For a time, Jamie and I were at the same reading level. After school, we’d run home and play baseball until it was dark; Jamie had signed up for a team the week after I did. He was a Met and I was an Angel. He was better than me at throwing and catching and hitting, but I was better at avoiding the dog poop in the yard.
When we couldn’t see anymore, we would run in and grab the books we had almost memorized and read together. That Spring, toward the end of my Kindergarten year, I noticed that I was reading more of the words. And Jamie wasn’t. When we’d read together, Jamie would point out what was happening in the pictures and I’d tell him what the words said.
Every other week or so, Micki would come home with a new book from the library. We had a new Berenstain Bears book one week. We sat down together. He turned the pages faster than I could read. “Slow down,” I said.
“I’m a fast reader,” he said. “I’m reading in my head. When I’m done with this, then you can read it.”
We both knew he was lying, but he was stronger than me, so I sulked while he went Ooh and Aah as he turned the pages.
His eyes lit up. “It’s about a treehouse,” he said.
“They’re all about treehouses, the bears live in a house in a tree.”
“No,” he said, “let’s build a treehouse!”
I opened my eyes wide. “Yeah!”
I asked dad for wood at dinner.
“And nails,” said Jamie.
“And a hammer!” I said so that Jamie didn’t get the last word. Dad said he would help us on Saturday.
Jamie and I woke up earlier than normal on Saturday so we could pick out the right tree in the backyard.
He wanted the maple because he knew I couldn’t climb it. I wanted the apricot tree because I knew Jean couldn’t climb it.
Dad came out with a tape measure. He looked from orange tree to orange tree. “This one has a low enough step so Jean can get up with a little help and you guys could almost walk up to about this level.” He held his hand about the height of his head. “I should be able to make it flat enough that I won’t need to put any nails in the tree.” He took measurements for a few minutes then said, “Let’s go. We’ll get Jeff and pick up the wood.”
We went down to Jeff’s mom’s house. He got a hug from dad, a high five from Jamie, and a slobber kiss from me. His hair was longer and his shirt had the sleeves cut off. Everything about him screamed “6th Grader.”
“We’re going to build a treehouse!” I said.
Jeffrey just nodded and blew a bubble with his gum.
We got the wood and headed home.
It was a whole family effort. Dad measured the wood and drew lines where it had to be cut. Jeff used the hand saw on the 2 x 4s. Dad and Jeff nailed the wood together. Jamie held the nails. I made up a tree house song and thought about official passwords that would have to be said before we would let anyone come up.
The work dragged on for an hour or so. Jean came out with both of our baseball gloves, so I picked up the hammer to show her I was helping. I hammered a nail in and grew bored. I played with Jean for a couple of minutes, but really just watched Jeff and dad build. Jeff blew a bubble while he hammered.
I ran inside and grabbed two pieces of gum. I went to the bathroom and chewed for a minute. It was more gum than I had ever had. I looked in the mirror and shoved as much of the wad of gum out as I could while keeping the tiniest bit between my teeth. It kind of looked like a bubble. I ran outside to show Jeff.
“Jeff, look,” I said getting even more of the gum out in front to make it look like a bigger bubble. He finished hammering in the nail and looked up at me just as the gum fell from my mouth and into the dirt. Jean came by and tried to hand me my glove so that we could play catch.
“You’ve still got a really big head, Jimmy,” Jeff said. He blew a bubble.
“It looks like the frame is ready,” dad said. It laid flat in the tree.
Jamie and I climbed the tree and walked on the frame while dad and Jeff measured and cut the plywood. We pointed to different corners of the frame, “This is going to be my seat when the treehouse is ready.” “No! That’s going to be my seat!” “We can probably bring our sleeping bags up here.” “And have dinner most nights.”
“Ok guys, come down so we can put the floor on.” We came down. Dad and Jeff lifted the wood over the frame. They set it down.
Everybody climbed up and we started hammering. Dad marked the spots where the 2x4s were and we were allowed to hammer as many nails as we wanted. As the nails were going in, I drifted over to the corner nearest the plum tree, so I’d be ready to claim it as my spot as soon as we stopped hammering. My spot had a nice thick branch that I could lean against and more oranges than any other part of the tree. Jamie moved to the corner nearest the peach tree where there was another branch to lean against. Jeff and dad paid no attention to us. The last nail went in. Dad said, “Looks like we’re finished,” and Jamie and I said, “I claim my spot!”
I leaned against my tree branch, reached up and picked an orange. I couldn’t peel it well. I stuck my thumb into it and tore it in two, juice dripped down my arm. I kind of sucked on on each half. “You know,” I told Jamie, “these oranges just taste better when you’re up here.” I looked down at Jean, who looked up at us.
Jamie stood, picked an orange, and sat in his corner of the treehouse. “Yep, I know just what you mean,” he said.
Dad picked up Jeannene and set her in the treehouse across from me. He peeled an orange and handed it to her.
Jeff looked at us. “I don’t need a branch to lean against. I’m old enough to sit right here on the edge.” He sat cross legged, facing the inside of the treehouse.
The rest of the afternoon, we practiced climbing up to and down from the treehouse. When Jean would want up, we’d climb down, when she’d want down, we’d climb up. We put Tippy, our cat up there. We couldn’t figure out how to get Puddles up there. When everyone else went inside, Jamie and I had a peeing for distance contest. I lost.
I probably ate six oranges up there that day, leaning against my branch, and talking about how nice nature is.
Dad barbecued hot dogs for dinner. Jamie brought the metal wheelbarrow over and stood in it so he could pass our paper plates up to us in the treehouse. Jeff ate at the table, so Jamie moved up to Jeff’s spot in the treehouse and I moved up to Jamie’s. Jamie left to get some pickle relish. I grabbed an orange and moved to Jeff’s spot.
I tore my orange and leaned back.
I toppled out of the tree house. Backwards. I landed head first in the metal wheelbarrow. Dad came running and I must have cried some. I had a headache for a couple of days and didn’t have to go to school. Jamie came home and read to me.