View or add comments on this story
The first time I met him, I was 13 years old. I had only recently just
moved to the neighborhood. I was not overly popular or anything in my
childhood but being the new kid, a lot of the children were interested in
me. I became friends with several of them and like so many children I
needed friendship. We played a lot and some of them would talk about some
of the others.
One day while I was playing, another child appeared on the schoolyard. He
was quite different from any of us. I'm not quite sure what had happened to
him but his features were so that he looked as if he had been in an
accident. Now I'm not talking really disfigured but in a child's
imagination, what starts off as minor becomes important and being different
to a child in most circles, is kind of taboo. I think that it was that his
head was taller than most. Anyway, I asked about this child to the others.
They told me tall tales of how he had been ran over by a truck and his head
was squashed. Most said, "Stay away from him!"
I was fiercely independent as a child but I did, like all children, need
friendship. I remained loyal to the group for a while, sticking to my inner
circle. However, I never turned away a possible friend. One day I was at
the park and this child appeared there. I have always been curious about
people so when he approached me, I garnered the courage and said, "Hello!"
He responded back by smiling and said, "Hi." Then he said, "You probably
should not be talking to me cause you will lose all your other friends." I
laughed and told him that really did not matter even though I was actually
lying. We played together that day all afternoon. In Louisiana there are a
lot of things for kids to do.
We ran off to the bayou. There we turned over rocks catching mudpuppies and
crawfish. It was the coolest afternoon I had had there. We waded through the
dark waters of Red Chute Bayou and it was really deep. We played pirate and
then went back to my house to get Kool-Aid from my mom. She made a large
pitcher and while we were looking out of our back door patio window, he saw
a small bayou that ran off Red Chute from there. In it were tall Cypress
Trees. My friend Chuck looked at a clump of trees that were growing from
the middle of the bayou as Cypress trees do and remarked, "What a swell
place to build a tree fort at." The more I looked at it, the more I knew he
was right. So that day, we began building our tree fort.
Now we were poor so we could not afford to buy lumber. We had to scrounge
for it. But it was a project and we searched high and low. We asked around
and got things from my neighbors. Before long, we had the beginnings of a
small fort. Now there were other forts along the bayou, but none like ours.
My brothers and their friends had one down the creek about 3 houses. We
called them the Gutter Rats. They were a bit younger than me so we did not
always hang around together. They got the name Gutter Rats because they
were always hanging out on the corner gutter and walking up inside storm
pipes. They had a pretty good fort but not like ours. The unique thing
about ours was it was over the water completely in the middle of the bayou.
You had to swing to get to it on a big rope we had. I was like Errol Flynn
After a while, my other friends came to my house. They saw Chuck and me
building our tree fort. The leader, who was named Mike, came up and asked
why are you hanging around with that dummy. At first I felt funny and tried
not to side. My mother taught me wrong from right though and after a few
more comments like that I had had enough. I finally stood up to Mike, and
it really made him mad. I think maybe he was more embarrassed than
anything. He had lost a friend; you see to a guy he thought was inferior.
He really was not though. He was actually quite smart. He just looked
different. After a few more tongue-lashings he left and took his bully
crowd with him. Later that day, something remarkable happened. It seems the
whole group was just following him simply because he was leading. After
supper 3 of the group of 5 came by my house and asked if they could join.
Like I said, I never turn down a friendship and the 5 of us built the most
remarkable tree house ever seen in the Bayou State. We even mailed the
plans off to the Air Force because my neighbor who was in the Air Force
said it was quite remarkable.
The best thing about it and it gave me great joy was Chuck. He had never
had many friends and now he was in a club. I think that made him feel less
different and extremely happy. After the others started talking to him,
they realized he was smart. I lived there for years, longer than any other
house I had ever lived in, and it was the best. It was the best home I ever
had and Chuck was a part of that.
About 20 years later, I returned to that house. I wanted to buy it so my
children could experience what I had on the bayou. The deal never
materialized but I got to see my old house anyhow. As I walked around back,
I never really expected to see it still there. That was 1969 when we built
it. As I walked through the backyard and peered over the fence though, there
it was. It was still standing and it was even bigger. It now had 3
different levels in it. And there were 4 children playing in it. The rope
to get to it was new and I walked up to the children there.
I looked at them and in my minds eye I could see Chuck and myself building
that fort. All the precious memories of my childhood resonated through my
head. So much time, so many fond memories. The kids asked me what I wanted
and they listened intently as I explained how I had built that place. They
loved the story and maybe I taught them something about life. Maybe I
taught them that we are all different in our own little ways and not to
judge each other too harshly. And those friendships are precious. Maybe I
did! As I turned and walked away, Chuck entered my mind. I do not know
where you are Chuck, but this story is dedicated to you and all the
precious memories you gave me and for that great fort. That fort opened my
mind to more imagination than anything else in the world ever did. You
certainly removed the boards from my boarded window!
View or add comments on this story
Back to top
Back to list of stories