When my brother, (David) sister (Karen) and I were kids one of our favorite things to do was to build a fort or tree house. We built many of them over the years using just about anything we could find. When the weather was too bad to go outside we put together forts made of sheets strung between chairs and held in place by stacks of world book encyclopedias. If we could get our hands on some cardboard that worked well to for an indoor fort. Our indoor forts were quite creative but are true masterpieces were always outdoors especially the ones we could make when we went to Papaw’s house. At Papaw’s house we had access to axes, machetes, nails, hammers, rope, and sometimes even scrap lumber. We also usually had the help of our cousins Susie and Shane. Here are a few of many childhood stories that surround these forts and tree houses.
Hardhats must be worn at all times!
My uncle Chuck worked in a plant where hardhats had to be worn at all times. Uncle Chuck said this was for safety in case someone dropped a tool or something hard from a high place. Somehow or another we appropriated several of these hardhats that we were wearing while building a fort. I was the oldest and usually develop the rules for our games. You have to have rules when you play games or everybody will just do what they want and if there’s anything first children abhor it is chaos. On this occasion we were using the shell of a camper to build our fort and I had made a strict rule that no one should be inside the camper shell without a hardhat. Everyone was dutifully following the rule and everyone was working at their assigned task. My brother David was up on top of the camper removing small nails that had once held the original outer wall in place. Shane was bringing more materials. Susie and Karen were also helping. At times they work with us and at times they played house. Sometimes they would bring us pretend lunch. I was inside the camper shell working diligently to get a nail out of an old board and when I finally prided free I was pleased with my hard work. I stood up, took my hardhat off to wipe my brow the way I’d seen the men do. All of a sudden I had a sharp pain on the crown of my head. For a split second it was like I was unconscious and I fell to my hands and knees. I shook my head trying to figure out what it happened. A large goose egg was already growing on my head. Shane was standing outside the camper shell laughing so hard he was in danger of passing out. I looked straight at him with a look that sent him running backward yelling, “he did it, he did it” pointing toward the house. I looked toward the house and I saw David already halfway to the house. He was still clutching a ball pein hammer and yelling over and over, “you said hardhats must be worn at all times, you said hardhats must be worn at all times!”
We also love to barricade the drive way. We often did this when where waiting on our cousins or Mamaw and Papaw Griff. In this picture we have built a barricade blocking part of the drive coming up to Papaw’s house. In May of 1970 I would have been 10.
Summersaults and Nail Holes
There were two large oak trees in my Papaw and Mamaw’s yard. One day we decided we were going to build a tree house in the larger of the two. The problem was we could not reach the lowest limb even with our ladder. We were trying to figure out how to attach boards to the side of the tree that we could use as a ladder to climb up the tree. We decided it would be easier if we drove nails through the boards into the ground and then just nailed the pre-nailed boards in the tree. This was working pretty well and we had made it about five feet up off the ground. I had just finished nailing to nails into a board flipped it over and started another board when my brother jumped off the ladder and landed on two nails that were sticking up out of a board. He screamed like a little girl and started hopping all around and then did something of a somersault. Well, with all his gyrations the board came flying off of his foot and landed on the ground between him and the house. I ran over to him but before I could get there he jumped up and headed for the house and he stepped on that board again pushing those same two nails back into his foot. This time he fell on the ground and just started flopping around like a fish. I was trying but couldn’t catch hold of the board because of all the wiggling so I stepped on his foot and mashed his leg to the ground and grabbed the board. The nails were all the way through. I sat down put my feet against his behind and pushed with my feet while pulling the board and the nails came out. It was kind of painful pulling the nails out. The rubber on those shoes made a high-pitched squeak, like you get when you scratch a chalkboard. It makes me cringe to think about it. Oh, and I imagine David was hurting too.
Barbed Wire Safety Nets
David and I also had tree houses near our home in town. Although I was pretty reckless my brother David was the true wild man. Somehow or another David had figured out we could walk out on a large thick limb of an old oak tree and jump five or six feet to a smaller hardwood tree, throw our arms and legs around it as you flew by and it would spring back and forth wildly. Now this all occurred maybe twenty feet off the ground and in hindsight may have been a bit foolish but it was a heck of a lot of fun. The higher you jumped and grabbed hold of the tree the wilder the ride. David and I spent hours doing this and it was great fun until one day David leaped from the oak tree and tried to grab the hardwood at the very top and he missed the tree entirely with his hands. David’s feet caught the tree for a split second just long enough to spin him over and in a position where he was going to hit the ground head and neck first. I am standing to the side of the tree watching all this happen and I remember thinking, wheelchair! You see, my mom was always afraid one of us was going to end up in a wheelchair and if you’ve heard many of our family’s stories you know her fears were not completely unfounded. Standing there I literally thought, this is it, wheelchair! At that very second David crashed into some heavy brush and in that brush was an old rusty barb wire fence that we had never noticed before. David was wearing a heavy coat and his coat hung in the barb wire causing him to spin around and land on his feet. Other than a small hole in his coat he was fine. This was one of many times that I believe we would have been seriously injured or killed if God had not been watching over us.
The Difference in Hardwood and Softwood Trees
Hardwood trees and softwood trees have very different physical characteristics. Some of you may have taken a botany class or otherwise studied the difference in hard and softwood trees in school. I learned about the different characteristics of hard and softwood trees through a very different process. A month or two after the barbed wire safety net incident we were out at my grandparents and we spied a softwood pine tree that was growing right beside a large brush pile. Now the height of this brush pile, the height of the pine tree, the distance between them was all approximately the same as the tree swing we had been jumping and swinging on in town. This looked like a perfect tree swing. Shane, David and I debated among ourselves who would be the best to test this new tree swing and for some reason I let them talk me into being the tester. I climbed to the top of the brush pile and I checked it out and everything looked just right. Same size trees, same distance, what could go wrong? I leaped at the pine tree grabbing it perfectly with both hands and wrapped my feet around as I flew by but that tree did not bend, it did not bend even a little bit. My arms were almost yanked out of socket trying to hold on to the tree. So there is the first difference between hardwood trees and softwood trees. Hardwood trees are pliable and bend and softwood are stiff and will not bend. Now I had managed to learn this part of the lesson without suffering any pain, unfortunately, the lesson was not over. I am now about twenty feet up in the air and I have to get down and I am wearing shorts and a thin T-shirt. The second lesson was that hardwood trees have a smooth bark and softwood trees have an extremely rough bark, you know the kind that will cut your body, your hands and your arms if you try to slide down it.
I Will Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap
The forts in the first pictures were built in 1971 when I was 12. Being a twelve year old and pretty near grown I had learned a few bad words which I shared with my siblings and cousins. We were all up in the forts having great fun and trying our new words until my little sister, Karen snitched on us to Mom. She was upset because we were keeping her locked up too long in the stockade. My Mom made all of us come into the bathroom one at a time and she washed our mouths out with soap. Let me just tell you that was some nasty tasting stuff. We learn our lesson though none of us would ever cuss again in front of Karen.