Tree Top Lookout

Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

“Go out and play in the backyard,” Mom said to me and my younger sister Daria. “Stay in the yard and no neighbor kids – just you two.”

“Yes, Mom,” we said in unison. It was almost time for her Zoom meeting and Dad was already on the phone making sales calls to customers. If either of them had to interrupt their workday to check on us, we’d be in so much trouble.

Parents always find ways to mess up something fun. Zander, a neighbor boy one year older than Daria, says his Moms do the same thing to him. As soon as you get a fun idea, they read your mind, and tell you ‘no’. You don’t even get a chance to ask. If you do the fun thing without asking, you get into trouble because you should have known better.

Daria had run out to the big tree in our backyard. We were banned from climbing any of our trees because we were told it damages them. We had been all summer and hadn’t been caught yet. I shimmied up behind her and sat down on a nearby limb.

“Let’s see what the neighbors are up to today,” I said, pulling a pair of binoculars from a hole in the trunk. Dad hadn’t used them since people were no longer allowed to attend basketball or football games. It seemed a waste not to put them to good use.

“I want to look at the Olsen’s house,” Daria said.

Hugging the binoculars close, I taunted. “Ooh, you just want to spy Zander.” I took great joy in watching her turn red every time I mentioned his name. My seven-year old sister had such a crush on him.

“First, I want to check on the McRae’s remodeling project.” Without waiting for her to protest, I raised them to my eyes and brought their baby blue house into focus.

Ned and Carla, were not the handiest of people. Yet, they bought the oldest and most poorly built house in the neighborhood. Dad had said, ‘It should have been torn down and something better built in its place’. The governor’s safer-at-home order gave them an opportunity to hone their carpentry skills. It gave me something besides replaying the same five boring shows on Mom’s safe list.

Watching them build a shed this spring was painful. It took them two weekends and multiple tries to put it together. Three weeks later, it collapsed.

There was another time they made me laugh so hard I nearly peed myself. They were assembling a picnic table and had cut a board. It appeared to be too short. They cut it again and tried to put it in the same spot as before. Even at ten-years old I knew cutting a board doesn’t make it longer!

“Gimme!” shouted Daria as she tugged at my shirt sleeve.

“Fine.” I pulled them away and held them out her. “You just want to spy on your boyfriend.” She stuck her tongue out as she jerked them from my hand. While she scanned the Olsen’s house top to bottom, I returned my attention to the McRae’s house.

Before handing the binoculars to Daria, Ned and Carla were at the kitchen window. That’s where they would normally sit and drink coffee in the morning. The light was on in the room, but the table and chairs were gone.

“No! Oh, no!” Ned shouted as he ran around the house from the backdoor. I could see Carla in the window with her hands raised as if surprised.

“Hey, Daria, give those back for a minute.”

“No, I’m not done yet.”

I had only looked away for a moment to ask my sister for the binoculars. Crashing, banging, and yelling came from the McRae’s house. When I looked back, a plume of dust was swirling around the kitchen side of their house. Ned was shouting and flailing his arms. Carla was still in the same spot as before, but there was no longer a wall between her and the outdoors.

Daria had already turned the binoculars in the direction of the mayhem. She gasped, “It’s gone.”

“Let me look,” I said. She promptly handed them over. As I surveyed damage, Mom came running out of our house.

“Daria! Cyrus! Where are you?” She must have noticed the commotion at the McRae’s before she could spot us. “How the…?”

Daria shouted down from the tree. “Mommy, they took too many nails out of the wall. Now, they have a people-sized dollhouse.”

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