(click here to listen rather than read)

 

The Tarzan Tree, as it looks today is a sad old ghost of what it once was when it provided us, as children, adventure and friendship in it's branches. It was our favorite fantasy tree when we all but lived in the park near my home in New Britain, Connecticut. We lived at 26 Hawkins street, in a very large duplex with a cellar, and a second story as well. The end of Hawkins street ended where the Walnut Hill Park began and the wooded strip went all the way from Grand street to West Main street, the entire length of the park, perhaps a kilometer or so. As children we spent many happy hours in the park, climbing the trees and pretending we were Tarzan, or Cheetah, or just another of the apes, depending on how many of us were playing at the time. I was the best climber so i was often playing Cheetah and this old tree. I can remember swinging from branch to branch, there were many of then back then to swing on and it was over 60 years ago when many things were different. For one thing, Number 26 Hawkins street is no longer in existence, and for that matter neither is Hawkins street itself. It was only one block long and over the past 60 years it has been absorbed by the New Britain General Hospital, which spread over the block like a giant amoeba, gobbling up streets and houses in it's path. (but, it, can never gobble up the memories, long termed and priceless)
The old, Tarzan tree, saw it all happening as the years rolled on, and new children came to play in it's embrace.. Over the years generations of children found refuge and adventure in it's branches. Eventually the branches were almost all broken off, at least on the lower part of the tree. Perhaps a sacrifice from the spirit of the tree, to endure the one, for the sake of the other? One giant limb had even been sawed off. The old tree had memories of happier times, when it could attract children by the dozens, to play among it's branches. We,who played so happily in our beloved, Tarzan tree, i still have the many happy memories of a time when things were much less complicated and far safer for children playing on their own in the park, un-supervised and completely uninhibited in our imaginations as a result of being able to play with out an adult watching and spoiling the fantasies.
In 2005 i went back east to make, a soul journey, with my dearest old friend and spiritual brother, Don Morgan. We started near Bangor, Maine and made our way down to Vermont to see my brother and my 98 year old mother and then down into Connecticut to renew old friendships with dear ones who we might never see again.
One of these was our dear friend Howie Heslin, who passed away a few months later that same year. While i was within 12 miles of another, and Older friend whom was in good health so i did not visit, had a death in the family. Had i visited her i would have been able to see my friend, Carlo, one more time before he went home. I met Howie back in 1954, in my senior year of high school, and we became inseparable best friends. I met my friend Don in 1956 so at the time of this writing we have been friends for over 50 years now. On our adventures in Connecticut, we had to go to our favorite "hot dog" place called "The Capitol Lunch", who make the best hot dogs i ever had, or anybody else has had to whom i have talked to or, who ever has tasted them. Their sauce is the key to the success of this little hot dog place.
I remember one time when Don was "moonlighting", ( as always) at the hospital as an X-Ray tech, we were going to get some of those great hot-dogs, to go and eat them in the park. I had let Don drive my car while i went in for the hot dogs. As i came out of the place with the chow, Don, acting like a, get' away car driver, drove my car right right through a ,rotary circle, taking out one or two of the signs, that said "Keep Right". I thought he would die of embarrassment and remorse, the poor guy felt so badly that my left head light now only shown six inches in front of the vehicle. It took a while to console him. But little adventures like that were part of our history that i would not trade for anything.

As long as we were in New Britain, i wanted to take Don to the places i used to enjoy the most when i was a kid growing up there. Of course the, Tarzan tree, was among the historic and loving sites we visited as we traveled along my memory trail, back in time. Unknown to me, while i was telling Don about the old Tarzan tree, he also picked up on the spirit of the tree, and imagined what it looked like when little JP was swinging from branch to branch through the favorite of climbing trees, Don picked up a broken off branch that had once been a live part of the Tarzan tree and he brought it back home to Maine with him with a surprise in mind for me.
My dear friend Don and i met when he was assigned to the tool room of the shop where i was working as a tooling maker. We became fast friends and i mean fast, we were constantly getting into mischief together, especially on Fridays when we had already gotten paid before lunch time and had the money to eat at the corner bar and grill. We called it our Hamburger Friday. For each hamburger we ate, we also drank a pitcher of beer.....each. Well, you can imagine on two hamburger days, we were in less than top shape to return to work, and we normally took off on friday after-noon and got into some mischief. Nothing serious, or felonious, just mostly funny things with a tad of danger attached mostly because of the amount of beer we had and the fact that we were driving around that way. Usually in my car. We both woke up one after noon in my car, on a private residence lawn. It is a wonder we survived ourselves in those days.
My friend Don is a highly spiritual person , not religious at all, but highly spiritual and one of his areas of expertise is the Native American Indian. He has given talks at various schools in his area on the subject and he has replicated many of the Native American artifacts as well as inspired designs of his own. I have some of his art work on my site also at: This Link. Here is a shot of Don with some of the Indian artifacts and costume he has made.


I want to jump back in time now to a period when we used to have "Family Meetings", which in the beginning were more like family all talking at the same time meetings. Something had to be done and i got the idea of using some sort of object to help control the meetings. I went to the garage/shop and got a paint stirrer and wrote "Talking Stick" on it with a felt tip marker. I made up a set of rules for using the talking stick and they were; who ever had the stick could do all the talking. Anybody who did not have the stick was limited to ten words, spaced apart by 30 seconds. If somebody else wanted the stick, they could raise their hand, and if the one with the stick allowed it, then the stick would be passed on. We rotated the chairperson of the meeting so everybody would have a chance to run the show for them selves, adhering to the rule of the talking stick.
Back to the the time spent at Don's house he showed me several "Talking Sticks" that he had made. He explained to me how the Native Americans used them to keep things smooth during a pow wow. Don, told me that the chief would seat everybody who was important to attend and have a say so in the affairs of the village, in a circle, to represent the mother earth. He gather the people in the long house and then he would take the talking stick and state the issue that were involved in the affairs of the tribe and then using both hands he would pass the talking stick to the left, saying, "To all my relations". The person receiving the stick would then state his views on the topics for discussion, and when they had their say, then they would pass it on to the next one on the left. It went on that way until the stick came back to the Chief, who after hearing all of the opinions would make a final decision. It blew me away to hear about this because i thought i had invented the talking stick years before and i never had ever heard of one before i made mine.

What does a talking stick have to do with the Tarzan tree, you may ask? Well, in the middle of September of 2006, i got a package in the mail from Maine. You guessed it, a talking stick that Don had made from that old branch off of the ancient Tarzan tree. Don, knowing that my animal totem is the Owl, incorporated that into the design and made the most beautiful talking stick i can imagine. It has the owl fetish, Owl feathers and Owl claws incorporated in it's design as well as the symbolic union of Howie, Don, and Myself and as a remembrance of Howie and the bond that, we three, shared. This is what i want to share with you all today, so i took some photo's of my newest and most honored treasure, my talking stick which was so lovingly and painstakingly crafted by my friend Don, just for me.

Here at left you can see a full view of the talking stick, as it is currently hanging in my entry way, where everybody can see it as they enter the home. Here are some more detailed shots showing some of the art work involved in the making of the artifact. Here is another shot of the upper end of the talking stick it is difficult to see here but there are also drawn owl feathers adorning the upper length of the stick, just below the owl looking over his back at one as they hold the stick Here is the lower end of the stick showing the owl feathers attached to the lower end of the artifact. The entire thing is gleaming through the varnish and is surprisingly heavier than i had imagined it to be just by looking at it.

At left you see a good detail of the owl who sits on top os the talking stick. If you will notice he is looking over his back with his head rotated 180 degrees. We are looking at his back here but his eye is on us any how.

 

Besides this one, Don had carved another smaller owl in the wood of the talking stick itself. See the next shot at right. Just below the owl are real owl claws incorporated into the stick's design.
Here is another view showing more of the claws and the carving in closer detail. Notice the eyes on the owl and again, the owl is looking behind him, over his back, i don't know of many other animals who can do this. My father told me a story of how an Owl terrified him in the woods one time. He was afraid of Owls ever since. Here, you can see the initials of the three friends who once made up the terrible trio, of JP, DM, HH, forever declaring our friendship. Howie is gone now and some may even wonder how he hung on to life for so long with all his medical problems, but he will never die in our hearts and minds. Howie is our role model for dealing with difficult situations. his answer for everything was, "Eh? Wadd'a ya gonn'a do?"
Above, you can see a little better the feathers drawn on the top half of the talking stick .

On the lower part of the talking stick, Don has left the wood in it's natural condition of deterioration. You can see here how the weathering of branch has taken it's toll over the years, and here it is, frozen in time and will look like this for ever. My beloved Tarzan tree may some day be taken down completely to make room for the changing world, but it will live for ever in my aging heart, and somewhere in time and space, in this quantum universe, little JP is still joyously swinging through it's ageless branches as he plays out the childhood fantasies that will live for ever in this relic from my past. Every time i look at it or touch it and examine it's details, i will relive those happy and carefree days in Walnut Hill Park, so long ago. Every time i look at the terrible trio's initials on the stick, my bond with those two souls is strengthened even more. Thank you Howie, for your courage and your inspiration in the face of adversity. Thank you so much, Don Morgan for your outstanding "work ethic", (except for the time i corrupted you) you were a worker beyond compare. I never saw anybody work as hard as you, or make me feel as crappy being a slacker, dear friend. I guess the biggest thing was your willingness to do anything me an Howie dreamed up. Those are wonderful friendships and of course my lovely gift of lasting memories from the past that you crafted from the actual pieces of my happy childhood.

JP Déry 9/15/2006