We think nothing of our children trucking off into the woods; building forts with their friends. Maybe it is part of the North American genetic code, following in the footsteps of our pioneer ancestors.
My children raised in the Congo also had this inclination – from the oldest to the youngest of our biological children. Our Congolese children seem to have a different pattern – more relationship builders than fort builders.
Randall’s response to a comment on his photo of dawn breaking, reminded me of an incident involving fort building and my children.
Our oldest son had a strong fort building instinct. There were a variety of structures; some in trees; some at ground level; some close to home and some far off in locations secret from me. Fort building materials were everywhere – grass and sticks and vines and sometimes odd pieces of cast off lumber, screen and nails.
Our children’s school year was arranged in eight to ten week blocks of time so that in the two week breaks between terms children could travel home to visit parents. Our children had no where to go – they were at home, but now they were free. A thirteen year old boy has to make his own entertainment in the Congo so, during the school breaks, life consisted of soccer, hunting and fishing, and sometimes building places to hang out with his two inseparable friends – Massa and Yaunde. Dad’s motorcycle gave him an additional measure of freedom.
On one of these two week breaks in the year that he was thirteen, our oldest son provoked a major criminal investigation.
He was off with his friends, back and forth between home and Zulu for fishing, soccer and who knows what all. He was safe. He would let us know where he was going and then he would be gone. We had our own busy work schedules to keep up with. This particular vacation he and his friends worked on building a fort in one of the large mango trees in our front yard. They also spent time hanging out in another fort that they were building up at the far end of the airstrip, on the road to Zulu.
Around this time, there were a string of deaths among elderly women of the area. People were uptight not knowing why these women had died. In that culture, there are no accidental deaths or deaths from “natural” causes. They could have been murders – in any case everyone looked on them as highly unusual. The police began to investigate.
By the time school was back in full swing, rumors began to fly. One of the grass fires had burned the area around the airstrip and someone had stumbled on “the murderers lair”. A large defunct termite hill had been dug out with steps and a ledge to sit around the edge. Steps led up to the top of the mound. Sardine cans were scattered around. The investigators were sure that this was a hideout; the steps to the top of the mound being a lookout over the airfield.
Eric’s friends were very aware of all the hullabaloo going on. They were terrified. This murder’s hideout was none other than their fort. They came in fear to Eric and in turn to us. We were sort of amused but aware of the possibility for wild rumors to become out of control. We knew something had to be done before the whole thing got out of hand – and it was doing that rapidly.
There was some official function coming up and when Leo went to it the military lieutenant in charge of the investigation was present. Leo felt he had better inform this fellow of the real story behind the existence of the fort. The lieutenant was upset at first that Leo was discussing this “top secret” military matter till Leo explained it all to him. Leo and the boys had to go down to the local military headquarters and make statements. If you can imagine the efficiency of that! Leo supplied the paper for the clerk to use to take the statements. Several pages of one fingered peck and find typing later, the boys were free to go.
The lieutenant was somehow amazed at the kids “military” knowledge. He was never convinced that all little kids in North America are inclined to build forts given a stand of trees and some available stuff to build with. A contingent of several officers came up to our yard to gaze with amazement at the tree house in the mango tree.
The murderer? If there ever was one – was never caught.