The house on Pittsfield Street, In Pennsville, New Jersey, to which my family moved when I was quite young, was a two-story frame house with a high-peaked roof. There was a big attic in which we’d play when the weather was bad. When the weather was nice, there was a wide, shady porch on two sides of the house, where we’d sometimes sit and read. More often, though, the four of us kids could be found in the seven huge old apple trees that lined the back of the yard. There were other trees and shrubs in the yard that provided sustenance for the senses; a very tall cone-shaped Bartlett pear tree which provided baskets of delicious fruit every year; a fragrant privet bush which had never felt a pair of pruning shears stood against the back of the house, rubbing up against it for company; there were also two cherry trees that yielded Springtime bounty in the form of sour fruits destined for delicious pies. The apple trees were our favorites, though, in all seasons of the year.
Trees, as most children who grow up in small towns or in rural areas know, are perfect for all kinds of childhood activities. First and foremost, they are good for climbing, They lend their old limbs to children with young growing limbs a perfect structure on which to perfect acrobatic skills. They also provide a place in which to hide in troubling times. Many of our trees provided fruit which was free for the taking, even if it was wormy or sour. The apple trees provided a canopy under which it was possible to place a tent, or a blanket on which to lie and read a book in peace. Springtime brought a bounty of new growth and beautiful fragrant blossoms. That was always a welcome change from winter’s bare storm-damaged limbs. Abundant summertime shade was found in their shelter, a welcome refuge from hot sunshine.
The trees behind that house on Pittsfield Street served all those purposes. They also became imaginary ships on windy days, with their higher branches being tossed about like a vessel at sea. It was possible to see afar from those tree-tops, so one could spy out neighborhood activities without oneself being seen. It was possible, if one was very careful, but daring at the same time, to traverse the entire line of seven apple trees without touching the ground. There were three trees where that was a dangerous proposition because the spaces between them were only covered by small interlacing branches that wouldn’t hold a lot of weight.
The older of my two brothers became quite good at covering that entire leafy route in the apple tree-tops, but one day he had a mishap. Perhaps one of the fragile, teeny limbs broke, or perhaps he didn’t place his feet quite right. At any rate, he came crashing down, about 20-feet down, and had the wind knocked out of him. The rest of us, all three of us, were sure he was dead, but not one of us ran for help. We weren’t supposed to be climbing the trees and knew we’d get in trouble if we were found out. It was a mightily relieved circle around him when he finally caught his breath and was able to get up. First – he was somehow O.K., no broken limbs on him! Second – we weren’t going to get in trouble – this time anyway. Up, up and away we all went again, with him in the lead, enjoying childhood fancies in the tops of those old apple trees.