Susan hesitantly placed her sandaled right foot on the first grayed board that was nailed to the bottom of the tree trunk, feeling if it would hold underneath her weight. It creaked and twisted a bit, so she pressed down harder. It seemed to steady with that, so she continued climbing up, wondering still if one of the old boards would break off as she went higher. She felt a little silly, as if the birds and squirrels were watching her with some disapproval, some pushing-50 woman climbing up to the treehouse. She pictured herself as child climbing the same tree and how light and quick she was, only worrying then if she might get a splinter on the bottom of her bare feet, and whether the treehouse might have been infected with “boy germs.” Susan’s small bag banged against her side as she rose, adding to the awkward feel of it.

As she came to the opening of the treehouse, she marveled a bit that it was still here. Her father had built it one summer for her older brother Bob. He and Bob had gone down the long slope of the backyard of the farm where a large grove of trees stood, spared from being chopped down for gardens. There is always one tree that when you see it, it seems meant to host a treehouse: its branches spread out like a cradle, waiting for someone to come with scrap lumber from the barn, some tar paper, a window salvaged from an old shed, a hammer, a box of nails, and a few weekends’ worth of measuring, cutting, fitting, and the occasional slipped swear word that echoed back towards the house. Through all the summers of pirate play, and the falls where Bob whipped fallen rotten apples from the treehouse window at any interlopers, the hard long winters where Bob whipped snowballs at interlopers, and the wet mucky springs where the treehouse floor would get caked with mud from their boots, it remained. Bob passed it on to Patrick, who passed it on to Jerry, who passed it on to Susan, the baby, whose tea parties and doll conventions in the treehouse were met by her brothers with great disdain, and some small amount of affection. They all grew, moved away, had families, came back for long summer weekends, Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter.

Susan settled herself on the floor of the treehouse, a little out of breath, and pulled a cold bottle of Coke from her bag. Her father always had them in the refrigerator; always bottles, never cans. She twisted the cap off and took a long gulp of the sugary soda, felt the smooth cool wet glass of the bottle in her hand, and looked out the treehouse window. It was a truly beautiful place, the farm, more a gentleman’s farm than the working farms she knew, so it lacked the dust of hay, the manure smell, farm machinery broken down from overuse, old trucks. She could see the fresh look of the white paint on the house, the neat gardens, the trees that stood like a line of big benevolent soldiers, rising and falling with the hills and the horizon. No one else would see this view again, she thought. She would be the last person to sit in the treehouse.

When her own children were old enough, she and her husband Mark had brought them down to the treehouse, excited for them: first Daniel, then Jason, then Chris. But it wasn’t the same for them, she thought. Each of the boys were initially excited with the novelty of the treehouse on Grandpa’s farm, but then became bored and headed back up to the house to play the videogames they had brought with them. Susan wondered if they knew how to play at all without a screen or instructions. She and Mark would sit at the bottom of the tree and talk, while some joyful scream of digital victory sometimes drifted down from the house.

It had taken far too long to convince her Dad to move. Actually, she thought ruefully, he wasn’t even convinced; he just gave out. He was almost 90 now, and her strong hearty determined father had slowly descended into some impenetrable fog; still having lucid moments or days even, but not enough. Despite good hired help and lots of it, it wasn’t safe for him to remain, and Bob had been the one to pick out a nursing home for Dad, close to where Bob lived in Raleigh.

A swallow darted by the treehouse window and drew Susan’s eyes to the back porch of the house, now piled with boxes of things to go to Goodwill or the dump. All the kids and grandkids had come over the last month or so, picking out things they wanted, while her dad sat in his TV chair, staring out the window towards the apple grove.

After her mother had died, when she was 17, Susan had thought that her father would surely sell the farm and move into town. But he didn’t, and when she left for college that same year and came back at Christmas, he had invited a woman who worked at the fabric store in town to dinner. It seemed sort of amusing to her now, but then it was so horribly uncomfortable with Mary sitting next to her father where her mother had been, and Susan and Bob and Patrick and Jerry all silent and sad and furious, saying barely a word through the very nice meal Mary had made for them all. Her dad had meant no harm; he just didn’t understand. All the kids had left, Mom was gone, and to come back and see someone else…it was just too much. He and Mary got married about a year afterwards, and peace was made over time, especially after the grandchildren came along. She was a good person, and they had a good marriage, 18 years until a winter chest cold turned to pneumonia overnight, and she was gone.

A squirrel scratched and scampered up the side of the treehouse, startling Susan a bit. There was still so much work to be done at the house. She pulled the last draw from the Coke, set the bottle down on the ledge of the treehouse window, and decided to leave it there. The land was going into development soon enough – the tree, the treehouse, and the Coke bottle would all become part of the same thing: bulldozed, mashed, and removed. None of the kids could afford the property, and none really wanted the upkeep of it anyway. Dad needed the money from the sale, and there really was no arguing with the deal he got, in this economy.

The treehouse had a really, really good run, Susan thought. She took another long look from the window, etching the details and colors and feel into her mind as she sighed. No one could have asked for better. Her sadness gently lifted as she gingerly made her way down the tree steps again, and walked slowly up the hill towards the house. All in all, it had a good run.