My tree sat outside our house in the naval estate at the top of town. I cant remember what type of tree it was – back in early to mid 80’s I could tell you what K.I.T.T. stood for and how fast Airwolf could fly, but anything that didn’t involve action tv shows was beyond my remit. Still, that tree on the grass slope behind my house was one of my favourite things from that part of my childhood.
It had strong branches that began about a meter and a half up its trunk, so being one of the taller kids in the area meant I could climb it with a moderate struggle. The branches splayed out and upward so that once I’d climbed up to the first level there was a good place to sit inside the leafy cocoon it formed. Climbing still further up, the branches opened out at the top to form an area that could seat two in relative comfort, should one of my friends make it up into my tree with me.
I spent hours just sitting in my tree – watching the neighbourhood and listening to the sounds of the summer. Not that climbing the tree was a fair weather affair for me – I remember rolling a decent sized snow ball to help me climb my tree wearing heavy moon boots during the middle of winter.
All the kids in the area knew that the tree was my tree, and I became quite protective of it. I had a bit of a fight with the boy next door at one point because I was sure he’d climbed my tree while I’d been away visiting the grandparents. He probably hadn’t, since he was quite small, but he had managed it before, so paranoia set in. My best friend convinced me that the boy next door had indeed not climbed my tree, but that was only after I’d made the boy cry, and I felt bad about that. But in defence, it was my tree.
One morning, as I got ready for school, my mum urgently called me downstairs because a man who lived in the house behind my tree was up a step ladder, cutting the lowest branch with a saw. I was so upset I nearly cried, but as much as I wanted to run outside and topple him from his ladder, I’ve never been much for confrontations.
Through the years, our family seems to have ended up with a fair amount of wahoo’s for neighbours. From those in my first family home with their stupid yappy terrier called Mac, to the Wicked Witch of West King Street who terrorised the current family dwelling up until a short time after I moved out. Yep, we’ve had a fair share of them, but back in the Churchill naval estate days, the wahoo’s of choice were the Whitlocks. The kids were plain weird, the mother was neurotic, and the father was a cold man who spent a lot of time at sea, mostly on the same submarine as my stepfather.
So it wasn’t exactly a shocker that morning to find Mr Whitlock cutting a branch from my tree. Mrs Whitlock had gotten it into her head that I was spying on the family from my perch up in the leafy branches, and so her husband had taken it upon himself to just go out there and saw away at the tree.
Spying on that family had never been my intention, though – spying on the other kids in the street, yes, more than likely. But from my tree in the middle of summer it was kind of hard to see too much of anything with all the leaves.
That night when I got home from school I tried for half an hour to climb my tree, but the evil man had removed the key handhold required for hoisting me up to the first level. Eventually I got my bike, parked it against the trunk and stepped up onto the bike frame to reach a higher branch and lift myself.
In a way I felt quite pleased with myself once I was up there, although inspecting the damage done by the saw of Mr Whitlock I agreed with mum’s remark that “he’s hurt that poor tree.” But since I could still get up there, it actually made it a more secure hideout. If I could only get into the tree with the aid of my bike, then the smaller kids had no chance at all.
Then, about a week later, my mum called me to her bedroom window again, to watch tearfully as Mr Whitlock viciously sawed away at more branches from my tree. “Why is he doing that? Why?” I asked mournfully. My mum could only sigh, “Because they’re a strange family.”
And that was the end of it. The tree was now so badly decimated that all of its lower branches were missing, or cut down to the point where the lower level was gone. All that remained was the upper level, although reaching that would take some brave climbing on my part. However, the realisation soon dawned that should I continue to climb the tree, then Mr Whitlock would only continue to cause more damage with his saw. I decided there and then that I should just let him win for the sake of the tree. As much as I did not deserve this, the tree definately did not deserve to be mutilated.
In the days that followed I continued to play outside near my tree, waiting for the man to come home so that I could confront him. On the evening that our paths finally crossed, I rushed to grab my bike and set it up against the tree as he parked his car and made his way toward his front door on the other side of the building.
With my BMX in place and a boost from my friend Brian, I was able to reach the first stump of a branch. Hugging the tree with my legs, I shinned my way up to the next stump, and haulled myself up to the area that used to be the lower level. By this time Mr Whitlock had entered his house and, from my vantage point, I could his family through their lounge window – ironically I had a clear view now, due to his handiwork. As I watched him enter the living room and greet his wife and kids, I began pointing into the window with one hand, while I clung tightly to my tree with the other.
“Wh..wh…wh… what are you d… d.. doing?” Brian stammered from below. He would later lose the stammer and become quite the ladies man, but at that age every sentence that came from Brian’s mouth was like machine gun fire.
“Pointing at them.” I answered.
Moments passed before I caught his eye, and that of his wife too. The kids, one older than myself and one younger, craned their necks from the sofa to follow the gaze of their parents. From my tree I glared right back at them, slowly shaking my head with a look of disgust. The tension was almost unbearable, and my heart pounded in my chest not only from the exertion of climbing, but from the sheer anger and frustration I felt towards this man and his family.
They knew why I was pointing, and he knew he had stolen something from me that could never be returned. And, I hoped, he knew he was in the wrong. But all he could do was look back with a pathetic look on his face. Mrs Whitlock was the first to crack, darting over to the window to close the curtains, shielding her family from my stare.
I slipped and scraped back down my tree for the last time, as Brian moved my bike away to clear my landing area – the last meter or so was now a leap of faith with no hand holds.
All that remained was for me to get on with being a kid, which mostly involved riding on my BMX. A new tv show called Street Hawk made that all the more fun at the time, and soon, losing my tree wasn’t such a big deal.
We moved away from the area a short while after, but until the day we did I’d still look up to where the branches used to be, each time I left my house. I’d think of how full and healthy my tree used to look, and remember the good times I’d spent up there. The damage had been done, but nobody could take the memories away from me.