Surprisingly, at least to me, there still seems to be some interest in the three recent columns I wrote describing adventures I had as a boy at the old oak tree in Half Acre Woods. The interest, as inferred by several friends (including one who wrote a letter to me) seems to center around the question of whether the old oak tree stories were actually true.
I’m not offended by this insinuation. After all, I realize it is a bit of a mystery how so many incredible adventures could happen to one little boy, as indeed they did. I was glad I had the opportunity to assure these friends (and with this writing to assure you) that all three of the old oak tree stories were indeed true.
But these inquiries did get me to thinking about the scariest and, as I suspect you will agree, the most improbable experience I ever had at the old oak tree. Truth be known, it is the improbability of this story that has caused me to resist sharing it with you until now. I have decided to do so not only because it is an interesting story but because I believe you know I would never stretch the truth for the sake of making a story more interesting or exciting, let alone tell a story that is entirely untrue.
Not long after my encounter with the bear at the old oak tree, my brother and sister and I decided to build a tree house in that massive old tree. I’ll skip the details of construction, which would be an interesting story in itself, except to share that, with considerable effort, we built the tree house as high up in the tree as we could possibly climb. It seemed like a thousand feet up but was probably no more than a hundred or so.
Now this didn’t happen often, but when I was a boy I would sleepwalk from time to time. It just so happened that one night not long after we completed the tree house I dreamed about spending the night there all by myself. In my dream I folded the sheet from my bunk bed and stuffed it and my pillow inside my backpack, then quietly slipped into the kitchen and grabbed a jar of peanut butter and a half loaf of bread. After stuffing these items in my backpack I grabbed the flashlight from the kitchen table (placed there for the convenience of family members needing to make a nighttime run to the outhouse) and headed for the old oak tree.
I quickly climbed the ladder which was comprised of old boards we had nailed to the tree to reach the first large limbs about twenty feet off the ground. From there I made my way the rest of the way up the tree to the trapdoor in the floor of the tree house. Raising the trapdoor, I climbed inside and made myself comfortable, spreading the sheet on the floor and placing the pillow right beside the large open window where I could enjoy the night air.
I should note there had been considerable discussion about whether to include a window in our construction plans, fearing someone might fall out of it, but in the end we decided the view overlooking most of the other trees in Half Acre Woods was well worth the risk.
Back to the story – I sat down by the window and opened the peanut butter jar to make a sandwich, and as I shined the flashlight on the jar I noticed it was Peter Pan peanut butter. Now I don’t have to tell you, in the mid-1950s Peter Pan and Tinker Bell ranked right up there with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and other famous Disney characters. Like children all over America who were lucky enough for their parents to have purchased a television, at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday we were mesmerized by the melodious voice of Jiminy Cricket as he sang “When You Wish Upon a Star,” while Tinker Bell waved her wand over the castle at the entrance to the magic kingdom; and so began the best weekly hour of television broadcasting that every was or ever will be.
I should think it would come as no surprise to know that, as I looked at Peter Pan’s image on the peanut butter jar, it made me want to fly. Without the least bit of hesitation or fear I sat the peanut butter jar down, picked up the sheet and tied two corners of it around my neck, making a cape just like Superman’s – one of my other childhood heroes.
I stood in front of the large open window and took a deep breath as I gazed into the night sky, which was dimly lit by a crescent moon and a million sparkling stars. And as sure as I’m still sitting here today typing this story to share with you, at that very instant I leaped from the window, arms outstretched holding the sheet out like wings, and began to fly through the air; or I should say, began to fall like a rock. And at that moment I woke up.
For an instant I didn’t know what was happening. I was wide awake but it seemed like a dream as I propelled toward the ground. Like Wile E. Coyote after racing off a cliff in pursuit of the Roadrunner, I was about to go “splat” on the ground. The short 10 years of my life flashed before my eyes and I wished I at least had the pillow to cushion my fall, but it was still setting by the window in the tree house.
I closed my eyes and began to pray – “Now I lay me down to sleep,” but I skipped over the part about, “Dying before I wake”, and shouted out loud, “I PRAY THE LORD MY SOUL TO TAKE!”
Just as those words passed my lips, miraculously, a strong updraft caught the outstretched sheet and I floated through the air like a flying squirrel, landing softly in the bough of a sapling maple tree.
Sharing further details of this story would be anticlimactic. Suffice it to say, I climbed down, walked home, slipped back into bed, and quickly fell sound asleep.
When I woke up the next morning I remembered what had happened and was sure it had been a dream, but then I noticed my pillow was missing. So after breakfast I slipped out and went to the old oak tree in Half Acre Woods. Climbing up to the tree house I lifted the trapdoor and peered inside. Sure enough, there on the floor by the window was my pillow, the flashlight, the Peter Pan peanut butter jar, and my backpack with the half loaf of bread still inside – all right where I’d left them.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.