I was 9, my brother, Jeb, was 8, and maybe if we’d been born in a city we would not have started building treehouses and forts, igloos and tepees, even digging a hole in the ground that we covered with thick branches of pine, oak and maple. Or maybe if our mother and father did not fight most every night, their yelling rising up the stairwell like some poisonous vapor to us and our two sisters, Jeb and I would not have gone looking for the scrap lumber we found under the closed summer camps near our rented house in southern New Hampshire—two-by-fours and two-by-sixes, warped plywood and long planks of rough spruce.
Our first effort was deep in the pines. In our landlord’s garage we found a hammer, a rusty handsaw and a can of nails. It was late fall, so there was no one to watch us yank wood from the shadowed cobwebs under the floor joists of those camps. No one to watch us carry this lumber over our shoulders, the handsaw gripped in my brother’s fingers, the claw of the long hammer hooked into my front belt loop while I held the nails as carefully as if they were the last ammunition we’d have to ward off whoever might be coming for us.
Every night the Vietnam War was on our TV, black and white images of soldiers running with machine guns through grasses wind-flattened by a helicopter. Earlier that year, that good man Martin Luther King was shot, and then two months later another good man, the dead president’s little brother, got killed, too. Now our parents’ fighting was g...