Down East 2013 ©
By Lew-Ellyn Hughes
I don’t remember how we found it — by accident, I’m sure. My friend Maureen and I found a lot of things in the woods around Moosehead Lake while summering there. But this find was a prize, and it occupied our hearts, our minds, and our days the entire summer of 1967. We were ten years old.
It was a woodshed just far enough away — down over a slope from the main camp — that it appeared as if nobody owned it. It had gray board and batten siding and a tiny window on the door turned at an angle to form a diamond. The window beckoned us to peek inside and in doing so we saw an interior stacked to the roof with winter wood. But something else caught our eye: Below a four-pane window on the opposite wall was a little table. We saw the table at the same time and our mouths formed tight little O’s as we turned to each other.
“This is a playhouse!” I whispered. The sight of that little table seduced us and we entered. We knew this had once been a playhouse for a little girl; we rationalized that was reason enough to make it our own. We were wrong; we knew it. So it became our secret.
We removed all the wood and swept out the cobwebs and mice nests, squealing at the resident spiders and creepy crawlers. I scraped the matted piles of damp leaves from the corners and swept them outside as Maureen raked the yard surrounding our house. To this day, I don’t think I’ve worked harder on a home.
We scavenged our mothers’ and grandmothers’ homes for supplies they would give us — and some they wouldn’t. Mama was baffled by the disappearance of the bath rug — it had a new life as the living-room rug in our miniature home in the woods. A beach towel was our tablecloth, and lace handkerchiefs from Nanny’s dresser drawer were tacked to the window over the table. We put books on a board bench in one corner and a moss bed in the other. We wrestled in a large stump for a chair and put a boat cushion on it for padding.
Maureen placed her white plastic tea set upon the dry, splintered top of the little table.
Each morning we were eager to get to our playhouse, so content we were to play there. At night we sat in my parents’ kitchen and painted pictures. We glued birch-bark frames around our artwork and tacked them to the playhouse walls.
We planned what necessary items we would bring the next day. We packed lunches. We picked daisies for the table. We played. We dreamed.
When the place was finally finished — swept and polished and perfect — we sat at the little table, our hands in our laps, and smiled. We just sat and grinned foolishly and looked out the window at the forest around us.
One morning in late August, Maureen and I made our way through the woods toward our playhouse, brushing aside overgrown bushes as we went. Maureen was a few steps ahead of me, and I bumped into her back when she stopped short. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me down, hushed me, and pointed toward the main camp. There was a car in the drive. I glanced up to see smoke rising from the chimney. Until that moment, the thought that the owners would show up had not occurred to me. I saw through the yellow back light of the kitchen window the white hair of a woman, her head bent in labor.
Maureen still had my forearm in her grasp when we turned to each other, eyes wide. Like dragonflies in the sight of a hungry hawk, we turned and darted back along the path toward home.
We did not go back to that place, not even to gather our furnishings; we longed to, but did not dare. My family left for our southern home a week later; Maureen and her family returned to their home on Cape Cod. Time and childhood passed and our playhouse became a distant memory.
It did not occur to me then, but it does now: What did the camp owners think when they discovered their woodshed had been transformed back into a little girl’s playhouse? Upon seeing it, did they wonder who had done this? When no child appeared to admit to the handiwork, did they think there had been fairies and pixies frolicking in the woods around Moosehead Lake?
Yes, indeed, there had been.