In May 1974, three months before my ninth birthday, my newly divorced mother and I moved into the attic apartment above my grandparents’ house on Elm Street, just down from May Greene grade school.
We called it the Fort D house.
Our first day in the attic, Mom and I dug our quickly-packed, crumpled clothes out of the IGA bags we’d stuffed them in, sorting and folding and stacking, desperate to create order out of the chaos of our lives. I remember looking out the window, with its clear view of Cape Girardeau’s Fort D.
“Look, Mom,” I said, hopeful. “Kids playing dodgeball.”
Mom kept sorting socks, but the Fort D lawn beckoned play. But over the next few months, Fort D would become my happy place in the midst of so much sorrow and instability.
Instability, we know, can be both emotional and concrete. The places that hold the memories of childhood can be houses, schools, ballfields, the local Dairy Queen. But there are also the Fort Ds of our lives, and they nurture us along the way, too.
Which is why I was both relieved and thrilled to read that so many good people are fighting for its preservation. “The forgotten park,” Fort D was called in the October 27 issue of The Southeast Missourian.
Not forgotten, I assure you, by me.
I am over 50 now, and I have not lived in Cape for three decades, but Fort D still means a great deal to me, and to my history.
Back in 1974, my grandparents, Red and Ann Brockmire, were renters, and often on the move for more affordable rent. But that summer their Fort D rental house and its tiny attic served as home base, and our days ran on a predictable, military-like regimen. Mornings, Grandpa worked in his large garden and spent afternoons on the front porch swing, doing puzzles. Grandma strolled to Womack’s Drug Store to meet neighbor ladies for a cherry coke and, afternoons, watched her CBS soaps. All while my mom, working nights at the Hosiery Mill over in Jackson, slept.
I did my best to be no trouble, invisible. To stay out of everyone’s way.
That summer I played a lot of softball, dodgeball, hide-n-seek, and war games with the local kids on our little field of dreams, Fort D, and tried to fit in.
The fort meant joy and play and new friends. The fort meant belonging.
Some days, like if it was raining and the grounds at the fort fell empty, I would take my stack of library books — Nancy Drew mysteries, the Little House series, Black Beauty, Aesop’s Fables, Heidi — out onto the front porch and sit on the swing with Grandpa. I could imagine myself as Nancy, off to solve the mystery of the old clock; as Laura Ingalls running in the Minnesota fields with her dog, Jack; as Heidi, living high up in the Swiss Alps (wherever that was) with her grandfather, far, far away from Fort D.
Cape city manager Scott Meyer acknowledges that Fort D does not date back to the Civil War — it is a fake fort, as forts go — but concludes it is “historic in its own right” even though “there are purists who think this should have never been built, that it is a distraction from the pure history of the site.”
The purists are wrong.
My grandparents are long gone. Their Fort D house is gone, razed. My mother is gone. But Fort D, with its sprawling lawn, remains in place, and I am eternally grateful to those good folks on a mission to save it.
I live far away now, but when I am homesick for my family and for Cape Girardeau, Fort D fills a pure, playful place in my memory, my history. As something infinitely more solid than clothes stuffed into IGA bags. As my field of dreams. As the playground that offered safety and stability to this one-time nine year-old, child of divorce, looking for a place to be.