When I was three or four years old, my Dad built a small playhouse in our back yard. It was about eight by eight feet, complete with a door, window facing south and a tin roof. This playhouse was also a tool shed for all the shovels, axes, mattocks, sledgehammers, and various other garden tools. There was a shed on the back where we kept the lawnmowers out of the rain. I can remember the day that Dad leveled the concrete blocks and framed up this one room house. I was probably in the way, but it was pretty fantastic watching the building come together. Once the building was up, Mom painted the floor white and then let Lindsay, who was just a toddler it seemed, dip her hands and feet in different colors of paint and walk around on the floor. Really, this play house was intended for Lindsay, the lawnmower shed was for Zach and me. All the same, we all enjoyed playing in the playhouse for those first few weeks. After that, a colony of wasps invaded and Mom and Dad spent the rest of my childhood keeping Raid in business and the wasps at bay.
Later on, my parents added some cabinets to the playhouse and used it for storage. They put everything in there, yard sale furniture that my mom planned on refinishing, salvaged building supplies for the coming remodel, the old kerosene heater, and various other items that were not of immediate use inside of the house. At one point there were large sacks of dried pinto beans. One day, Lindsay and I were playing in the play house when I noticed that Lindsay was being really quiet. I looked around to see her sitting in a pile of the spilled pinto beans with a funny look on her face. Her face was contorted as she wiggled her nose like you do when you have a cold and you’re trying to breathe. “Did you stick a bean up your nose Lindsay?” I asked. She nodded yes. I ran to the house to let Mom know what she had done, not that I was overly concerned about my Sister, but I wanted to make sure Mom knew that I had nothing to do with it. Mom tried unsuccessfully to get Lindsay to blow her nose, and Lindsay screamed like a wildcat as Mom drove the bean farther up into her sinuses as she tried to retrieve it. After this, we all piled into the van and drove to my grandmother’s house to perform the minor surgery that was required. Gram, my grandmother, held Lindsay down as mom poked a sewing needle into the bean and pulled it gently out while Lindsay screamed the entire time. I don’t think she’s ever done anything like that since.
While Mom and Gram were extracting the lodged bean, Zach and I were busy playing outside. Gram had a proper playhouse that was built on posts about seven or eight feet off the ground so you could park the lawnmowers underneath. You enter the playhouse through a trapdoor in the floor reached by an angled ladder made of two by fours. It was always a gamble to open the trap door at the top of the ladder, because you never knew what creatures might be waiting for up there. I remember a lizard crawling out onto someone as they open the door and nearly every time that we played in the playhouse, someone got stung by a bee or wasp, but that was hardly enough deterrent to keep us from playing in that stuffy old building made of rotting OSB chipboard. Once the adults saw that there were holes in the floor big enough for several kids to fall through three at a time, they stopped allowing us to go up into the playhouse at Gram’s place.
Playhouses are pleasant, but what most kids want more than anything is a tree house. Our friends down the road, Jared and Creed, each had their own tree house so they wouldn’t have to share. Their tree houses were really just tree platforms, but we didn’t care, we spent countless hours hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Foresters, picking off Viet Cong, and ambushing Apache Indians from those tree houses.
All of the trees in our back yard were pecan trees, which are prone to splitting and aren’t a good option for a tree house. We did have some humongous oak trees directly in front of the house, but Mom wouldn’t stand for a tree house in the front yard. The closest thing we had to a tree house at my house was about fifteen nylon straps that we used as seats in the Mimosa tree situated in the middle of the Kudzu patch next to our house. Mom had gotten a roll of thick material to weave the bottom in some kitchen chairs and we cut lengths of it to tie between the many forked branches in that Mimosa, creating a comfortable slingshot looking seat. Mom counted eight boys in that tree one day. My brother had a dog named Sadler who would get up there with us, he could climb about halfway before we had to help him up the rest of the way. It was an easy tree to climb, I even climbed it backwards once while trying to get away from a green snake. We killed the pitiful little snake with the same hatchet that my cousin Kent had almost chopped the limb he was sitting on out from underneath himself. “You know when you finish chopping that limb you’re going to fall about ten feet?” Someone said, and we all laughed. Kent stopped and looked puzzled for a second. “I don’t guess I even thought about that.” I believe him. I don’t remember doing as much playing in the Mimosa as we did just sitting and talking, planning what we were going to do next. It was our trysting place, and we spent a good portion of time there until the one day one of the straps broke. It wasn’t long after that Zach and Creed got jobs down at the local grocery store Smith’s and we stopped climbing the tree.
We never did fix up the tree house, it went the way of Gram’s playhouse, and our childhood went with it. Even the playhouse Dad had built got another life as a garden shed as Dad got more and more into gardening once I was in High School. The tree houses and play houses bring to my memory a flood of childish decisions that were made there: climbing a tree too high and getting stuck and being unable to climb down, or falling out or a tree only to be saved by your foot being wedged in a forked branch, or losing your favorite pocket knife as you carelessly romped through the woods and Kudzu to the Mimosa. Another thing that comes to mind is how incredibly fast time went by, one moment you’re playing in the play house and the next moment you’re home from Virginia for a weekend and your Dad is showing you the garden beside the garden shed. In some respects childhood is a blur and you need to visit with an old friend to bring events back to your memory. The play houses and tree houses are the old friends that I’ve chosen to visit this week and they represent a time in my life that has faded away as I’ve became a man and put away childish things. It’s easy to gloss over the dumb and dangerous things that you did as a kid and only focus on the fun that you had, on the other hand, it’s hard to forget someone else’s mistake or close call and all too easy to remind them of it. Even when recalled, these embarrassing moments will quickly slip back into their proper rarely visited place in our memories as we focus our thoughts on the transient minutia of the fast paced lifestyle of a responsible adults. The things that are seemingly all important today and quickly forgotten tomorrow cause us to feel like our clocks are working double quick. I just hope time can go a little slower through my kids’ childhood than it did through mine.