asked. Of course, we had seen the shovel, we were the ones who had taken a shovel out there. The killer had used our shovel to dig his grave! No one ever expects to be in the middle of something as terrible as this.

The deputy wanted to understand what we were doing with a shovel at the campsite. I pulled a brochure from my back pocket. We had picked it up at the Clark County Fair earlier in the week, from the National Guard table. The brochure had instructions for how a soldier was supposed to dig a foxhole. Rudy and I, who never agreed on anything, both thought it was the coolest thing ever. We knew if we dug a foxhole in the yard, Dad would throw a fit. Wouldn't it be great, we thought, if we had a foxhole out at the campsite. So that morning, we went out with a shovel, mapped out the fox hole (it needed to be 4' by 6') and started digging. We got perhaps six inches in before we got bored and filled the hole back in. We left the shovel there in case we decided we wanted to start the foxhole again.

"Where did you dig the foxhole?" the deputy asked, laughing. Right as the edge of the campsite. We didn't want to mess up where we pitched our tents.

It turned out to be a terrible day. The grave was only our abandoned foxhole. Even more irritating, our folks wouldn't let us camp out that night. When they thought it was a grave that made sense, but it was only our foxhole. I think they were embarrassed by all the cops. At least the deputy was able to cancel the coroner team before they showed up.

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