Back in the late ’60s when I was five and full of fairytales, I imagined the mighty oak in our backyard to be a magical one—what with a flurry of songbirds of every kind and their brood, on the branches higher up.
That summer, during the holidays, Papa and my much older brother Sean set out to build a treehouse.
Oh, boy! Wasn’t I thrilled to bits!
It was fitted into every curve and nook of the branches of the oak. They seemed to hold up and cradle the treehouse in its Herculean arms. It was just that bit taller than Papa.
The treehouse saw many sleepovers, doll tea parties, playing Red Indians and festive Christmas lighting.
A time came when Papa and Sean were enlisted into the Vietnam war. Mama would sit by the radio clenching and unclenching her hands, listening to every bit of news. Our anxiety was gnawing at us.
It was on one ill-fated evening when Papa’s platoon was gravely wounded. They didn’t get timely aid and eventually, none made it.
A few days later, Sean’s plane was struck and had nosedived into the thickets of the forest. It had burst into flames upon impact!
This double blow shattered me.
I retreated into myself and spent most of my time inside the treehouse. I felt comforted, sensing Papa and Sean in every essence of this haven.
As years passed, the treehouse started looking weather-beaten.
Papa and Sean would varnish it and repaint it every year. ‘The boys’ day out’ they would call it when they spent countless hours nurturing it. I would be only too happy to get in their way as did Petite, our newly adopted kitten then.
Time went by and surprisingly, it was the tree which decided that it would be the first to go.The roots started getting a slow rot and termite infestation. We called a handyman to dismantle the treehouse which was groaning with the lack of sturdiness of the tilting branches.
A lumberjack was called to saw off the tree and haul away the wood! My ‘magic tree’…!
The treehouse had lost its tree, like I had Papa and Sean. These were huge episodes of losses.
But, I refused to let my treehouse go along with the hacked oak, stomped my foot down, and Mama finally agreed to keep it. It became a makeshift shed in a corner of the garden and a humongous cat house for Petite and her generations of litter.
This Christmas, I painted the treehouse and also festooned it with lighting after many years, but it still waits for some laughter. My arms may not be wide enough to cradle it like the oak but I lean on it to give and also get some solace.
At times, I can almost hear it whispering to me when it creaks: “You must adapt and learn to be your own pillar, rock and anchor, just like I have, brave girl!”
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