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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Three Trees

We returned to the USA after having lived in Panama for three years sometime in 1949. We had moved from Panama to California then to Arkansas and finally moved into a house on my uncle’s farm. We lived on a twenty acre cotton farm so in season there was no problem with idle time, even at seven I was working as a full time laborer in the cotton fields. We worked from early to late, ten hour days, and when we quit working we were too tired to do much but bathe, eat and sleep.  In the late summer between cotton chopping and picking time and in winter and early spring I found myself with time on my hands and nothing to fill it. I was new to the people and country so being poor in a poor country meant that I had to invent any entertainment that would pass the time for me. We lived next door to family so we were treated very well but there were no other children my age around. 
I explored a lot, there was a ditch next to our house and I wondered up and down it watching the birds, rabbits and other wildlife.  Television was new then and only the wealthier people had access to it. We did nave a radio but there were few programs to interest a seven year old. All of the games and entertainments that children enjoy today had not been thought of much less invented. Our toys were sticks, rocks or what ever our imagination could invent from what ever we found.

Behind our house was mom’s garden with a woven wire fence around it and a hen house where we kept our chickens. The fence kept the chickens out of the garden, other than that they roamed free around the house. There were three trees behind the hen house and they grew right next to it in a small triangle with their limbs and leaves covering almost the entire roof. I could climb up those trees and step onto the roof of the hen house.  Only the lord knows how many hours I spent sitting on the roof of that old hen house. I could watch the traffic passing on the highway; watch my relatives and my own family if any of them were outside in the yard.  I guess I imagined that no one knew I was up there observing everything, At least that is what I think now but who knows what a seven year old thought all those years ago.  They probably all knew I was there and didn’t care if I watched them.    I would climb up and down and around from tree to tree until I was tired then step onto the roof to sit, rest, watch then do it all over again and all without ever touching the ground.  I would spend hours sitting, climbing and hiding in this world above the ground.  I lived in a two room house with my mom and two sisters so privacy was a rare thing and the three trees became my private place.  A place I could go where no one would follow,

My imagination carried me to places I can't even remember I just remember that it did.   That memory comes back to me nearly every time I see trees growing next to an old shed.  It is not significant, I never fell out of the trees or off of the roof, and no one else was ever there with me.  Maybe the reason it still sticks in my mind is that was my own private space and it was time that was never shared with anyone. A seven year old child’s memories of a world above the ground were unique or at least I must have thought so.  I was able to be alone in my own world, what ever and where ever that world was at seven.

Perhaps that was the beginning of a life above the ground for me.  In later life I often took jobs that required that I work above the ground and often at tasks that most other men on the job would not attempt.  I found it comfortable to work up high and didn't understand for a long time that everyone didn't feel as at ease up there as I did.  I would walk to the very edge of a building and look down when most men stayed a step or two back.  I would say “Come look at this” and they often said “no thanks I can see ok from here”.  I would walk the steel beams on structures we were building while others on the crew scooted along on their bottoms.  I once, while working for the telephone company, climbed an eighty foot river crossing telephone pole during lunch time, slapped the top and climbed back down to win a five dollar bet. During my early twenties I was working as a carpenter on a new church.  The top of the roof was sixty feet off the ground.  We had then built a ten foot square frame that rose six feet above the roof and then on top of that a seven foot tall octagon shaped base for the steeple that was to finally top the church.  The steeple was built on the ground then lifted with a one hundred twenty foot jib boom crane.  When it came time for someone from our crew to climb to the top of the church and guide the crane operator as he lifted then, sat the steeple in place there was no one on the crew that would agree to go.  I was across town making a delivery when one of the other crew showed up and told me the boss wanted me at the church. He stayed to unload the delivery and I went back to find that I was the only one on the job who would guide the steeple to its final destination.  I even got my picture in the local paper on that one.  A little tiny figure standing on top of the octagon using hand signals to guide the thirty foot steeple to rest. This lack of fear of heights never gave me a feeling of superiority it just gave me the easy jobs. There is only so much lifting and tugging you can do when working in small areas up high, the guy on the ground with the block and tackle had to do the hard work.  I guess it is just a small step from the trees next to the hen house to the top of the church!

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