136. The Fun Club


I always wanted my own play house or tree fort when I was a kid in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. Unfortunately that never happened. My family lacked tools, talent and materials to build much of anything. Also, there was only one tree in our yard, the same ugly elm tree that was planted dead in the center of every front yard in the cookie cutter neighborhood of post war Virginia Hills. A young elm is not a tree that is conducive to supporting a homemade fort in its branches.  Of course, there were other trees growing in folks’ yards, but in the 1960’s they were weak saplings just trying to survive in the hard clay of the area. In the neighbor’s yard behind us, (the Emkirs at one time), was a small circle of mimosas, lovely to sit under on a hot summer day but totally incapable of supporting a boys’ clubhouse tree fort. So I lived without. Not exactly the desolate Great Depression tale of my folks, but it was the cross I had to bear during the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

No one in our working class neighborhood did much that could be considered gardening or landscaping. That took time and money and must have seemed foolish to veterans of WWII and Korea and Vietnam, the gritty men who lived on Dorset Drive and the Parkway, Virginia Hills Avenue and Enfield Drive. Kids in those days were told to “Go outside and play”.  Being constructive was for men. Tired out men did not play. They sat in lawn chairs and drank cheap beer on warm summer evenings in wife beater tee shirts that were never gonna be fashionable. They smoked short cigarettes that had earned their lifetime loyalty– Winston, Lucky Strike, Camel, Salem. Like the cars they drove, things were pretty darn basic back then. Hand crank windows, no air conditioning, a.m. radio, and an ashtray with a lighter. Had to have a lighter since everyone smoked then, even in grocery stores.

We kids had forts made of sticks and leaves, and many years later we had big boxes and shipping crates that served as hideaways, but by then girls and candles and cigarettes and beer were part of the equation. Those were nests for unsupervised horny adolescents not innocent tree forts or kids’ clubhouses. The best thing to do with those nests of nadirity would have been to burn them alongside the Christmas trees we burned each January and thus purge the earth of two sand grains of adolescent sin. {Note: nadirity is a construct made from the root nadir, meaning lowest point. Yes, I made it up, thanks to Mark Craver.}

When my girls were old enough to want their own playhouse beyond our basement, they were maybe 11, 6 and 2 years old. I say that they wanted it, but if I were being totally honest, it was my idea. I wanted them to have the experience that I had wanted as a kid. A fort with a window and door and a ladder and a slide and a sandbox. One summer I decided that they were getting their own play house at the back of our yard. I laid out $500–600, what would have paid for a week’s vacation at the time or a month’s mortgage, for the materials needed. I had a very simple plan: an 8′ x 8′ deck that sat up 4′ off the ground above an 8′ x 8′ sand box. On the deck would be a little house with a slanted roof. The single room measured about six by eight feet and was seven feet tall. It had a single window and a hinged door like a horse stall.

It took me several days to put the parts together– pressure treated 2″ x 6″ decking on a 4″ x 4″  frame set in post holes with concrete. I wanted everything to be solid, plumb, square, level and worthy of time. The house part was 2″ x 4″ construction covered with T-111 siding. It was a thing of basic beauty. My girls could not wait for occupancy. Before I had the guardrail installed on the front walkway, my daughter Grace pushed the neighbor boy off and shattered his elbow, requiring surgery that night. My wife and I were watching him, and I did watch as Grace pushed him and he doubled over and collapsed into a ‘V’ as he fell four feet and his elbow met a rock. It was one of those moments when you just knew that you weren’t gonna get any closer with that family. You had come as far as you could. It was time to eat them or turn back…or something like that.

In any event, my three daughters and two of the neighbor girls took occupancy and declared that the fort was to be called THE FUN CLUB. The two older girls, Erin and Suzanne, appointed themselves dictators for life without chance of overthrow. They began making up rules for their younger siblings to follow, which was briefly tolerated in the new colony. But like their British predecessors, they overstepped natural law and fueled a rebellion. Grace and Kristy seceded and took the Gerber baby Jessi with them. Basically they waited until the older girls grew bored and then squatted in the abandoned playhouse. However, while they were a united colony, they wrote and sang their theme song in all their throaty glory.

“This is the fun club; this is the fun club; this is the fun club so let’s have fun! fun! fun!” to the sped up melody of “You are my Sunshine”. Very primal, like spring peepers croaking out their calls into the stillness of spring nights.

The older girls moved on to post-Barbie appointments with destiny while the three younger ones kept a diary and collected dues for future expenses that were never incurred. Pennies and old pink sticky notes adorned the FUN CLUB for a couple of years and then we used it for storage until the ladder steps broke and the roof began to leak. It was an odd arrangement to store summer chairs and toys in an old playhouse four feet above an old sandbox. Cats and groundhogs enjoyed the structure, though.

Years blurrily passed. I don’t remember when, but I found myself tearing down the playhouse and exposing the deck. And then I cut the 4′ x 4′ posts and dropped the deck onto the sandbox frame where it has sat now for a dozen years or more. It’s an odd sight to see an 8′ x 8′ deck at the back of one’s yard. The uninitiated would never guess that there had once been a FUN CLUB on that very spot; a spot as pure as the white sand that filled the box beneath it. My childish dream had come full circle.

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