In the early summer of 1963, having just completed the fifth grade, I began an epic process of building a new tree fort in the tall, towering maple tree in the backyard of the old Mabey Homestead. I was 10 years old and filled with bursting energy and creative ideas of how I wanted my tree fort to look. I remember, before falling asleep at night that I would draw sketches of plans of how I would engineer the building of my tree fort.
I was determined to have the single best tree fort in my neighborhood. This was a high goal for a kid to set for himself, because in my old neighborhood that ran along Route 202 among the foothills of the famous Hook Mountain, there were dozens of tree forts. The woods were loaded with tree forts that kids had built. Plus, during that era, just about every kid had an elaborate tree fort in his backyard.
Not to brag, but my old tree fort was elaborate in every sense of the word. It had three full floorings to it. The floorings were built from wide and long boards that were a good four inches thick. The floor boards were attached to the thick limbs of the dear old maple with strong nails. The holding of the boards to the tree’s outstretched arms were then reinforced with extensive lashings.
It’s important to note that this tree fort was not built in one day, in fact it wasn’t even built in one summer. My old tree fort was always a work in progress that extended from the summer of 1963 and went on through the summer of 1967. In June of 1967, I graduated from the eighth grade and I have to admit that while some minor additions were put onto my old tree fort, little work was really done on it during that summer.
My dad helped me a lot in building my old tree fort. Also, my old buddy Stu was a big help. It was truly a labor of love.
My old tree fort remained intact until the summer after my freshman year of college. The boards were beginning to wear, some were even showing signs of rotting. They were no longer held firmly onto the thick branches of the dear old maple tree. So, it was in the early summer of 1972 that I took down my old tree fort. I hope that you don’t think I’m a big wimp, but I remember that I actually cried at one point while I was disassembling the planking of my old tree fort.
In many ways it was a catharsis of sorts. I had just broken up with my beloved girlfriend, Penny, in June of 1972. I had just finished my first year of college. It was just a few weeks after we broke up that I took down my old tree fort. It gave me a place of solace and solitude, one final time.
I climbed the rope ladder to my old tree fort in the morning of that summer’s day in mid-June of 1972 as a boy groping with a wounded heart. I worked and worked all day, carefully disassembling my old tree fort, so that the thick planks of wind-weathered wood could be used again. And, I climbed down the rope ladder, as a young man with a broken heart but a heart filled with dreams and ambitions to take on the world.
I don’t know if kids still build tree forts any more. In the past decade, I’ve lived in North Jersey, Central Pennsylvania and now Central Florida. Sadly, I don’t think that I’ve seen even a dozen backyard tree forts in my travels. As Bob Dylan sang to us all those years ago, “these times are a changing!”
Peace, love and harmony, Richard