Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oh, The Places Boys Make

A copse I guess you might call it, maybe a thicket, of trees grew in the very back of the yard I grew up in out there in rural Ohio.  On a bank, it transitioned our yard down to the Osborn's which was flat and once most likely part of the field of soybeans or corn or winter wheat that was just beyond it  There was an opening between two Rose of Sharon trees in amongst the small hickories, black and raspberries, honeysuckle and huckleberries and one curiously out of place white primrose bush.  If you ducked and pushed in through the opening, you came into a small little alcove with the trees arching all the way above, a canopy.  It was isolated and safe.

When we first discovered it, probably in the late Spring of my third grade year, it was barely large enough to accommodate us both sitting cross-legged knee to knee.  We kept going in and, with time, it got roomier.  We pulled some of the undergrowth and cut back a few of the brambles with our handy hatchets and, by the end of that summer, it was our fort, our citadel, our haven from the heat and big brothers. We'd also fashioned a back entrance for quick retreat, hidden through the honeysuckle and often sat watch, one of us at each entrance, talking in whispered voices, happy and content.

We pretended in it, we ate candy and butter bread and jam sandwiches and sipped cold rusty water from our army surplus canteens.  One time, we ran out of candy, or our moms had gotten better at hiding it, and we stole a packet of Jell-O mix and licked our fingers and shoved them into the wax-paper package and licked it off.  It was cherry and when Mrs B asked us "what in heaven's name" had happened we said we had a fight with choke-berries.  The next time we purloined a packet of Jell-O, the coveted lime if memory serves, JB - a candy savant it seems in retrospect - grabbed two old candy canes and we licked those instead of our fingers.  Unknowingly, he inventing a candy my boys love today, Wonka's Fun Dip.

One year, maybe that next summer, we found a pile of old lumber behind an abandoned shed out way behind Mr. D's a couple of houses down.  Some of it seemed good.  Well, not really, honestly, but all we wanted to do was build a platform in the tree we played in and the nearly rotten, decades old two and four-by-fours seemed just the thing.  We hauled and cut and hoisted the timber into that old maple and made ourselves a fine little crow's nest out in that sea of corn that summer.

JB ran through a sliding glass door early one summer slicing his leg badly and cracking his collarbone and chipping his shin.  He recovered in his older sister's room because he bunked up with two or three brothers, in a dorm-like room his dad had made from one half of the two car garage, and his boisterous brothers could not be trusted to not jump on the stitched leg or plastered shoulder.  I cannot remember where the sister went.  I went over frequently and he and I sat with his pillows and blankets and sweatshirts all bunched up around us, chess board between, as we learned that ancient game, surrounded by girlish posters of hanging kittens and teen, blond feather-haired pop stars and a  framed photo of a grumpy looking Pope. But, floating on that seemingly vast queen bed, we were safe, alone, on our little island we battled on horseback, with castles and helmeted pawns and surprisingly wicked clergymen to save our queen and king.

Nick and Zack have always played in piles of laundry and their baskets.  They've surrounded themselves with vast armies of stuffed animals, close ranked and formidable.  They love their wing of the camper, their little berth, a king sized bed surrounded by canvas and zippers and screens, wild and safe.

I think the best thing we've ever done for them is the bunk-beds.  They have their own little space where they read and sleep and laugh and dream and talk and talk and talk.  I spent a college dorm year sitting on a bottom bunk and always felt good and happy sitting there talking and talking and talking.

When  Marci was pregnant with the boys my friend K was here for a while and helped me put in a large plywood and two-by-four storage unit in our unfinished basement.  It's sixteen by four feet and has two shelves, one just a couple feet off the ground and another easily accessible at probably five feet.  We had fun doing it, we'd shared hammer and tools many times before this, and were glad to be making noise and building.  Midway through he looked at me and said, "You know, were just basically building a big playground for your twins."  I had been formulating the same thought.  We had a laugh and moved on, but, well, now with a renewed sense of purpose, imagining how much fun we, as boys, would have had in such a place.  The large expanse of plywood - now sanded and finished nicer - seemed transformed.  But, into what?

Here's the answer:

Well, actually, that's not the answer.  That is one tiny maple leaf, the only red one amongst the growing bed of gold ones.  It caught my eye from the house, so, on a whim, I decided to go and take a picture of it.  I took two or three and turned to go in but the playset, not twenty feet away, looked, well, different.  I couldn't really figure it.  As I got closer, I could see that what had caught my eye was this:

Dried mud pushed into all the corners where the rails meet the outside board.  You know, log-cabin style or adobe style or yurt style or mud dauber style or bird style.

I realized it all at once and every scene I mentioned above and so many more flashed in that instant memory, that past place where time seems so odd and malleable, that comes with understanding.  I said the words aloud.

"A boynest."  My eyes misted over and I smiled.

A safe warren in a thicket of brambles - a boynest.

A pile of familiar clothes and blankets and hopes - a boynest.

A bunk bed - top or bottom, a shelf, a sleeping bag, a blanket, a bean-bag chair, a car backseat, a dorm room, a Brooklyn loft, a baby crib... boynests all.

The sandbox of a playset, safe under a mortared, caulked and sure watchtower, weapons ready on a soft bed of pine needles, a flying disk to hunt with, and a burnt, touchingly symbolic log end there on the right.

A boynest - one of the best I've ever seen, and I've seen thousands.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

From Bill's "... pictures I took of a boy with a turban fashioned from his pajama shirt which he wore for nearly an hour last night and Marci was at a meeting and I wanted to show her that putting things on your head is a genetic thing and, yes, he and his brother are "dancing like Egyptians..."

I'm pretty sure I was at this party in 1979...

I appreciate you coming around again.

(Listen, to be honest the whole "boynest" thing might not be my strongest idea ever, but, you see, memories come and are made in the damndest ways.  This essay is not perfect either, in fact, none of them are.  There are typos and dangled metaphors and phrases, ramblings and bumblings, unfinished and unfocused stories and, well... that's the way it has to be.  I really don't have an editor or a mentor or a writing or life coach to tell me if an idea is good or bad, long or short, deep or shallow - I just kinda go with my heart.  I don't really mind that.  I hope you don't either.)

Peace to you and yours.


  1. Loved this, BIll. Makes me think of all the forts of dreams built alongside the creeks and woods of my youth.

  2. I remember a small square of tall ferns that grew inexplicably in the center of the backyard of the house I lived in when I was 6, and it was my favorite place to hide and scheme. Though I am too tall now to be completely covered by the fronds, I'd go back there instantly if I could.