Snow: Make room for a tree house in your life

September 1, 2013 

Ever since Robinson Crusoe, stranded on a jungle island, built his tree house, children have craved a tree house.

There was once a tree house in my life.

Although, as the father of two little girls, I sometimes went to great lengths to satisfy their wants, a tree house was out of my range of capabilities. Nevertheless, their pleas were not wasted on the wind.

One day while they were at school, Ed Green, my neighbor and the children’s patron saint, appeared at my back door and said, “Today we are going to build a tree house.” He used the term “we” loosely, since I barely knew one end of a hammer from another.

Off we went to a supply store for plywood, two-by-fours, shingles, etc.

We sited the tree house in the crotch of two maples in the far reaches of the back lawn, near the woods.

My role was that of the “hand me” apprentice as Ed worked fast and furiously to finish the project before the children arrived from school.

On the way home from kindergarten, I told 5-year-old Katherine, “You have a surprise waiting at home.”

“Oh, Daddy,” she said breathlessly, “You’ve arranged to have the circus come to our house!”

“Of course not, honey,” I said, exasperated. Why do children think daddies can work miracles?

When she saw the tree house she said softly, “Daddy, I’m so happy I’d cry if I had time.”

The 8-year-old was equally impressed. “We’ll need shag carpet,” she said as she examined the edifice.

At supper, the younger child asked to say grace.

“God,” she said, “We sure do thank you for Ed Green and the tree house,” adding in afterthought, “and for Daddy.”

By next day, Melinda had posted a list of house rules:

1. Do not shout in the club except when necessary.

2 Do not stick your body out the window.

3. Do not jump out of the club. Use steps.

4. No jumping up and down.

5. Safety first.

The tree house became a popular gathering place for the neighborhood kids. At least for the girls. The club’s management amended the rules to read, “No boys allowed.”

Nevertheless, a couple of them hung around a lot, hooting at and harassing the tree house occupants.

One day I noticed lettering on a 2-by-6 anchoring the tree house. It read, “By Ed and A.C.” It remains in memory as one of the best bylines I’ve ever received in decades of bylines.

All went well until one Saturday morning when we heard screams coming from the tree house. We looked out the window to see our daughter Melinda running toward the house, blood oozing from her mouth. A permanent front tooth was dangling loosely; another was missing.

She had broken her own house rule about not jumping out the window. The children had gathered a huge pile of leaves beneath the window and were enjoying the autumn sport. When Melinda landed, her knee came into contact with her mouth.

Dr. Don Jackson, our dentist, told us to bring the child and the tooth at once to his office so he could attempt to reset and save the tooth. Time was critical.

All of us, children as well as a couple of neighbors, searched frantically through the leaves for the tooth, to no avail.

As my daughter and I left for the dentist’s office, she turned to her mother and said piteously, “Mama, please find my tooth.”

After we left, my wife knelt in prayer, whispering, “God, please help me find my child’s tooth.”

Returning alone to the tree house, she reached into the mountain of leaves and came forth with the gleaming white tooth nestled among the leaves in her hand.

Our daughter enjoyed the tooth for the remainder of her life.

I hope there’s been or will be a tree house in your life. In a way, a tree house is a form of escapism into a make-believe world. We don’t have to be a child to enjoy one when the real world is too much with us.

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