We grew up on the backs of horses and in the branches of trees.
Left over building material from barns, tractor and hay sheds was kept in “the wood pile”, a neverending supply of plywood, two by fours, two by sixes, and scraps. Jarid, Jody, and I would root around to find the desired lengths of lumber and drag them into the bush of the edge that it sat. We straightened bent nails. We found a way to pry the metal banding off the edge of an old wagon wheel, chip at the perimeter and pull the hard wooden spokes from the hub. Club-like, the pegs were round reaching the outside of the wheel and squared to connect to the center. Rock hard, they served as hammers.
Early constructions had five by eight sections of chipboard connecting trees. Looking more like a holding pen for imaginary cattle than shelter, roofless. An old barn ladder was spared for its material and seen for its original function. Four trees as corners, we nailed two by sixes to make a parrallelogram raised six feet off the ground. Two by fours, a deck planks to finish the platform that sat up off the ground. It beared the weight of three children under the age of eight. So there we would sit.
A series of these platforms popped up wherever tree formation could accommodate. This elevated sight prompted us for greater structures. Even though we graduated to actual hammers reclaimed by my grandfather with hockey stick handles, sawed off, nail usage was damaging to the living foundations of our forts. We scouted the bushes scattered throughout the farmyard and found four beauties in a copse west of the shelter-belt and east of the dugout. Each about nine inches in diameter with strong branches ten feet up. We were about to consolidate all barnyard materials to create our magnum opus. And that we did.
Summer days filled with brainstorming and building, working into the fall. Hiatus for winter, reclaim in the spring and expand in the coming heat. Our youngest sister, Casey, at an age to take delegation. Get us this, get us that. Nails used within the structure but using the structure’ s own weight to wedge itself into the corners of the boughs, strengthened with bailer twine, three strand yellow rope and old halter shanks.
An old house couch hauled from the ‘back room’ up into the trees. We were ready to furnish. Another Costco purchases mom and dad brought home from the city, a dart board. A bunk bed built above the couch. A box made in woodworking 4-H, holding hockey cards and McCormick’s five cent candy. We were inclusive, having sleepovers and allowing friends to do there part in the tree-forts construction and renovations. If a friend had a vision we’d go for it. This lead to a roof top patio and a bailer twine canopy above that. A rope hanging from the edge of a branch – intended to jump from the roof and swing, never used.
Our farm is special. Hundreds of horses once filled its pastures. My aunt would bring the Esteemed down from the city to get a quick fix of ranch-life. High-status friends excited to see a horse and get a country meal. As children, we’d do our performing – on command piano recitals which would eventually lead to a comfort with the company to constitute showing off. Drawings, homemade hockey cards, and our fort.
On one of these Sunday visits we took my aunt and uncle’s single companion through the trees. He was reaching eighty years old but a sport. We latched on to him quickly, besides not everybody got an invite beyond the shelter belt, trip wires exposed. Careful, we invested in protection. We spread the branches through the Caraganas and held his arm coming down the embankment. Unmowed quackgrass and rhubarb. Our pride in full view. We wanted him to come inside, we were proud of the fact we had a couch, bunkbed. He remained on the ground looking upwards. We’d scurry up the barn ladder and jump down, practiced when called for meals.
We grew out of our building phase. One of the most defining of my childhood. That spare time erecting forts was replaced by being old enough to pull our weight with the horses. When we’d once fill a summer in trees we filled summers in the field. The elderly gentleman that we were so proud to show our fort to, passing away. Him and I, one encounter together.
On the eve of my grade twelve graduation I was asked if I recalled that day. I did. Following it, the man made a change in his will and at his death had a sum of money placed in a mutual fund that would grow to pay for my post secondary education. Entrusted to me on my eighteenth birthday. A number I had never seen on a bank slip before, modest.
Against my mother’s will I walked into a car dealership and bought a brand new 2002 yellow Ford Mustang. A peacock display for nineteen year old values. A vehicle that has been a sentimental consistency in adult ups and downs. Guilt-ridden and held onto but unlike an education, has seen its end.
I will sell the car. I will use the money for an education…some kind. Then again, I don’t think anybody can refute that that little yellow mustang has seen me through ten times the education that any post secondary institute could have provided.