structure in the woods

Fort Bo-Ga-Ko-Te-Za. That is the name the neighborhood kids created to christen the new “fort” – a collection of used plywood, tin, and old scrap material lifted from our parents’ garages and assembled into a shaky but relatively sturdy tent-like structure in the woods behind our houses. The name, of course, was an amalgamation of the first syllable of each fort builder’s last name. We thought we were so clever — young New York Times puzzle masters before we had ever heard of an anagram.

For the neighborhood kids growing up in the late 60’s, the fort was a representation of both our independence and ingenuity. We had a place to call home on those beautiful and endless summer evenings where it stayed light until well past 9 p.m., signaling we would not be called back home until darkness fell. Summer meant no school and an extra hour or two with our friends swapping stories. More important, we designed and built the BoGaKoTeZa sanctuary with our own hands. What a pleasurable reminder this was of our early team building efforts.

Growing up on The Hill, as it was commonly referred to, was an exercise in youthful utopia. In the 1950’s, many young married couples pushed slightly westward in the Chicago suburbs to secure an affordable home with a small piece of land. Most of the homes were similar tidy brick ranch structures with 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, a family room, and a 1 car garage positioned on a quarter-acre (or less) of land. The very rare split-level would occasionally interrupt the sea of small ranch homes. Situated behind the houses on our block were sloping dense woods where we would walk, play, and socialize for hours. Kids ruled the neighborhood. It seems that nearly all the parents were in their middle to late 20s, of Bohemian or Polish ancestry, and had several kids in tow.

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