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The shack


Posted: July 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Dick beat the daylights out of his son David. Constantly.

I didn’t know that until I was very old, maybe thirty or so.

Dick was an alcoholic and so cantankerous he moved out of his own house and lived in his print shop in the back yard. He swore with such venom that it took my breath.

And he read Shakespeare, listened to Mozart and built the shack for Dave. And me too.

Dave had two backyards: the good backyard with grass and our backyard, which lurked behind the good backyard, making it the back-backyard.

The ground was covered with very fine, flour-like silt and forlorn weeds trampled by scurrying young feet.

Out of sight from adult eyes, we had free reign to deface it as we wished, but most importantly, that was where the shack resided.

A printer, Dick bought paper in large quantities that was delivered in huge wooden crates. Also a woodworker, Dick decided to build a shack for his son from the scrap wood (to atone for the beatings)?

For us, nine or ten years old, the shack was immense: six feet square and six feet high.

It had a real door, but no glass in the windows. The floor was dirt but that didn’t matter.

It resembled the classic tree house of little kids; only this one was on the ground.

A few years later, Dick built an addition, doubling its size and installing a wooden floor.

Dave and I put shutters on the windows and a padlock on the door so we could secure our goodies.

Later a small concrete porch appeared, probably leftover concrete for another more serious, adult job.

Inside, we had a rusty, pot bellied stove. I have no idea where it came from or where it rests now.

It was an altar upon which we sacrificed marshmallows, hot dogs, and cans of beans.

Furnishings consisted of our treasure chest, a small roll top desk and lettuce crates that served as stools, tables, shelves, and fuel for the stove (burned like hell, gone in a flash).

We stored Apache spears and toy muskets in the rafters and hung assorted gardening implements on finishing nails driven into the walls.

All in all, the shack was very serviceable. But it was much more than that.

Dave and I would snatch a weed stalk, slip it between our teeth and duck inside the shack to escape the hot summer sun and discuss the latest radish crop or plot revenge against Fritz, our archenemy.

Sometimes Dick melted leftover printer’s type and cast led “pirate” coins for us. We’d spread the weighty discs on a crate to count and fondle them, chortling in our wealth.

Winter winds would flail the rains against the shutters and we’d crouch beside the stove, feeling smug in our supremacy over the storm gods.

At night, candle glow would cast dancing shadows on the walls and we’d conjure glorious plans for the marrow.

Sometimes the shack morphed into a factory where we manufactured corncob pipes and tiny walnut sailing ships to sell to the neighbors.

We cast broaches in spoons using small pictures cut from magazines, plaster of Paris and safety pins stolen from Dave’s mother. These too, were hawked door to door.

Dave, being older and more organized, kept a diary of our endeavors and a list of accounts. The book, black of course, was very officious and we treated it reverently.

It listed how many bottles we salvaged from the neighbor’s trash (a real embarrassment to our parents), how many corncob pipes, how many pirate coins and so on.

In addition to serving as our factory, it might transform into other things: general store, Tombstone Arizona, Flight Operations in France during the First World War, a Spanish galleon or perhaps the Matterhorn.

The switch from shack to general store could occur with a blink of a kid’s thought, but to be a Spanish galleon was somewhat involved.

We had a mast, a long board tied to the side of the shack, and a blanket became our sail (until it blew away.)

We’d lean a ladder against the eave so we could clamor “topside” onto the roof and squint through cardboard mailing tube “spy-glasses” looking for booty.

We might play pirates for a week or so, adding artifacts like treasure chests, eye patches and wooden swords as we went along. Then abruptly, we’d decide “Calvary” was better.

The tops’l and mast would topple, the treasure chest became the Wells Fargo strongbox and a crayola’d sign would be nailed above the door proclaiming: “Headquarters, 5th Calvary.”

But most often, the shack was the general store because that is where self-respecting cowboys (us) would find the stove.

But a general store should be in a town, not a solitary edifice surrounded by dust. So Dave and I built a town.

Between gallon jugs of Gallo Muscatel, Dick printed, and using paper, discarded wood from the crates.

When Dick threw out the empty jugs and stout boards, Dave and I salvaged them and created a chicken empire and a magnificent ghost town.

But that’s another story or two.


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