It was called Varden Street. But at five years old, it probably sounded more like “barden stree”. It belonged to my mother’s grandfather, Tampa, and had been passed down through generations. I think even the smell remained. A fresh yet cozy warmth lingered in the woodwork. I don’t remember much about that house, but I do remember the fairy peephole in the olive green front door, chipped from the hot California valley air. I remember the faded plastic playhouse outback, the red brick wall with the neighbors on the other side, and the old beach chairs my dad would set out in the garage on Saturday mornings to watch my brother and I put hose water down the crack in the concrete where the tiny black ants lived. It was the house I grew up in, where I came home from the hospital to in the 1982 yellow punch buggy and the room my mom painted washed out blue and yellow for me. Right outside the bay window stood the treehouse: the one my dad built, not like any other treehouse, for it was higher than any other. It was so high I remember my heart racing as I looked down from the 2×4 ladder, as my tiny hands took the pulley up from the swollen Eucalyptus roots below. It was my favorite thing to brag about and if I could have taken this giant masterpiece to the first day of kindergarten I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. However, the best part about the treehouse was the promise to my brother and I of a roof, a real one. This installment would make it complete to become an actual house- a clubhouse – the ultimate pirate’s lair – a “real-paint-and-walls” type of tree house. The kind of treehouse that was impermeable to rain, the elements, and any enemy attack. By the promised date of my seventh birthday, I was sure it would be nothing less than the pride of Sherman Oaks.
The amount of time that surpassed between this promise and the family date at California Pizza Kitchen seemed all too soon. “Table for four please”; ah, yes, the model family, one boy, one girl, two loving parents who promised the world and giant treehouse roofs to their children. Little did I know how much things would change between five and seventeen. But that night as I ate my kid sized barbeque chicken pizza, the adult- sized world slapped me in the face: the house had to be sold. The reasons we had to move seemed drastically unimportant in comparison to the thought that the treehouse roof would never be complete.
A while passed, and we received news from Varden street. The nice family who had bought our house could no longer pay the mortgage, so it was sold to the developer. Both the 86 year old tree and the roofless treehouse were torn down along with the house. A white mansion was built – a full three stories. My seventh birthday came and went.
Years later, three more children came into our family, the twins, who became my best friends, and little Caleb, the sweet tooth. They had never seen a treehouse, but I did my best to explain. We found a warped piece of plywood and carried it into the strip of woods at the back of our land. We asked for a hammer and a helping hand, but life was different, things got hard, and helping hands became fewer and further between. My parents designed the new house themselves, without expecting three more, so naturally, when Best Friends and little Sweet tooth arrived, things were tight. We were no longer were a “table for four” family, but a “table for seven – oh, you don’t have room – that’s ok we’ll wait” family. Still, we carried that rotting piece of plywood into the cedar trees and did our best to fit it between the evergreen branches. But the facility that housed my childhood imagination and built for my simple innocent daydreams could not be mirrored by the misshapen wood lodged in the branch before me.
People often ask why I love childish things like glitter, dinosaur chicken nuggets, and Disney princesses. I like to blame it on the fact that the roof of the treehouse, and of my childhood, were never fully completed. A ceiling was never made to hold in my imagination. Frankly, when the adult world outside the treehouse and fairytales are compared: I will always pick the latter.
Written by Hannah Matthews