Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

Apifera Farm is a registered 501 [c][3]. #EIN# 82-2236486

All images

©Katherine Dunn.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

My former life in a treehouse

When one makes a major transition in life, it seems the natural tendency is to review one's life. I think this is understandable. The past brought us here, the present is launching us forward, and it makes sense to review the material a bit before moving on. So as I stumble on things in my house purging, stories come up.

I am of the lucky ones who got to have a tree house in my very young years, and I didn't have to wear a helmet, or even shoes. It appears I often dressed for an occasion too. This was on Goodrich Ave. in St. Paul, one of my favorite houses and times of my life-or as I recall. It was a large grand house with secret rooms in the basement and an octopus furnace, the attic came with forgotten boxes of ancient stuff, and my bedroom had a window that allowed me to climb out and sit on the roof, naked, waving at the man across the street on his porch. My mother used to tell me stories of how he would nearly have a heart attack seeing me out there, one story up, casually laying about.

"She's out there again without her clothes," my brother would say, according to my mother 's retelling years later.

There was a bakery around the corner where my father and I went every Sunday and I always got free stuff because of my curly red hair and I suppose charming personality. I know I was well behaved but I also am told, and it comes as no surprise, I was spriteful and quite independent from the start. I had a lot of friends at the hardware store that was right around the corner too-that would have been Grand Avenue for all you St. Paulites. It was family run and I remember the son of the owner was named Bob. He was probably my dad's age. Once my father and I returned from the hardware store-we went there all the time-and on our return my mother noticed I had put a brand new red collar on our little black poodle. It had diamonds in it, while they were fake diamonds, I am not sure I understood that. I just really liked that collar. The collars had been displayed on the counter at the checkout, on a cardboard stand up display. My mother asked me how I got the collar.

"It was free, it was right out on the counter," I said. I do remember thinking it was not right to be scolded, I really thought the collars were free.

So my mother insisted my father march me back there and return it, and apologize. I remember being upset, not crying, but feeling strange I was in trouble for doing nothing wrong, and I think I thought this would all be understood once we got there, that those collars were free.

Well, the grandmother of the family was working that day, and she said it was no problem at all, that I could keep the collar since it was a misunderstanding on my part. Of course my mother laughed years later, saying they were trying to teach me a lesson, and I got the goods anyway. But to this day, I tell you with my hand on my pig, I didn't steal it, it was free- in my mind. Many years later, when I was in my thirties I suppose, my parents and I stopped into the hardware store. Bob was still working there and was probably about seventy five. His face looked the same to me and his smile, I can see it right now as I type, but he had grey hair. He remembered me, and my parents. The store still had old creaky oak wood floors, the thin strips, and there were bins of hardware up and down the walls. As each customer came and went, I heard what sounded like the same bells ringing, the ones that hung from the shop door. Of all the places I've lived and returned to, there is one street that makes me feel I am back with my family and childhood–Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota.

My father made us the tree house, it was out back behind the family room which was behind the kitchen. I remember it being very high off the ground–it would be fun to see that now, how tall it was. But to my memory, I was way up in that tree. I think I might have to make another tree perch in Maine, maybe for a better view of the bay.

I distinctly remember putting my small poodle in a basket once and then I tied a rope to the handle and tried to hoist her up. It was unbalanced and didn't work, no matter how slowly I pulled. So I put a rope on her collar, and started pulling her up to get her into my tree house. I remember the little dog struggling and I thought this probably isn't good, and dropped her to the ground, and then fortunately my mother saw me and intervened.That little poodle was my right hand shadow and she sure tolerated a lot, but never denied me her company.

There we are on an old door from the basement suspended by a sturdy tree-who knows what plot was in my head in this picture? It was at this time that I can say my memories of my childhood really began, since I was four or five. Kennedy died while I was in that house, I remember my mother crying as she sat on the foot stool right up close to the black and white TV, so I cried too.