I almost built an entire fort once.
During the summer of 1973 when I was 10, my next door neighbor friends on Whitcomb Drive, Melody (or Mel as I called her) and her older sister Laura, had this grand illusion that we could actually achieve such an architectural wonder in their backyard.
“Whatta wanna do? I’m bored,” Mel asked as the three of us sat in their backyard one sunny summer afternoon.
“You know, we should really thinking about starting that club we were talking about,” Laura answered.
During the past few weeks the three of us had been discussing forming our own private club. Thing was though, where would we meet? Can’t have a club unless you have a clubhouse we believed. The Little Rascals had one, so, then, so should we! The discussion continued to where we could have a clubhouse, or fort, to hold our meetings and invite others to join. Really, we thought this.
“Hey!! Let’s BUILD a fort!” I yelled, my eyes alive with a vision of grandeur. “It would be so coool! It can’t be that hard.”
Mel and Laura suddenly felt my excitement as they, too, suddenly envisioned a wooden fort in the corner of their yard. Yeahhh! A fort! A huge one!!
“Where we gonna get the wood?” Mel asked, not even doubting for a moment any of this was even actually possible.
“Well, how about the houses under construction in Spinnaker,” I suggested, referring to nearby Spinnaker Cove subdivision where new homes were being built. We could easily scavenger for pieces of unused wood the workers weren’t using. That wasn’t really stealing … was it? The pieces were all different shapes and sizes in a pile that merely looked like discarded heap of wood.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
“Gimme some more nails Mel!”
The girls’ dad looked out from the kitchen window into the backyard to see what the sudden ruckus was about. Oh great, he thought, immediately noticing I was squatting between his daughters with a hammer held high banging away on some wood. God only knows what she’s got them up to, he probably wondered. He walked out the backdoor to inspect further.
“Hey Dad! We’re building a fort!” Laura shouted out.
A fort. A fort?? He just looked at what we had going so far on his patio. He didn’t even want to know.
“You just make sure you clean up all the nails and put those hammers away when you done, too,” he instructed, without so much as a smile, before returning inside.
The plans we had talked about for days had now begun to form. The fort was going to be the size of a small shed, over in the corner of their yard, complete with four walls and a floor, a window that would open, curtains, a nice roof — and three elementary school girls were going to construct it. With no blueprints. Or measurements. Or proper tools. Just lots of mismatched wood and nails.
Surveying what we managed thus far with whatever it was we throwing together, I nearly busted out laughing. So far it resembled something out of a Little Rascals’ skit all right: Odd pieces of wood in all lengths and sizes were haphazardly nailed together with nails sticking out at all different angles.
We had to gather our building materials either in the evenings or on the weekends when the workmen weren’t around. We piled the wood into a wagon which was attached to one of our bikes by a long piece of rope, and then we pedaled a few blocks back to their house to continue pounding.
Without even consulting what we each were doing, we continued simply placing pieces of wood side by side, pounding in a nail any which way. There was no pattern, no coordination, no common sense at all — just the cool idea of having our own special place, our fort. Why did we keep referring to it as a fort? As if we were in the military.
As the days went by during that week we finally decided that what we were putting together would be a wall. Yeah, that’s it, a wall.
“We’ll do the floor very last,” one of us suggested. We all nodded in agreement. Seeee? We did too know what we doing.
As we decided that the wall was big enough one afternoon, the three of us tried to actually lift it up to put it on its side. Why? To see how well the wall would look naturally on its side of course. Isn’t that what the Spinnaker Cove builders did with their homes?
“One…two…Mel grab that corner…three!” I yelled as we all at once tried to actually push the so-called “wall” up to its side.
The "wall" instantly collapsed.
Someone screamed, another ran, a mother shouted, a father yelled and I erupted in laughter as I stood there, mouth wide opened in hysterical laughter at the sight before me: The wood lay in at least a dozen pieces as it immediately gave way and broke in half the moment we began raising it. Nails were sticking out everywhere, many bent at severe angles and only halfway in the wood from the unskilled labor that attempted to pound them through. Splinters of wood tiled the lawn, while unused pieces of wood still lay in pile off to the side.
I looked up at their parents as they came bolting out the back door, already yelling and screaming at us. The expressions on their faces as they surveyed the complete mess in their yard told me the fort with no name was now dead.
Days later …
“Whatta wanna do? I’m bored,” asked Mel as we sat in their yard.
“We should go in our fort and discuss it,” I said with a smirk.
My Palatine Past column depicts growing up in Palatine during the 1970s at 663 N. Whitcomb Drive in the Winston Park subdivision. I attended Jane Addams Elementary School, Winston Park Junior High School, and Palatine High School, Class of ’81.