The Prince and the Tree House
The Danger Rangers, Chapter 8
Story by Douglas A. Anderson-Jordet
Illustration by Brianna Anderson-Jordet
A long time ago, when I was six and Lyndon Baines Johnson was still president, I spent a summer on my Aunt's farm that would teach me more about trust than any other three month period in my life.
I was a skinny, milquetoast little boy with my head firmly stuck in the clouds, a perfect target for my mischievous girl cousins and their numerous pranks and practical jokes. They didn't miss a beat.
I recall one such afternoon when my sisters and cousins and I were playing a game of "pick-up-sticks" at my Grandmother's house, which was on the same property as my Aunt's house. We were listening to Lynn Anderson's seminal country album, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, and concentrating on the game like nuclear physicists developing a new physical law.
My sister Patty picked up the album cover, which featured a thoroughly airbrushed photo of Lynn Anderson, her golden bouffant spiraling up to heaven.
"She's your girlfriend," she teased.
"Is not!" I protested. Years later such an accusation would have been flattering, but not then.
"Mm-hmm!" She insisted.
"Is not!" I was livid.
"Why don't you kids go out and play?" Grandma suggested.
Then we found ourselves ejected out into the lilac-scented summer air, masters of our own fate. Soon after, for some forgotten reason, my sisters had to leave and I was left unprotected with my mischievous cousins, Lisa and Stacy.
The three of us retreated to the place we used to refer to as our "fort," which was in reality a makeshift tree house perched precariously in a giant oak in my Aunt's back yard. Stacy, my younger cousin, went up first. Then my older cousin, Lisa followed and lingered over the third step for some time before pulling herself up and over the "gate" and into the "fort." She then turned around to signal me that it was my turn to climb the steps up into the tree house, which was probably thirty feet in the air if it was an inch. I followed like the rube that I was.
When my foot hit the third step, which was a 2X2 board nailed to the tree, the board gave way and I clung to the tree, my legs flailing free beneath me helplessly. I could hear my cousins titter like magpies.
"Watch that third step -- it's a doozy!" Lisa said through stuttering laughter.
At this point the younger cousin must have felt some pang of conscience, because she mercifully hoisted me up into the tree house, which was really just a collection of various scrap wood nailed to the branches of the tree.
"The board moved," I said, catching my breath.
"We have to go get something," Lisa said. "You wait here." Having said this, they shimmied down the tree trunk and were gone.
Minutes passed. I waited. The whippoorwill sang in the distance.
As the sun began to sink and the sky was streaked with orange, I realized that I had been "ditched."
For those of you not familiar with the concept, "ditching" is a form of social ostracism that is commonly practiced the world over by children of every culture, and some adults as well. Maybe it has even happened to you. It entails the desertion and avoidance of a lone party by two or more other parties for the sheer sport of it. I would become something of an expert on the subject in years to come, but that is another matter entirely.
I decided to go and give my devilish girl cousins a good talking to. I hopped over the side of the tree house with strong conviction and started down.
Then I changed my mind.
Sitting below the tree with patient resolve was the great and gruesome St. Bernard we called "Prince." Prince was aptly named, being as regal and aloof as an African lion, and nearly as intimidating. At the time I would have estimated his weight at about four hundred pounds, give or take, and I'm sure the woolly beast could have been ridden like a horse, if a person had a mind to do such a foolish thing.
"Good boy," I said and retreated back into the tree house. I thought it maybe better to give my cousins a little more time to consider the gravity of their actions.
I awoke to the caress of a chilly evening breeze on my forehead. I peered over the edge of the tree house.
The dog was gone. Liberty! I sidled down the thorny oak and toppled to the ground. I scoured the perimeter. The Prince must have gone back to the palace, I thought, chuckling to myself. I bolted for cover. I had made it nearly half the way between my Aunt's farmhouse and the giant oak when there came a low snarling from behind me.
I was dead before I had even begun to live. Flight was futile, so naturally I broke into a full run towards Aunt Gertrude's house, and might have made it, had not the tractor wheel sandbox been in the way.
I vaulted over the sandbox heroically but could not stick my landing. When I came tumbling down on the other side, Prince was upon me, his terrible breath on my neck. I imagined his saber-like teeth sinking into my flesh and piercing my spine. Instead, I felt his powerful jaws close around my shirt and wrench it from my skinny frame.
I leapt to my feet and took flight, half-naked and disoriented. I was nearly at the house when I discovered that Prince was not following me. He was back by the tractor wheel sandbox shredding pieces of multicolor tatters that were, of course, the stripy Dennis the Menace type T-shirt that I had been wearing. I guess it was only that particular shirt that offended him, for after it was destroyed I never had any trouble with His Majesty again.
I crept into my Aunt's house under cover of the night and never mentioned the incident to anyone; that is, until now.
After reading this story one might be tempted to surmise that I probably have acquired a life-long fear of large dogs as a result of this experience. At the risk of disappointing all of the armchair psychologists who may be reading, I would have to assert that this simply isn't true. My current dog weighs in at almost a hundred pounds and is built like a battering ram. He is about as frightening to me as Soupy Sales. I do, however, wince when I see stripy T-shirts, which have made somewhat of a fashion comeback in recent years.