My nieces came one August and brought several friends so they could all go blueberry picking on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

There were five of them, and I don’t have enough floor space for that many, so I told them to sleep in the tree house. They took Therm-a-Rest pads, sleeping bags, sheets, blankets and pillows and made themselves a cozy nest overlooking the chickens. When it was time for bed, they gathered some candles and a small lantern and climbed up, taking a Ouija Board they found in the basement.

This group did not know what a Ouija Board is – though the rest of us all know it’s a “magic” relic from the 1960s that’s supposed to contact spirits who will then answer the questions every teenager needs to know. Things like “Who will be my next boyfriend?,” or “Will such-and-such go out with me?” It seems it was always those love questions that the spirits answered.

The board comes with a little platform that two people put their fingers on, and it floats on the board to spell out the answers. The kids played the Ouija Board by candlelight in the tree house; when I got up the next morning, I found two of the five in the floor of the living room.

When asked why they abandoned their roost, they said they got scared because the Ouija Board started actually moving.

That seemed like a good enough reason, so I went into the kitchen to make blueberry pancakes for them all.

I remember how I loved to sleep in whatever playhouse we had at any time. Usually we had a storage shed that Granny said we could play in if we cleaned it up. Smart Granny – she knew we would get tired of the shed soon and would leave it clean for her. I do remember wishing I had a real playhouse like the one some kid down the road had in her front yard. Hers looked like her family’s big house but was only about 7 feet by 7 feet. I never even got to go in the thing, because she was older and I didn’t want to say out loud that I coveted my neighbor’s playhouse.

I remember once cleaning out an old pig pen with my buddies and putting some ceiling tiles down on the dirt floor. We played in there for an entire summer and called ourselves the Tiger Gang, but most summers we just went to the hill above the house and made pretend houses in the woods. We liked to find an upturned tree and line the dirt in the depression behind the roots with moss, section off rooms and play all day. These “houses” would last for maybe a week and then we would move. Once we found a hollow log up on the ridge. Daddy said it was chestnut, and that one lasted all summer. We made several trips back to the house to get supplies – rags and broken dishes mostly. Mom would give us cardboard boxes from the store to make furniture, and I thought drinking out of a broken cup was just fine. We’d carry our lunches up the hill to whatever house we were occupying that day; it was a good life.

My own kids would make playhouses in the woods too, but they usually called them “forts.” The first one I remember Will building was with Carrie Eidson at her house on Caney Fork. They were maybe 4 and 5 and worked together all afternoon to gather the materials – mostly sticks and leaves. Then they got in their fort and started playing while Peggy and I sat on the porch and listened. Will was facing one way and Carrie the other. Will shot bad guys from the fort and Carrie waved her scarf from the castle.

During the blizzard of 1993 Angi, Will and Topher Stephens made forts in the snow. They had tunnels to connect the various rooms and looked like gophers as they moved through those tunnels before popping up to check their position.

Will and Angi – and any other kid that was around – would make forts in places they thought we wouldn’t see. They’d ask Tom if they could use scrap wood and would work so hard carrying it back to the woods. They usually nailed up a platform with a rough ladder and a lean-to roof. I think Topher and Will actually built one pretty high up between two trees at Topher’s house. When we walk in the woods now, we still find ruins of abandoned forts all over the side of our mountain. I wonder what someone else would think they were if they happened on one while walking.

Once Will and his cousins made a fort below the house and played for a while before they disturbed a hornets nest. Will yelled “jump,” and Marika jumped into the nest. We heard them scream, and I thought “snake,” until they came running up the road with a swarm behind them. They slept well after getting a mega-dose of Benadryl.

Tom had a tree house as a kid, so he built our kids one. It’s a stand-alone structure that had a swing on the bottom floor and a ladder for the kids to climb to their second-floor hangout. We use the bottom section for a woodshed nowdays.

Once Will and Angi had some friends over, and they all wanted to sleep in the playhouse. There were five kids in all. The youngest was a little nervous about sleeping outside, so we put him in the middle between his sisters. Angi was the oldest and he was the youngest, so they ranged from 4 to 9. I read to them for a while and tucked them in. Then I came on over to the house feeling proud of the fact that they were there, and I was not. I had just settled in to reading my novel when the other kids’ mom called to check on them. She was pleased to know that they were camping out, but she told me her youngest would sometimes sleep walk. Well I had not planned on that.

I lay there awhile but could not go to sleep.

“He would be so disappointed if I carried him back over here,” I thought. I also knew it would be hard to get him back to sleep if I woke him. So I left him sleeping where he was, but I could not go to sleep thinking about that little red head falling out. So I took my blankets down to the living room, made a pallet in the floor next to the window and propped my head up so I could see him if he fell out. It was a full moon. I didn’t think about what I would do if he did fall out. I finally fell asleep with my head in the window. The kids woke me up the next morning, giggling and playing in the tree house. He was so proud that he slept out in the tree house, and I was so sleepy while I made them blueberry pancakes.

So when the kids get tired of the playhouse, blueberry pancakes are a good thing to fix.

Just add berries to your favorite pancake mix or recipe, cook as you normally would, pass the maple syrup and all will be good with the world.