When I was about five years old, my dad built me a tree house in a small live oak tree just south of our house on the farm. It consisted of a well-reinforced platform about seven feet off the ground, with 2x4s nailed to the tree trunk to provide a ladder for access. A railing on one side provided a backrest.
As simple as it was, that structure became the center of my life. I spent untold hours in it, reading comic books (we subscribed to them for about $2.50 a year, and they came in the mail), playing solitary pretend games, quietly watching the birds that would come to the tree if a small boy was able to stay still long enough, and generally hanging out while enjoying the
breeze that seemed to be present even on the hottest low-country days. The platform was my place, in my tree – inviolate – respected by the adults as my private place.
Along with thoughts of pleasant hours spent doing practically nothing, one memory particularly stuck with me for the succeeding six decades: the period when I shared the tree with Squeaky the squirrel.
I’m not exactly sure where Squeaky came from. Either my dad found him someplace, or else someone brought him to dad because he’d been orphaned. In any case, he was presented to me as my squirrel. We kept him in the house for some weeks, and he grew into a handsome little fellow with beautiful gray fur, tipped with white on his bushy tail. When he was able to fend for himself, he was released to the freedom of the yard, where he frequently joined me in the tree house, scampering along the limbs and doing squirrel things.
Nature took its course, and in the fullness of time Squeaky matured into a handsome adult squirrel. Unfortunately, it turns out that adult male squirrels tend to be territorial, and eventually Squeaky decided that the tree was his – all his – and interlopers were no longer allowed. He never bit me, but his aggressive behavior pretty much guaranteed that a timid little boy was banned from his own tree house.
Squeaky was relocated to a new home several miles from the farm, never to be seen again. As is so often the case, the unpleasantness of the final encounters stayed with me for a long time, and prevented my appreciating the time that I did have with a furry little creature who, it turned out, just wanted a tree of his own, too.