Up Shit’s Tree Without A Ladder

I was about six-years-old. We lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but frequently visited my dad in Marathon as he started up a business there. For a short time, he rented a hangar at one end of the town’s only air strip from the town’s only optometrist, Dr. Beckwith. On the other side, and attached to the building, there were a few small apartments with a dirt parking lot within a line of pine trees. My dad stayed in one of those apartments and the rest of us joined him on weekends and, occasionally, some weekdays. I remember that ground with its small dusty rocks, pine cones and needles, sparsely shaded in the mornings and, again, in the evenings. During the day, my mom would go around the other side and help in the office and the three of us kids, Alan, me and the youngest, Peter, would hang out and find things to do. Peter was only a toddler and I seem to remember a playpen near my mom. What a view he must’ve had: small airplanes coming and going in the distance, crankshafts, pistons, oil-stained work boots, an unnecessary blanket and probably some old, hand-me-down toys. Money was scarce in those days. Even a six-year-old can gather that much. I can’t say I remember where Alan was, but I imagine he was shadowing my dad, reading comics or watching TV. He never liked the chaos. I, on the other hand, was a busy body. I went from one thing to the next, looking, but never finding anything to satisfy my curiosity for any length of time.

So, one day, I discovered a tall, barely leaning coconut tree just beyond our family’s little cutout of a living/working space. It was in front of the neighboring building growing by itself out of the bleached ground. Some girl I don’t remember was hanging out with me and watching me contemplate a climb. It’s just that those fronds looked so beautiful with the backdrop of that Florida Keys sky. Those coconuts and hundreds of seedlings, just hanging there, waiting to be knocked away from their strongholds. Shoes off, I stepped up beyond the thick, bug-infested, base of the tree and onto the trunk. The ridges gave me confidence and seemed to beckon me up further and further like plain old steps to an unexplored rooftop. At first, I was standing, then crouching, then crawling. But, it was the hugging part at around fifteen feet or so that made me question which direction to go. I stayed there for a minute or two, studying this unforgiving pole of a damn tree. Common sense made its case in my six-year-old mind and I tried to loosen my grip so I could inch downward. Nothing. The harder I tried to let go, the harder I held on. My friend left. I remember screaming. I don’t mean a small little girl wail. I mean a blood-curdling, grown person, I’m going to die scream. I was sweating and the trunk was hotter than I remembered. My eyes were squeezed shut when I felt like the tree was beginning to fall. It shook in a pattern. Was someone cutting it down? Suddenly I heard a man’s voice calling up, “Don’t let go!” Within seconds he was grabbing me under my arms and telling me, “Let go!” Wait, “Don’t let go,” or “let go?” My forearms scraped the rigid bark on their way around his neck. In a far more wobbly and awkward descent, this employee of my dad’s, a greasy, smelly diesel mechanic, saved the day. He may have barked something at me while I stood there with sweaty tears stinging my eyes. I’m pretty sure of that. I felt pretty stupid, actually. My mom wasn’t happy either. Not sure how this day ended, but I was sure I would remember it.

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