My youngest son Maarten has been bugging me now for a couple weeks to help him build a fort in the backyard. Because I have been preoccupied with all the computer stuff and setting up the new room, I felt guilty for having neglected him. So on Saturday we went to the local hardware store called Gamma and purchased lots of wooden planks. The moment we returned home and unloaded the car, Maarten went to work. I was expected to help him as experienced senior fort builder, but I quickly learned that for a child that age it is less important what is actually built as the process of building in itself. At first I had the tendency as so-called expert fort designer to attempt to create the finest fort anyone has seen for years, but I just let Maarten go on his owning sawing, hammering, measuring and that kind of stuff. In the end he was not very successful in building a fort in which one could actually enter and use as a clubhouse, but he had nailed a number of planks together as well as sawed off about a hundred pieces of wood.
This all reminds me of the time we lived in Turlock, California way back when I was about the same age. I also loved building forts, but at the time the in thing to do was digging underground forts. This involved digging out a relatively deep hole, fixing the sides, covering the top with a piece of corrugated sheet metal or large piece of triplex board, and then piling on the dirt about a foot deep. The entrance was usually hidden at the side and camouflaged quite carefully. It was all great fun for a kid that age. Underneath there were usually one or two secret tunnels for escaping the enemy, and in order to see there was a candle for when we held our club meetings. Of course we also had our password and secret knock in order to get in.
This fort had been dug at the side of the house where there was just enough room for a version with two chambers, and late that afternoon I had just covered over the top with dirt. This fort was hidden so well that no one would know it was there. The only problem was that evening when it had become a little dark, making the fort even more impossible to see. My father was making the usual rounds after his workday, checking that everything was locking and inspecting the backyard for pieces of paper and other unwanted items. He walked to the side of the house and did not see the fort. He walked to the fence and stood on the fort. It held for about one or two seconds and then it gave way. My father fell into the hole. My beautiful fort that had taken the whole day to dig and build was destroyed with one fell swoop of my father's weight crashing down. Boy was my father mad, cussing and yelling all over the place. In an irate mood, he yanked off the top plank, grabbed the shovel and refilled the hole again. To make matters even worse, he twisted his back pretty bad. Took a week to recover, and he was pretty grumpy reminding me daily about the underground fort.
Years later, this story had taken on a comical form, a famous episode in the lives of the Gish family about which we occasionally spoke about, laughing and joking. One of those few memories that come back once in awhile.
Now as a father myself it is up to me to relive these so-called youthful adventures, this time on the other side of the mirror.