A Country Childhood

Dusk was the perfect time to spring my trap given the murky, dying light filtering through the woodline behind the house. Hidden high on my perch in a persimmon tree, I spotted my victim walking around the corner of the house. When he neared my location above the sidewalk wrapping around the house, I loosened my grip on the fishing line held in my hands and slowly dropped my large rubber tarantula – the fishing line having the appearance of a silky spider strand. I precisely timed the drop to where the spider dangled right in front of my cousin’s face as soon as he reached the location underneath my ambush spot. He let out a horrendously frightening scream, picked up a stick, and beat the Hollywood-esque spider into submission while I nearly fell out of the tree from laughter. Not to be outdone, Larry joined me in the tree and we repeated the same prank on one of my sisters. She was not amused. She grabbed the spider and irritatedly hurled it in our direction as Larry and I riotously cackled high above her.

I love trees. Not all, but much of my childhood revolved around trees.

They are an imagination filled tableau for tree-houses, pirate ships, tire swings, competitions of skill and daring, and perilous jungle vine swinging.

My favorite trees to climb as a child were the maple tree in the east facing backyard of my grandparents’ home and the persimmon tree standing in a fenced-in area near the southern side of the house outside the kitchen. I lived at my grandparents’ house on twenty acres of land out in the country with my mother and two younger sisters. The home was nestled in a three-acre clearing surrounded by woodlines and fields with a large garden, myriad varieties of flowers, and substantial numbers of cherry, apple, pecan, peach, nectarine, plum, and pear trees planted by grandmother and her mother spaced throughout the three acres and we had a pool we basically lived in during the hot summer months. My uncle and aunt built a house next door a few years after I moved in with my grandparents, so my two eldest cousins started venturing about the property and surrounding areas with me and my sisters.

The maple tree was a favorite of mine because it was the same age as me, planted the summer before I was born, so I fondly considered it to be my tree. It split into two large trunk-lines near its base and had many low-lying limbs which were easy to reach as a child, allowing a beginner tree climber to gradually progress to more daunting trees. The tree had an expansive canopy for a maple tree, which shaded our picnic tables in the summer and provided work for me raking up its auburn hued leaves in the fall. Twenty-five cents a bag was my grandmother’s going rate.

The persimmon tree was our crown jewel. The fenced-in area where the tree stood contained a swing set, bird feeders, an old stump, and a sandbox. Many stray dogs were rehabilitated in the playpark as they slowly acclimated to the rest of the family dogs. The cats liked the playpark because they could get away from the dogs and often joined us in the persimmon tree. We had to be careful playing in the sandbox lest we stumble upon a turd landmine because the cats frequently used it as a community litter box.

The smooth but raised and corrugated bark of the persimmon tree was ideal for gripping limbs. This made it easier to jump from the top of the swing set to a limb on the three. The trunk of the tree was extremely straight with many reachable limbs from the bottom to the top. Because of its achievable height, the tree was the site of one of the featured events of our family Olympic Games held one summer. The Olympic Games consisted of timed sprints and hurdles – over sawhorses of various heights – a two-mile run around my grandparents’ house – forty-two laps which I regrettably ran barefoot – and a who-can-climb-the-highest-on-the-persimmon-tree challenge. We handed out ribbons to the various winners in their respective categories. Not wanting to waste a good story, we reported on the Olympic Games in a short-lived family newspaper complete with editorials, a science and history column, and illustrations consisting of crudely drawn stick figures.

One young teenaged spring, an overnight windstorm detached the large, limbless trunk of a dead tree from its base in the woods near Sherwood Forest, the heroic and romantically named wooded childhood play area where the tractor path, water-carved gullies, and a steep slope converged to form the scene of many fantasy filled adventures. The trunk was lying horizontal to the slope and my eldest male cousin, Larry, and I had recently felled another dying tree in front of it with axes a couple of weeks prior so only brush and small saplings lay in front of the trunk until you get closer to the bottom of the hill. Naturally, we thought it would be a great idea to see how far the trunk would roll down the slope. We figured if we could get it started, gravity would take care of the rest.

Needing as many adventurers as possible to move the trunk, minus adults, of course, because they don’t count when it comes to daring assaults on a fallen tree, I enlisted the aid of another cousin and my two younger sisters. THREE … TWO … ONE … PUSH! THREE … TWO … ONE … PUSH! Finally, it moved. HARDER, I yelled. The massive trunk began to roll.

Success!

The enlisted aides pulled away as Larry and I gave it one final push. The tree began to steadily roll down the hill. I pulled away from trunk only to notice Larry’s shirt catch on the bark and he began to roll over the tree. Not wanting to see my cousin crushed, I grabbed Larry’s pants leg but all this did is keep him on top of the tree while it was rolling down the hill while I’m dragged behind it. All the while, Larry was making noises that sounded like a combination of yelling and getting beat on the chest with someone’s fists. Think of Tarzan’s famous jungle call, but combine this with the sound of a shrieking banshee. Larry’s shirt had rolled up and the tree bark was scratching the skin off his abdomen. Considering the alternative was possibly serious injury, the fact that we merely turned the trunk of this tree into an enormous human exfoliation machine was a fortuitous, albeit unintended and unforeseen, event.

As the tree neared the bottom of the hill I dug my feet in and Larry slid off the trunk, but I, on the other hand, hit the tree with my legs as I was stood up from the angle and speed of going down the hill just as the rolling trunk came to a dead stop. Its descent fortuitously stopped by two saplings near the bottom of the hill, I flipped over the trunk into one of these saplings, knocking the wind out of me and bruising my rib-cage. As we’re lying there in shock, trying to process everything that just happened, I exclaimed that might not have been the smartest thing we did today. Naturally, rather than decide something like this is too risky, we started planning the safety protocols we should implement the next time we were going to roll a tree down a hill.

The poison ivy blisters were worse than the scratches and bruises.

A poison ivy protocol addendum was added to the plan.

The fall I turned fifteen, my grandfather and uncle decided it was time to repair the roof of the office storage building, the building was used to house company records, specialty advertising samples for clients, various power tools, and the spare stove my grandmother used for high volume events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any birthday in the family because who wants a turkey, bacon wrapped chicken or meatloaf with a closely guarded secret sauce taking up an entire oven when you have roughly twelve other dishes you need to prepare in a four-hour time frame. For the birthday celebration meal, the birthday celebrant got to pick a special dish and their choice of dessert with the other family standards and alternate desserts filling out the rest of the menu. I always selected fried chicken livers and a blueberry cake. With the exception of my grandmother and my younger cousin, David, who often shared a birthday party with me, I think everyone else in the family did not care for fried chicken livers, so one year I picked duck.

No one liked it.

My uncle, my cousin Larry, and I were busy working on the roof of the storage building tacking down the roofing roll when I needed to grab something from the house. I can’t remember if it was a tool or if I was merely hungry and needed a snack. Spying a nearby, accessible tree limb within arms’ length of the roof, I decided I would rather not use the ladder conventionally resting against the side of the building but swing down from the roof using the limb serendipitously placed near the storage building for my own personal amusement. Using a ladder is quite pedestrian. It’s why I taught myself how to get on the roof of my grandparents’ house by climbing up the chimney and freaking my mother out by jumping from the roof of the house to get back down to the ground. Have no fear. I wasn’t in any real danger. Larry and I spent months practicing how to fall from heights after renting all the books on Ninjas from the local library.

Grabbing the branch, I swung myself down. The angle of attack and momentum of my swing pushed my body nearly horizontal to the ground. It’s at this precise moment, at the height of my swing, the limb broke. With the leaves gone, I had mistakenly grabbed onto a limb that was clearly past its prime.

Time slowed.

I clearly remember looking over at my uncle and cousin to see their faces transform from a neutral expression into one of shock and surprise. I fell straight down, face up, and back to the ground, holding the limb the entire way down. In an instant, I was down on the ground, and to my surprise, I fell flat on my back, softly, into the leaf cushioned ground. I wasn’t hurt at all and I didn’t even have the wind knocked out of me. I started to think how ridiculous everything must have looked as if I were transplanted into a comical cartoon world so I burst out laughing maniacally. My uncle and cousin, thinking I’m severely hurt and crying out in pain nearly killed themselves getting down the ladder to check on me, still laughing on the ground.

It was only later I noticed the large exposed root sticking out of the ground inches away from where my head and neck landed.

One of the advantages of growing up in the country is having plenty of space to create elaborate outdoor games with your siblings and cousins. One such game we played involved a variant of hide-and-seek where we would spread out over the property and attempt to ambush each other with imaginary stick rifles. This was safer than some of the other warlike games we played. Pelting each other with June apples or green persimmons had a tendency to leave bruises or stain clothes and tracking each other in an overgrown, grassy field with plastic knives in a game of hunter/hunted typically left us with chigger bites and ticks. We often needed a designated referee to settle in-game disputes. Shooting each other with imaginary rifles frequently resulted in ambiguous ties or claims of missed shots. Cover or height was one’s ally.

Bored from hiding in the bushes, I decided to climb a tree with a large overhanging limb I can use as a vantage point that is high enough my position will not be easily spotted. Standing on the limb, I rested my hand on the nearest branch I could reach. Just as one of my sisters and a cousin rounded into view the limb gives way and I fell forward, losing my balance quicker than I could correct. Reflexively, I reached out for anything to break my fall and, to my surprise, I found myself hanging in midair from a large wild grapevine.

Up to this point, we thought the vines weren’t capable of holding our weight for a significant period of time. Instead of feeling apprehensive from nearly tumbling from a tree, I excitedly started thinking through all the possibilities for adventure that lay in store from the vines while still feeling incredulous at the fact that I am neither injured nor scarred from a lengthy fall.

The vines opened up an entirely new world of daring escapades with the trees on our property. Instead of scouting trees to climb, my sisters, cousins, and I began scouting prime locations to cut vines from which to swing. We had grand designs and aspirations of pretending to be Tarzan or Jane swinging through the jungle, but we were never able to connect more than two vines in a row so we opted for attempting to craft epically long swings from vines on hillsides with long arcs and swing times.

One tree, in particular, a vine-laden, large hickory tree located halfway up the slope near the path in Sherwood Forest provided an ideal point from which to swing due to Sherwood’s geography. The steep hillside sloped down to a wide gully and proceeded to climb back up at a similar angle on the opposite side, which allowed us to swing over the gully and back again or drop down on the other side. It was winter, so we didn’t have to worry about snakes or patches of poison ivy. I should have used a saw to cut the base of the vine, but seeing as how I hadn’t had a chance to use my prized hunting knife for anything of note, I used that instead.

It took years to get the sap stains off my knife.

This was the winter my mother took me and my sisters to get new coats from Burlington Coat Factory during one of their seasonal sales. I picked out a nice triple-goose down all black coat that looked like it belonged on an Arctic expedition. My sisters picked out colorful coats more appropriate for wearing to church on Sunday. We all loved our new coats. In particular, I remember my sister Becca going on and on about how much she loved her new coat. She meant it too. She wore it all the time.

After a recent rain, the ground was nice and soft upon which to land after swinging to the other side of the gully. Everyone was having a grand time and lots of fun. Everyone, that is, except for Becca. She stood to the side watching us swing over the gully and wouldn’t play with us because she was wearing her beloved coat and she didn’t want to get it dirty.

Nonsense.

We finally convinced her she should take a swing after we had played on the vine for a couple of hours. I think it was more a combination of sibling and cousinly goading, daring, and double-daring that finally convinced her. Finally, she took her place at the base of the vine. She didn’t look very happy about the entire affair. Larry and I told her to lift her feet and we gave her a big push to get her started. Once she reached the other side, we yelled for her to jump, but she didn’t. As her momentum began to carry her back to the launching point, I heard the tell-tale crack of a tree limb giving way and the vine snaps.

I want to paint you a picture. Imagine a bird. A beautiful, colorful bird decked out in a pastel blue and pink coat from Burlington Coat Factory. Now imagine this bird is your sister, shrieking as she plummets to the earth like Icarus. Splat! She lands flat on her back in the middle of a muddy gully.

I don’t know that I can accurately describe what I saw and heard. My initial reaction was one of shock and caring, no one believes the latter, as to the condition of my sister. This quickly gave way to hilarity and riotous laughter at what came next. My sister rose stiffly from the mud like a mummy from a Bela Lugosi horror film alternately moaning loudly, roaring in rage, stating she’ll kill us all, and crying “my coat!”

Becca ran off to find mom.

At this point given Becca’s beloved coat might be ruined, my laughter turned to worried contemplation as to where this incident stands in the pantheon of things I’ve done to my sisters considering my brotherly penchant for causing random injurious accidents. When I was five, I ran Becca into the entry room door of our first home chasing her with a toothbrush causing her to bust through a glass pane and sending her to the hospital so the doctor could pick glass shards from her head. A few years later, my youngest sister, Christen, was sitting on the edge of a springy trundle-bed located next to a bunk bed when I jumped from the top bunk, launching her across the room into a television stand near the wall. Also sending her to the hospital.

There were other incidents; only, they didn’t involve a hospital visit.

Fall is my favorite season of the year. It’s the perfect season in the South. Not only is the temperature cooler than summer and the air less humid than spring, you also get to see all the deciduous trees exchange their dull green summer coat of leaves for captivating shades and hues of red, yellow, and orange that play off the deep sunsets of the Mississippi Delta.

In Tennessee, it can get windy in the fall without the accompanying storm front you normally see in spring and summer. The weather is great for kite flying. Our favorite kites were the triangular delta style kites that were highly maneuverable. We lost most of these kites in the nearby woods from snapped or cut strings once we started kite fighting after reading about the sport in a book.

One year, my grandparents bought all the grandkids kits with which to make homemade kites. The diamond-shaped type with a tail you see in old magazines and movies. The kite took a lot of wind to start flying, but once it hit the air above the property tree line in the sod farm next to my family’s land it would stay aloft as long as you liked.

My cousin Larry and I decided one day we wanted to see how high we could fly the four-foot kite we built so we went about the property collecting all the heavy-duty cotton string we could find. All told, I think we managed to gather about one thousand feet of string, most of it supplied from the ample spool of string my grandmother used in her garden to tie her fruit and vegetable plants to wooden stakes. We had good sustained winds in the field and managed to unspool most of the string into the air. Ultralights would often fly low over the field since it was near the interstate, which pilots used as a visual landmark, and, after seeing a couple fly nearby, we became nervous that one of the ultralights would accidentally catch the kite or kite string. To make matters worse, the evening was approaching and dark clouds began to roll into view carried along by higher winds.

Hastily making a conditional pact to save our grandmother’s garden string instead of cutting the kite loose, the one condition being we would cut the string the moment we heard thunder or saw lightning, we alternated positions back and forth. One of us would spool the string on a thick wooden dowel rod as the other pulled the string back to the ground with leather gloves since the string was biting our hands and we had the preposterous hope the gloves would protect us in the event of a lightning strike. It took us close to an hour to pull the kite back to the ground; all the time leaning back at a forty-five-degree angle to keep from being pulled over by the force of the kite.

I still don’t know how the string didn’t snap.

The same weather and winds that make for great kite flying also make ideal conditions for sailing pirate ships in the trees. My sisters, cousins, and I conceived the idea for the pirate ship after attempting to turn our Radio Flyer wagon into a land schooner of sorts using one of the spare sheets my grandmother kept in the hall closet as a makeshift sail. We erected a wooden mast with a spar from a couple of repurposed fallen tree limbs tied together with twine and held upright by one of the two wagon riders. Two of the sheet corners were securely tied to opposite ends of the crossbeam with twine using a couple of knots I learned from my grandfather’s scoutmaster book he kept in his library, the same library that was my bedroom until I left my grandparents’ home many years later

The job of the wagon rider not holding the mast was to hold the lower two corners of the sail and the two lengths of twine we ran from the ends of the crossbeam as a means of changing the position of the crossbeam to optimally catch varying wind directions. The mast holder had to steer the wagon with one hand while keeping the mast from falling over. A nearly impossible task given the lack of muscle development in our adolescent bodies.

It was a disaster.

An optimist would consider the fact the wagon moved at all a success but we were not pleased with only moving one to two miles per hour on the flat concrete walkway circling our grandparents’ house and the mast kept falling down. We had two Radio Flyers and our dreams of racing each other down the walkway while sword fighting with sticks or cardboard tubes were dashed by the ridiculously slow speeds we achieved. We settled for pushing our land schooners down the hill behind the deep end of my grandparent’s in-ground swimming pool until we nearly impaled one another with the masts after inevitably crashing.

What were we to do with all the spare sheets in my grandmother’s hall closet?

Earlier in the year, we spotted a tree in between the sod farm field and our driveway that had a unique feature. It had three limbs placed about six or seven feet apart running horizontally to the ground and each other that were large enough we could climb and hold our combined weight. The main trunk of the tree gently sloped to one side making it relatively easy to scamper up the trunk to reach the first limb. Feeling confident in our mast rigging abilities, we constructed a series of sails involving copious amounts of twine and four bedsheets we hoped my grandmother would not miss for a considerable length of time. The entire tree swayed when the fall breezes filled the sails and we excitedly began delegating various ship roles and duties. Much to the chagrin of my sisters, I assumed the role of captain as befitting my birthright as firstborn child and grandchild.

And, thus, our pirate ship was born.

Outside of the massive oak tree located in the southeastern corner of the property, which was old and prominent enough to be listed on all of the historical survey maps of the property, the grandest tree on the property sat right across the driveway. It was, apropos, called “The Big Oak”. Hanging from this tree was the tire swing.

The tire swing hung from a double looped nylon rope securely fastened with a multitude of knots to a large secondary limb branching out from the enormous initial limb on the trunk of the oak tree about fifteen feet off the ground. This limb could only be reached by ladder but it was wide enough you could walk on it once you climbed on top. The only other method we successfully utilized to get up to the limb was a DIY crate elevator using a lengthy manila rope cut at the historic S. Y. Wilson & Co. store in the local town square and a couple of block and tackle pulleys Larry and I received for Christmas one year – our request.

I loved that store. It was built in 1893 and was three stories tall with old creaky wooden stairs and balconies and spacious tin ceiling tiles. My grandfather would take me to the store when he needed the odd tool, bolt, nail, or screw and always bought me a grape or orange soda from the vending machine sitting on the loading dock. I drank the soda while he talked with the owners. It seems like he was friends with everyone in town. Hardware, tools, and farm equipment eventually gave way to antiques and now the building is home to an outdoors and western apparel and gear store.

We were forced to decommission the crate elevator after we dropped one of my sisters.

The pulleys weren’t the oddest Christmas gift we ever requested or received. That honor goes to the three and a half foot tall lifelike doll we requested as a joint gift for the purpose of conducting stunts. These stunts included, but were not limited to, making a homemade parachute and throwing the unpaid and uninsured stunt doll off the roof of the house or launching it with a makeshift catapult constructed from springy tree branches. Near the end of its useful lifespan, the doll’s main function was to serve as a crash test dummy.

One of the games my siblings, cousins, and I often played on the tire swing was to take the tire and turn it so the rope would slowly twist and wind up like a spring. Once we let go, the tire morphed into a quickly spinning g-force simulator. We earned bonus points if we successfully kept ourselves from being thrown off, which was more challenging when two of us clung to the outside of the tire. We also loved playing a bucking bull or bronco game where two people sat on either side of the rope on top of the tire and tried to cause the other person to fall off by bouncing the tire or forcefully throwing it side to side.

Providentially, the only injuries we sustained involved bruises or the rare sprained wrist or ankle.

The tire on the swing was an old truck tire. Later on, we discovered a stash of old truck tires near the dilapidated tractor wagon my grandfather used for hay bale rides pulled by his old Massey Ferguson diesel tractor – a tractor I later learned how to operate so I could help mow the grass with the “bush hog”. Mowing the field on top of Bluebird Hill overrun with kudzu, tall weeds and grass, wild blackberry bushes – we saved these – and thistle in the middle of summer was a four-hour exercise in allergy management and snake avoidance. Bluebird Hill was special to us because it was the site our archeology dig, which was an old 19th-century rubbish pile for a long destroyed farmhouse yielding amber-colored glass medicine bottles and other long-forgotten kitchen items.

Upon discovering the stash of truck tires, we started thinking of constructive things to do with the tires such as rolling them down hills until they crashed. The person whose tire rolled the furthest was the winner. This sufficed for some time until boredom set in and required us to look for something new to do with the tires. Being young, smallish, and relatively flexible at this age of our lives we figured out we could sit inside the tire while someone rolled it along a flat area of the yard.

Not content with merely rolling along the yard, I decided we should up the ante and roll down a hill. We moved over to the hill behind the swimming pool, which had a gentler slope than Sherwood Forest knowing we’d risk serious injury if we attempted the hill at Sherwood. The hill behind the swimming pool was not without its dangers though. It eventually ended at the woodline after flattening out slightly and a pecan tree stood near the slope.

We were unable to come up with a plausible way to stop the tires from rolling into the woods without someone outside a tire physically slowing it down. The plan was to have someone run behind the tire then grab it wearing work gloves while the person riding inside the tire did their best to slow their speed by kicking their feet against ground each rotation.

We were idiots.

I, being the fastest, was going to be the first runner. Larry bravely volunteered to ride inside the tire. We ran a couple of tests runs where the slope wasn’t as steep as the top of the hill to see how difficult it would be to grab the tire and slow it down. Satisfied our plan could work, we moved to the top of the hill on the concrete pad next to the diving board and Larry pushed off.

I never caught up to the tire.

To clarify, I never caught up to it while it was rolling. Larry bounded down the hill with such speed I never had a chance grab the tire. The next thing I remember seeing was Larry’s frantic attempt to stop the tire, which merely put it off-balance. The tire flipped on its side and catapulted both it and Larry past the shrubs at the edge of the woods and out of sight.

He survived, so we modified our plan to have the runner act as a continuous brake while the tire was rolling and I brought out the huge tractor tire inner tube we typically used to create monster waves in the pool until my grandmother would come out and get onto us for dropping the water level of the pool.

I nearly broke my neck, one summer, trying to swan dive through the middle of the inner tube off the diving board. After many successful dives, I hit the sidewall of the tube, nearly passed out underwater from the impact, and bruised my sternum with my chin. It also seemed to attract horseflies so I already had a history with this rubber nemesis of mine prior to rolling myself down the swimming pool hill firmly ensconced in a cocoon of recklessness.

We decided we wanted to race two tires to the bottom of the hill. Larry would roll down in the truck tire and I would take the inner tube. The inner tube was larger and would start slow, but it would roll faster, in theory, towards the bottom of the hill.

Nobody won.

I rolled straight into the pecan tree, careened off of it, and crashed into Larry.

I have always been somewhat in awe at the capabilities of my mother; be they raising three kids as a single mom or being a skilled musician or an expert on birds or a carpenter or an architect or someone who can work on her own car and drive a tractor.

One early fall day, Mom came home with a load of lumber comprised of 2x4s and 2x6s in the bed of her pickup truck, a dark red, extended cab, full-length bed ‘88 F-150 with a straight-six engine block and manual transmission. The truck was a replacement for the small Renault hatchback import that Mom claimed could get between thirty-five to forty miles-per-gallon, which itself was a replacement for her bronze colored big block Delta 88 muscle car with a 440 cubic-inch engine. Mom had to sell the 88 shortly after my dad left once the transmission started dying because we needed the money at the time and only being able to drive in second gear was highly problematic. My teenage-self wished I had a chance to rebuild the car, install wide wheels with whitewall tires, and paint it solid black with a racing stripe, but my adult self might not be alive today had I done so.

I had no idea what the lumber was for until Mom boldly proclaimed we were going to build a treehouse. Instantly, my mind was flooded with grandiose ideas and imaginative future plans for the structure.

The tree we selected was a large oak near the western end of the office building from which my grandfather and uncle ran their business not too far away from the stately magnolia tree expansive enough to hide from view all the grandkids clinging to its limbs and the future wood burning pile where I accidentally lit my sweatshirt on fire a couple of years later while Larry and I were jumping through the flames of said burn pile holding a flattened cardboard box in front to push the flames around us.

I never told Mom about that.

I didn’t want to die at her hands.

This particular oak tree was uniquely well suited for treehouse construction. About eight to ten feet up the tree, multiple large limbs protruded from the central trunk in a relatively horizontal fashion; offering a stable platform from which to construct the floor of the treehouse.

The treehouse itself was not to be fully enclosed. This would take way too much time and lumber. Rather, over a period of three days, it took the form of a crow’s nest or observation deck, with railings for walls. We installed a series of wood planks on the trunk to form a ladder of sorts. It was closer to a rock climbing than a typical ladder, but it was effective.

The treehouse fast became the location of competing of all-boy or all-girl clubhouses, medieval castles, wildlife observation decks, outdoor hide-and-go-seek hideouts, tag-you’re-it bases, and several blanket and sleeping bag all-nighters.

Over time, as all established things tend to do, the treehouse slowly fell apart, its pace of decay quickened by the continual growth of the oak tree pushing against and surrounding its wood planks until we forced to dismantle the treehouse and repurpose its wood many years later.

So, too, have life and the forces of time spread my childhood family out only to be repurposed into a different form with new generations of children fashioning their own unique stories and memories.

While I have many fond memories involving the woods, trees, and other outdoor locations on my grandparent’s property, I cherish these memories because they depict something much deeper and more meaningful than a good story or laugh.

They represent familial bonds, friendships, and a shared story.

My story.

END

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The Joker’s Dilemma

Time.

Inexorably moving. Ever present. Scarce.

None of us know how much time we have on this earth – ‘cept One. Many never live to see their first birthday and few will see their hundredth. It is ironic that a seemingly infinite, ethereal resource is experienced in such a finite and limited way. Nevertheless, it is this scarcity that imbues the preciousness of time.

Consequently, I often find myself asking, “To what end? What purpose?”.

When did I start feeling guilty about having free time to just sit back and play a game? Please don’t misunderstand me, I think many adults often miss out on having fun in life and developing relationships with others simply because they cannot enjoy having “free time” by themselves or with others. Free time is really a misnomer. Nothing is truly free.

Nevertheless, I hear the Joker leeringly whispering in my ear, “Why so serious?”.

Perhaps it is my introverted nature that causes this sort of introspection or the prospect of facing a mid-life existential crisis in my 30s, but I am highly aware that the choices and decisions I make all come with their own set of opportunity costs. When you’re young and blissfully ignorant of how fast time can pass you by the future lies before you with all its wondrous representation of hope and possibility. However, regret and irresponsibility go hand in hand – tightly bound together in our psyche with immaturity and foolishness.

That said, I don’t think having responsibility and maturity means that one should have a soulless existence devoid of mirth and laughter. At its most ideal, life should be fun and joyous, but many people feel trapped in a life filled not with what they like to do, but what they should or must do according to external expectations and internal pressures.

I think many of us, on some level, want to make the most out of life. Unfortunately, there’s no simple rule book on how to succeed in the balancing act game we all play with our time. I desire to be professionally successful, yet, I do not wish this success to come at the cost of spending time with my family or participating in activities that I enjoy even though they might not bring me any monetary return.

The modern life is hectic enough. There is a constant demand for our attention. Advances in technology and the following productivity and efficiency gains (while making certain things easier and more convenient) have not resulted in an increase in leisure or time for the things that truly matter when we’re approaching the century mark with our age and I feel confident in asserting that cheap robotic butlers are still a couple of decades away.

A life filled with purpose, meaning, and warm, close relationships with others is what so many of us desire. I, for one, want a simple life. This does not mean I wish to live a life of mediocrity – lacking in adventure or accomplishment. Rather, it means cutting out or limiting things that are of little worth.

Lynyrd Skynyrd says it well.

“Simple Man”

Mama told me when I was young
Come sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely to what I say.
And if you do this
It will help you some sunny day.
Take your time… Don’t live too fast,
Troubles will come and they will pass.
Go find a woman and you’ll find love,
And don’t forget son,
There is someone up above.

And be a simple kind of man.
Be something you love and understand.
Baby, be a simple kind of man.
Oh won’t you do this for me son,
If you can?

Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold
All that you need is in your soul,
And you can do this if you try.
All that I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied.