My older brother Rob, we called him Robin in those days (early 1960s), and I went to the Old Oak Tree. It stood at the end of a small copse of trees, across a field, past some garden plots that were behind the eastern most PMQs on the Air Force base. The copse of trees stood between the Old Oak Tree and the air base itself.
For me, at the ripe old age of about four or five, I hadn't started school yet, the Old Oak Tree was infamous for the stories shared by my two older brothers, Mark and Robin. I think this was my first trip there although it grew less than a kilometer from where we lived at 66 Jameswood Drive. A kilometer for my small legs was a long way.
On the way there, we stopped at 'the hole'. It was a just a hole in the ground in the middle of the field, the purpose of which is unknown but it was sometimes a foxhole, a moon crater, a castle, all depending on the flavour of play that day. It was about two feet deep and could hold about six kids. I am certain by now there is a fence around it, warning alarms, danger signs, and many orange cones, but back then, it was just a hole in a field of long grass. It was magical.
Anyway, it was special for me to be alone with Robin. He was always pretty popular and was generally with a group of other kids, or at least our older brother Mark. Being with Mark and Robin was always good but, being the younger of the three, I was often challenged and kidded; they knew more than me and would play on my gullibility and blind trust of them. And, of course, they could beat me up, which they did frequently, but with love you understand.
However, this day there were no beatings, it was just Robin and me and trip to the Old Oak Tree. Before heading there, and all along the way, Robin extolled the legends of the Old Oak. How it was ten thousand years old, petrified, dinosaurs had gnawed on its leaves, was a mile high (maybe ten) and how thousands of kids had fallen out of it, some dying but most escaping with only broken bones or amputations. Of course, I believed every word he said, he was my big brother, holder of wisdom.
By the time we reached the tree of legend, I was expecting something that would likely reach right down, grab me from where I stood mesmerized and fling me into the sky, pluck off an arm or a leg during my descent and then allow me fall, crumpled into a pile of shattered bones and guts.
Fortunately, the tree was just standing there. The lowest branch was well above my head so Robin boosted me up so I could drape myself over it. Then he ran, jumped, grabbed the branch and boosted himself up. He climbed higher and encouraged me to follow him. Was he nuts? He had just finished telling me stories about the mangled kids, so there was no way I was going higher. I was quite high enough on that lowest branch. I hoped that when Robin fell, he wasn't hurt because he was going to have to help me down.
A few minutes later, Robin descended, under his own power, to my branch. He draped himself over it, then lowered himself as far as he could and dropped the last two feet or so.
"Come on down." He called up to me, "Let's go play in the hole."
I looked down. It was a long ways, at least a mile.
"It's too far." I called down.
"No it's not."
"Go get a ladder."
"I'm not getting a ladder."
"Go get dad."
"No, just hang down, I'll catch you."
That sounded not too bad until I had draped myself a bit. It was still a long ways down. Miles from my position.
"I can't, it's too high." A moment later, "I'll die."
"Get down here or I'll kill you."
"I don't believe you."
"Stay there then. I'm going."
"Wait, wait, catch me."
He lied. I landed in a heap.
After a moment I realized I still had all my arms and legs, no bones were broken, no blood was gushing out. I had actually survived an encounter with the legendary Old Oak.
We ran and played in the hole then went home.
After that day I was never scared of climbing trees. The next trip there was a lot less dramatic and I was up, with a boost to that first branch, and then into the higher branches. It was another year or so before I could reach that first branch without assistance but we played there a lot. I never saw a single kid fall out of that tree, it had lost its power, but I was always ready to recount the tales of yore, to decry the fate of hundreds of broken, twisted, arm-less, leg-less kids who were not as agile as I was and had suffered horrendous injury in the branches of that ageless tree.
Such are the tales that kids share.
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