In rummaging through my bookshelf recently selecting books I could donate to our church’s garage sale I came across a collection of stories my next oldest brother, Gene, had written as a columnist for the weekly newspaper in the town in which he grew up He grew up living in and around Drumright, Oklahoma.
He was six years my senior. Although we had the same parents and siblings, we grew up in worlds as different as that of an Amazon tribesman and an 8 to 5 commuter. He passed away several years ago leaving me as the sole surviving child of “Jack” and Adeline Carriker.
His childhood was spent as the youngest member of a family of three brothers and one sister, all born only months apart. They played together, fought together, adventured together, attended school together and endured the poverty of “The Great Depression” together.
My childhood was spent as the “new” youngest member of a family of four brothers and one sister all of whom were much older than I. We did not play together, fight together, adventure together or attend school together. They grew up in a world consumed by the rigors of The Depression, I grew up in a world consumed by the horrors of a global war. They grew up in the give and take of a large family. I grew up as an only child.
We were not estranged so much as we were “strangers.’ By the time I was twelve years old they were all grown and in many ways seemed more like uncles and aunt than brothers and sister. We loved one another but it was a sort of arms-length love.
But enough of “telling” what it was like. You will best understand by reading a few of my brother Gene’s written memoirs. If you have read my stories the different world we lived in will come into sharp focus.
Let me present to you my brother, Billy Gene (“Bill”) Carriker in a story he called:
Tree Houses `R Us - By Bill G. Carriker
Most every kid from any generation has been bitten by the bug to build a hideout as high up in a tree as possible. After reading “Swiss Family Robinson,” my older brother and I decided to build us a leafy home as a hideout. Out on the Magnolia Lease, east of town, we went scouting around the countryside. We were looking to find a suitable tree that would serve our particular need. We looked for something with spreading arms and level limbs so we could build a tree house just like the Swiss family.
Well, not really, but it was to be our very own. Our older sister, only girl with four brothers, joined us, although reluctantly. She had no other choice, but was a tomboy at heart.
Nowadays, I see dads building fancy-schmancy structures for their kids located on tall 4X4 posts with regular ladders to climb. We had to be a heck of a lot more creative when the urge hit us to build a sky home. With us it was a total do-it-yourself project. Dad was too busy trying to put food on the table.
Around Drumright we weren’t blessed with soaring oak trees with inviting limbs. We had to be content with scraggly old blackjack trees that, while not soaring, offered us some good sites. You remember climbing the old blackjack tree . . . right? They are a dreadful mass of small dead limbs just waiting to reach out and grab you as you tried to climb . . . would take off chunks of your hide if you weren’t careful.
Our first chore was to clear out the trashy limbs, giving us a clear shot at two limbs that were growing fairly close together to nail on the foundation support boards. Lumber for these projects had to be scrounged from wherever it could be found. There were lots of scrap heaps and dumps around. Abandoned houses could be salvaged, and some could be gleaned from abandoned wooden oil derricks, so we didn’t lack for material.
We didn’t know doodly-squat about building, nor did we have tools other than a handsaw and clawhammer. But kids had to be resourceful, and we went at it with enthusiasm and ignorance. I’m sure that if a square had been put on it we would’ve failed to pass muster. It was a kinda ramshackle Urban Renewal type, but we loved it.
We nailed short sections of wood onto the tree trunk to make us a dandy ladder, so we could shinny up and down the tree. After we got the platform built, we would sit and revel in the sights from our perch . . . but not too long, for it was necessary to get the sides and roof on, and before long we had our snug little house ready to use.
The tree house was a great place for sinnin’, and we would take a stash of grape vines up and smoke them. Streets and Smith published great Western story magazines that we would take up and read by the hour. Remember their publication called “Spicy Westerns?” It was strictly adult fare but was still tame by today’s standards.
On one occasion we attached a wire cable to our tree and ran it down to another tree a little lower and fifty feet away. We found a large pulley and hung it on the wire rope with a straw-filled sack tied onto the bottom of a short rope attached to the pulley. Now hear me, straddling that sack and setting forth to ride the wire to a lower tree was a thrill you never forgot.
Since my older cautious brother wouldn’t do it, I got to give it its maiden voyage, making sure to hit the lower tree with feet and legs extended toward the tree. Hitting that tree so many times with stiff legs may have stunted my growth, possibly.
This fun activity didn’t last long, for when ol’ Will, the cautious brother, came into the lower tree backwards he split his head open. After cleaning the blood off him, Mother put the kibosh on that activity by revoking our license.
We took old Shep (the family dog) up into the tree house one time, but he let us know in no uncertain terms that his love and loyalty had limitations and his contract didn’t call for stuff where he didn’t have all four feet on the ground.