The very next morning I set about building a tree fort, with the limited means of a five-year-old. Our backyard presented a dismal prospect: a piece of dirt perhaps 30 feet square with a few strands of crabgrass. It was bordered with cinder-block walls on three sides. One of these walls was the back of a funeral parlor which had one window, its curtain always closed. In the corner of the yard grew a lone sumac tree about seven feet tall with spindly branches and those long leaves that look like the remaining unkempt hair of some balding old man.
I spent a long time trying to nail a two-by-four into a sumac branch with no success. I remember being stupefied by the problem of how to hold the hammer, the nail, and the wood up in the air all at once and still be able to strike with the hammer. Each time I would try the nails would fly off into the dirt of the yard and I would have to stop and hunt around for them. Finally, I resorted to rope in desperation. I tied several two-by-fours to the branches of the tree and then, standing on a chair, I jumped upon them like mounting a horse. The branches of the sumac all broke at once and everything ended up on the ground, myself included. I had murdered the sumac tree even though I had not meant it any harm. I was just like Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
My crime did not go unnoticed. Later that day my mother confronted me.
“Dicky, why did you break down the sumac tree?”
“I was trying to build a tree fort.”
“But why would you try to build a tree fort in a sumac tree?”
This second question she asked more to herself than to me, not really expecting me to answer. Actually, to me, it sounded more like, “Dicky, why are you such a stupid little boy?” I couldn’t even face her apron but stared down at my shoes, the laces I still had not learned to tie.
Late in the afternoon I occupied myself with throwing stones at the mortuary wall until, as luck would have it, I broke their only window. After that I went inside, told my mother about it, and said I would be in my room until the police came to take me away.