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Naturally. A tree house isn't a tree house. It's a fort. You build it so you can keep other children out, and when the other children are denied entrance, they tear it down. It's perfectly simple. You then go and tear down their tree house. If they lack a tree house on which you can retaliate, well, you just beat them up. Or smash their bicycles. And so on. It's a great game. It can go on for years, until everything has outgrown the tree-house phase. Among other things, it makes for binding friendships. Frank is my favorite brother to this day. I didn't show our parents the BB in my arm, and Frank, in turn, didn't tell on me when I broke his arm.
Frank had targets other than the human. One of the strongest memories I have of our gentle mother is of her fishing BBs out of our breakfast orange juice. They pinged into the juicer out of oranges and grapefruit too fast to catch. If there's anything to lead poisoning, the whole family should have dropped dead a couple of decades ago.
Frank kept out of real trouble with the BB gun—Mother didn't tell on him either—until the time our father set out a row of kraut cabbages. He was immensely proud of them and we all watched them grow to enormous size. Frank, of course, watched them with particular avidity and was soon tempted beyond all reason.
Now when you shoot an orange or a grapefruit or a person, the entry area of the shot is apparent. It gets a kind of sickly, bluish look. But with cabbages it's different. Try it some time. The BB enters through the fluted, leafy exterior without any mark apparent to the naked eye.
On the great day that father set aside for the making of his sauerkraut, everything was brought to readiness. Scrubbed wooden slabs were laid out on the kitchen table. A crock stood by. Special salt was acquired. Knives were sharpened. Children staggered into the house, each peering over the top of an impossibly huge cabbage head, newly severed from its thick stem.
The first cabbage was split down the middle, cracking with the satisfying sound of a ripe watermelon. Immediately, a great cascade of slightly flattened BBs pinged onto the board, the table, the floor, and rolled off under the sink and stove in drunken circles. The inside of the ravaged cabbage was malevolently black with protest. Cabbage after cabbage gave mute testimony to Frank's marksmanship. That was the end, for all time, to both family kraut-making and Frank's gun.
I really should explain now about Frank's broken arm before somebody gets a wrong notion of our sport. He was doing the absolutely forbidden—cranking the motor of an ancient Ford we had on the place—and I was plunked in the seat with admonitions to retard the spark, or whatever it was you did to Fords a good many years ago. Whatever it was, I didn't, and Frank's arm snapped with a good solid thump. In those days parents rarely pried into the affairs of their young as long as the young turned up for meals. Frank kept the arm concealed for almost two days, until it turned round and shiny and hard and purple, like a ripening plum, and could be concealed no longer.
We had things to do, and sports equipment with which to play. We had a bat and ball, and I remember a lopsided basketball hoop on one of the barn doors. We had bicycles and skates, but there was a strong inclination to misuse this equipment. We liked to skate, but only on the sidewalks of Mr. Ackerman. Far more interesting than the exhilaration of flying along on noisy wheels was the dependable reaction of Mr. Ackerman to our arrival.
He was a retired Brooklyn butcher, the first interloper to intrude into our great, wide, far chunk of brown southern California and build a house. In fact, he built a house just like the one he'd left behind in Brooklyn, with cement sidewalks all around it. We knew how much store he set by the sidewalks—the first we'd seen outside of Pasadena and Los Angeles. Every day he came puffing out with a big push broom and swept the sidewalks all around the house. Then he sat down on the screened porch with a great groan and looked out upon his domain with shrewd, small, slightly bugged china-blue eyes, suspicious and watchful.
We'd start way around in back of the house, and swing around by the porch with a horrible, ear-offending scraping of metal against cement. By then we'd be really sailing. Mr. Ackerman would burst through the screen door, yelling "Dummkopfs! Dummkopfs!" and point in helpless rage at the long skate streaks we left behind us. We ignored him, even when he bounced up and down in convulsive, vein-bursting rage. By the third tour around, he'd be back out of the house again swinging a meat cleaver.