The summer I turned nine, The Root House ate my cousin Lesa’s foot.
Bad things happened to Lesa. I don’t remember if she was on the clumsy side or just suffered from plain old bad luck, but whatever the reason, she was always getting hurt. That’s just how it was.
When we were catching crawdads in the branch, she often slid on the moss-covered rocks, fell, and got her butt wet. (Then would want me, sister Linda and her sister, Jennifer, to get wet as well so she wouldn’t be the only one getting in trouble.). Thorny briars snagged her clothes and skin in the blackberry patches. She tripped over fallen tree limbs in the woods. There were four of us girls, two sets of cousins, but most of the bad stuff, accidents and what-nots, happened to Lesa—such as The Root House eating her foot.
Lesa and her little sister, Jennifer, had spent the night with me and Linda, who was twelve at the time. Lesa, Jennifer, and I had gotten up early the following day and had gone out to play, leaving Linda in bed sleeping. Linda had gotten her period a couple of months ago and thought she was all grown up now. She didn’t play much with our cousins and me anymore, and on top of that, had gotten downright cranky at times.
One of our favorite places to play was on and around a towering sycamore perched precariously on a steep section of a crumbling creek bank. The tree’s roots snaked over and under the ground, and an equal amount spoked the air over the stream that cut into the earth beneath it.
No sooner had the three of us arrived at what we referred to as “The Root House” than Lesa’s bare little foot sank up past the ankle into the soft dirt between two roots and became trapped there. I tried several times to pull her foot free, but it was wedged tight. No luck.
“Go get Linda,” I told Jennifer. We all knew that Linda, older, wiser Linda, could get Lesa’s foot unstuck. With a nod of her head, Jennifer was gone.
After a bit, Lesa wiggled her foot a little, and lo and behold, out it came. Then we heard voices: Linda and Jennifer’s.
Her eyes as big as saucers, Lesa looked at me and said, “She’s gonna be real mad we woke her up for nothing.” She glanced over her shoulder at our approaching sisters. Then she did the darndest thing: she stuck her foot back between the roots.
I thought it was a crazy thing to do, but I didn’t really blame her. Neither of my cousins would cross Linda back then; I didn’t care so much if she got irritated but knew my cousins were somewhat in awe of my older sister. And if Lesa wanted it to be Linda who rescued her from The Root House’s clutches, who was I to argue?
Then there was the time Brother Mike made a misstep when perched on the roots that stuck out over the branch. I was even younger than in the previous incident, and on this occasion, The Root House’s inhabitants were me, Mike, and Linda. My memory is sketchy, and I don’t recall if Mike slid all the way down to the few inches of water that ran over the flat rocks below or saved himself by grabbing onto some passing tree roots. I do remember, though, his scratched-up chest and hearing that he’d told his friends at school that Daddy had cut him with a chain saw.
The last time I remembered to look for The Tree House, which is visible from the road leading to my parents’ old home, it didn’t look nearly as impressive as when I was a kid. I suppose memories are that way, stored away as larger than they actually were. And I’ve read that our memory of an event changes down through the years, that each time it is recalled, it morphs slightly from the previous recollection. All I can say with certainty about The Root House is that it was a grand place to play, and it did eat Lesa’s foot.
©2021 KT Workman