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James R. Stout

A Thorny Situation

            In September of 1966 there was excitement in the air at our house. I had just turned 11, but the big news was my parents had decided that we would move back to the Houston area from Bryan where we had lived for 3 and a half years. At the time, I was excited because I wanted to be in the big city. As the years went by, I realized that those days in Bryan were golden. No, things weren’t perfect, but they were definitely special. Before we could move, we had to sell our house. My Uncle Victor owned several houses in Spring Branch and told my parents that they could have their pick and he would basically allow them to take over payments. So, we already had a place to move to, but first we had to sell our house. In the meantime, life carried on. I was in 5th grade and was looking forward to the coming year. Even though we wouldn’t be living in our house for much longer, I wanted to build a treehouse. There was just one problem. There was only one tree in our yard that was big enough to build a treehouse in and Mom nixed that immediately. It was right in the front yard and a homemade treehouse by an untrained builder would be a definite deterrent to selling the house.

            But that never stopped me from building my own treehouse. There was a vacant lot behind our house. Although there was only one tree on that lot, it was big enough for a treehouse. However, there was one itty bitty problem. The tree was what is known as a honey mesquite tree. Which meant that tree had thorns. Big thorns. But I was inventive. The first thing that I did was use my Dad’s handsaw and I cut off all the lower branches and smaller branches which was where 98% of the thorns on the tree could be found. I didn’t let them go to waste though. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. When we had moved into the house in 1963 it had a covered wooden carport that was attached to the house. At the end of the carport was a large covered storage shed. In 1965 my parents converted the carport into a shop for my Dad’s piano business. They converted the shed into a large storage closet. The old shed had two doors that were somewhat of the homemade variety. For some reason, my parents kept the old doors in the storage closet. Those two doors were attached with a long piano hinge and would fold in two. I asked Dad if I could have those doors and I think he was more than happy to get them out of the closet. After I had trimmed the tree and nailed some spare 2x4’s cut to about a foot long to use as steps, I got a length of old rope and tied one end of it to a large limb about 15 feet up. The rope would be my quick way down once the treehouse was in use. I hauled those doors out of the closet, out of the shop, and drug them through our yard and down to the tree in the vacant lot. The doors were about 7’ high. I maneuvered the folding doors in such a way as they were standing up on end. I had brought a stepstool down to the worksite and lifted the folding doors up on top of the stepstool which allowed the top of the doors to rest against one of two large limbs about 9 feet off the ground. I stooped down and, using the tree limb as a lever of sorts, I lifted those doors up until I could push them lying flat and resting on both of the limbs. Then I unfolded the doors and voila’! I had a floor for my treehouse. I nailed the floor to those two tree limbs, and it was secure. As humble as it might seem, that folding door turned floor was pretty much the full extent of my treehouse. I could lean up against the trunk of the tree or just sit Indian style.

            Now, remember those limbs with the thorns? I wove them together and made a barrier around the tree with two openings to walk through. What it lacked in esthetics, it was proficient at thwarting invaders. Not that I expected to be invaded, but I was just playing make believe. The last thing that I did was to use my parent’s rake and an old broom to clear the area beneath the treehouse. This allowed me to use that rope to disembark without fear of doing so and impaling my feet with thorns through my shoes. Over the next 2 months I had a great time in my treehouse. I would occasionally have guests, friends from the neighborhood, and I started a treehouse craze. Before long there were treehouses all over the neighborhood. My favorite thing about that treehouse was the fact that it allowed me to have a place to be alone. I would fix a sack lunch, a thermos filled with Kool-Aid, and take them along with my most recent comic books and mystery novels such as The Hardy Boys and spend a Saturday afternoon enjoying the alone time. I had a small wooden box that I could tie the end of the rope and haul my lunch and books and other things up to the treehouse.

            The last week of October we got the news that the house had sold. We were scheduled to move back to Houston on Thursday, November the 9th. That day finally came, and I went down to the school bus stop to say goodbye to my best friend in the neighborhood, Tommy Elliot. I officially bequeathed my treehouse to Tommy. Back at the house the movers were loading the moving van with all our earthly possessions. It was exciting and they had it all loaded up and ready to go by about 11 o’clock that morning. We all piled into the car and as we drove away, I looked back at the house that I had lived in for most of 2nd grade, all of 3rd and 4th grade, and two months of 5th grade. There were a lot of memories made while we lived there. But we were on our way to a new adventure. That treehouse has come to be a symbol for those last days in Bryan, Texas for me. It was a humble little treehouse, but it was a place to call my own. I never built another treehouse. I had pretty much outgrown the idea. I was interested in records, girls, and adventures made on my bike in a new neighborhood. Looking back on those last couple of months in Bryan I realize that it was a transitional period of time. I went to visit my friend Tommy about 4 years later. We had both just finished junior high school. The lot where that treehouse had been was not vacant anymore. In fact, the wooded area across the road from our house was filled with new homes and all of the vacant lots that had been in the neighborhood were sporting new homes as well. I made one last visit to see Tommy when I was 23-years-old. Only by then I was married, and my wife went with me. Tommy still lived at home with his mother. His dad had passed away. I have no idea what became of Tommy. That was 41 years ago now. I built that treehouse nearly 54 years ago. At times it seems like yesterday while other times it seems like a century ago. But that treehouse is still there in my memory along with my Converse Tennis Shoes that were “uppers” and white with a black patch, the beautiful fall days that I spent time reading and dreaming in that treehouse, and a simpler time in life.

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