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by Rod Johnson
Boy o boy, didn't we love to build tree houses. I'm trying to get a handle on what age that was, I'm guessing it had to be from about 8 years to 12 years. Every small town had a few boys who seemed industrious and creative and who were really into making tree houses — and Belgrade, Maine was no different. Of course I'm not leaving out the girls, but in the 1950s most of them were into different things.
The group or team of tree house builders in the early years was cousin Rick Johnson, his neighbor Howard Downing, and me. There were others that were part-timers, namely cousin Skip Johnson, Ray Barker, Jim Sawyer, and pardon me if I've left you out. In addition to the local "builders," we had a snowbird or two who we all called "summer kids," that helped out while they were in town, cousin Cary Johnson being one. With so many cousins it was hard to keep track.
Oh, let's not forget in the later years that a summer kid named John Gawler constructed one of, if not THE BEST, tree house in town. It was definitely the highest off the ground and commanded the best view. It was located in a large pine tree on the shore of Great Pond, looking easterly out over the lake. The tree was on the family cottage lot and John actually lived in the tree house for several summers.
The core three of us, in our early building years when we were perhaps 8 or 9 years old, got into some hot water when we borrowed (actually stole) some lumber from a summer cottage. We built three Class A tree houses about a hundred yards into the woods from the pile we had taken from. It happened on Skunk Alley (now Hulin Road) in the Lakes at a cottage owned by a Mr. Morin, where Ronny Belevance and family live now.
In the fall, he had had some big pines taken down and had the lumber sawn and stacked, with intentions to build another camp and garage in the spring. When Mr. Morin arrived in late April and noticed that the piles were depleted, it didn't take him long to follow the trail off into the woods and find his lumber.
Our parents were notified quickly, and we were all interrogated about the matter. There was no denying it, we were guilty. Mr. Morin was decent about it, asking that we tear the tree houses down, return the wood in their now short lengths, and each pay a fine of $10. Our parents made sure we completed both parts of the sentence, along with humble apologies. We did so and never stole lumber again.
The smoking part of this story comes from the day that mother Elsie was quite angry with us when she called us into the house. We had been in my own tree house out behind the local Library which bordered our house. There, we were all busy experimenting with smoking Pall Mall cigarettes that we had heisted from one of our parents. We had been doing this out in the woods and never been caught. We thought we were safe inside the cabin, but of course the cracks between the boards were huge. Apparently, with three of us puffing (and choking) the smoke had bellowed out of the cracks, alerting Mother. She had us red handed.
Some fifteen years later, I bought the house next door. I had to chainsaw down the dead elm trees that separated my parents' house from mine. I kept running into spikes that we boys had put there in the tree house building days. Some kind of poetic justice, I suppose!
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.