In 1970, when I was eight years old, my Aunt Roisin came to visit our small, thatch-roof house—my childhood home—in Ireland. My Aunt gave me “Hollow Tree House,” the 1966 edition of the children’s novel by the very popular British children’s author Enid Blyton.
Except for Christmas mornings and Santa, I had never been given a gift before—something free and gratis, something that wasn’t handed down from an older cousin or one of my four siblings.
And, outside of my dog-eared school textbooks, I had never seen a children’s book.
I sat on our old leather couch in the sitting room and stared at that brown-paper package, dubious about this sudden, one-on-one attention and affection from a grown-up.
“You can open it,” Auntie Roisin said, in her soft, coaxing voice.
I opened the package to that the smell—that thrilling smell—of a new paperback. I stared at the book’s cover illustration of three adventurous children around a large tree.
In our house, aunt and uncle visits were adult only affairs. So when my Aunt retreated with my mother and grandmother for the usual kitchen evening of sherry and tea and treats and more tea, I turned the first pages of “Hollow Tree House.”
The book’s main characters were named Peter and Susan, two siblings who had to go live with their uncle Charlie and his cruel, heartless wife, Margaret. The children had a friend named Angela, and Angela had a loveable but naughty spaniel, Barker. One day during the school holidays, the three children decided to explore the nearby wood. Deep in the middle of the wood they discovered a clearing and an enormous tree with a hollowed out trunk. The tree became their new, makeshift home, their safe and secret hideout from Aunt Margaret’s nasty temper.
A kids-only tree house. Children who fought back. For an eight-year-old farm girl like me, this was heady stuff. As Peter and Susan kitted out their tree house with pilfered furniture and food stolen from Aunt Margaret’s larder, I was their loudest cheer leader.
Night after night I went back to that book, stopping myself after two pages, rationing out my pleasure because I knew, even then, that I was falling madly in love. This fictional world was about 1,000 miles away from our small house and the monochrome tedium of our rural lives. I wanted this exotic love affair to go on and on and on.
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