William’s Treehouse

Submitted into Contest #50 in response to: Write a story about a summer afternoon spent in a treehouse.... view prompt




Writing prompt #50

Write a story about a summer afternoon spent in a treehouse.

William’s Treehouse     clcronan2020

William stood back and surveyed his latest achievement. The way it looked to him was that he had learned a lot and still had a lot to learn. That is how William saw everything. 

The treehouse reflected the building skills he’d been developing since he was 8 years old. He was 12 now, and this latest addition was built on the same trusty old oak tree as the teepee that was his first building project, and he was proud that the teepee was still standing.

It had been inspired by books he was reading at the time about the Plains Indians. He thought it would be simple enough if only he could collect the right posts. Then there was the issue of how to stack the posts all by himself. Ultimately he cut them shorter and made more of a lean-to than a teepee, using the tree for support. Once he got a tarp over it, if you squinted, you could get the impression of a teepee. A teepee that was a lean-to covered it blue plastic, but he was 8, he had made it himself, so he was proud. 

The new addition was a much more traditional treehouse. The base platform was raised twelve feet off the ground, and hung halfway over the teepee so they could share the shady side of the tree. He had to fashion a way to hoist the building materials so that he could work alone.

He had access to plenty of tools and hardware from his Grampa’s collection. He liked to think his Granda would be proud that he figured out how to use most everything, and without hurting himself much.

William was not just an only child, but the only child within the town limits. He had become a master of being alone because both his Ma and his Pa had to work all the time. His Ma did piece work for the dressmaker, the laundry, and the jewelry factory in Des Moines. She was stringing, or crimping, or beading, or sewing, or assembling, or packaging during every minute she wasn’t cooking or cleaning, or making a dinner of scraps and seconds she got on sale at the general store that was also the post office and the train station.

Pa worked down at the hardware store all day, and cleaned the diner in the evenings. He mostly fell asleep right after dinner, so the only time he checked in on William was Sundays. William really looked forward to Sundays. Ma would make a pot of tea and a pile of toast and the three of them would sit at the breakfast table for two hours just appreciating each others company.

The rest of the week he had to himself. He’d spend almost all of it in the tree house. He did make it to school whenever he could figure out a ride, but it was 22 miles away so walking was not an option. Miss Templeton, his teacher since 4th grade, said she never saw anyone take care of their own education the way he did. She let him take all the tests on the days he got there, and if he passed (which he always did,) she would not mark him absent for any of the days he missed.

Miss Templeton told him that the only subject he needed help with was grammar. She said this was just as important as all his other learning because he would need to speak properly and write well if he wanted to be successful. Instead of having him waste precious school days sitting in her classroom, she made a special arrangement with Miss Prinnefort, the librarian, to work with him. Since Miss Prinnefort did not think William deserved special attention, so she mostly just had him sit and read the text book, and gave him a quiz after each chapter. Needless to say, he didn’t try very hard to find rides to school.

That suited him just fine, because it left all that much more time to pursue his own interests. Like being in his treehouse, and reading. And there was no better place to read. He could read for hours at a time, and for days in a row. When he was younger he would read everything from adventure books for kids, to magazines for women, to comic books and school text books. As he got older his passions turned to reading books about buildings and the engineering skills involved in building them. He taught himself about floor beams and ceiling joists, architectural planning, the benefits of paints and stains, air systems, and all sorts of things he could use in real life. He read history of architecture books and biographies about architects. He read books about landscape design and urban development. He read about the building of the cathedrals in Europe, the castles in Germany, the pyramids in Egypt. He taught himself advanced mathematics, algebra, geometry, calculus, and chemistry so that he could better understand compounds and alloys and tensile strengths, and all the concepts that he discovered while reading. He read about bridges and tunnels and the infrastructure of sewers and electrical supply and natural gas supply and fresh water supply. He read everything he could, he read every chance he got.

In spite of that, there was always time to daydream. From up here on the new platform it was easy to see the train tracks just two blocks over. And when the freights came through he’d go into a trance like state and stare at the entire length of the train as it rattled it’s was through miles of cornfields. The freights never stopped, but the passenger trains might. There was a whistle stop in town, and the train whistle would blow a three-note long-bell as it passed the whistle post and slow down unless a passenger needed to get off or on. More often than not the stationmaster (aka postmaster, aka grocer) would just wave the train through. 

When he wasn’t staring at trains, he might be staring at bugs. Entomology was one of his favorite topics. He could name every type of spider that shared his space. He had caught more than his share of bumblebees and butterflies and lightening bugs and grasshoppers and cicadas and anything else he thought might need examining. He had learned how to safely remove the hornets nest that formed every year up inside his teepee. He could count on the caterpillars to make their chrysalis’ in his oak tree. He watched all the bugs and birds and other critters that seemed to enjoy his back yard the way he did. 

Then there was cloud watching. Meteorology was another fascination. Most kids just wanted to call out what the shapes reminded them of: a rabbit, a monster, an angel. He liked to imagine all the factors that came into play to create just that cloud, in just that place, on just that day. He had a pretty good handle on naming the types of clouds, but would not hesitate to check his reference guide if he needed to. And there was something special about watching rain clouds form. He could never explain why, but it felt like a privilege.

On the few occasions when it would rain a bit, the treehouse was the perfect place to lie around and take it all in. He enjoyed the smell of the hot dusty ground as it sucked in the long awaited rains, the rhythmic sound of the raindrops on the tarp below, the strange absence of birds singing and bees buzzing, the fresh clean scent coming up from the small patch of grass that had been so dry and forgotten. It would be nice to see it turn green again for a bit.

But his true passion was building. The newest part of the treehouse had a real roof, with roof tiles he found at the dump. He had found a pretty good rug there too. He built a bookcase to hold his ever growing book collection. He took the cushions off the old couch in the basement, because no one would ever use that couch again anyway, and fashioned a great reading chair. He had a cache of food in a chest he made to look like a pirate’s chest. He had a canteen of water from the spigot on the side of the house, he had an old potato sack that he would use to collect berries and nuts from all over town. He would usually have delicious berries: raspberries, concord grapes, blackberries, gooseberries, and some hearty nuts: butternuts, black walnuts and hickory nuts. Once in a while he might have jerky too.

Over the years he had developed what he called, “the world’s best slingshot,” and practiced hunting small game like squirrels, pheasants, turkeys. When he was ten, he surprised his Ma by setting up a spit over a fire pit in the backyard, and cooking up two small turkeys. She was working in the kitchen and smelled them cooking. She came outdoors to see him sitting on a tree stump turning the spit and smiling at her. She just about cried from pride in her son and a relief to her hunger. When Pa came home to a plate full of fresh, tender turkey meat he ate like he’d been starved for a long time. He looked at William in awe and with pride. William was not always successful, but he hunted as often as he could after that. He learned from his Granma’s cookbook how to make soup and jerky, so no much was ever wasted.

As yet another summer day stretched toward dusk, William sat dangling his bare feet over the edge of the platform. He surveyed the house, the yard, and all that made up his little part of the world. He was happy there, and in no particular hurry to move on, but he did wonder what the future held. 

July 17, 2020 21:16

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