TUPELO – There’s a tree crying out for a treehouse, and it shall be done.
“It’s just perfect, the way the limbs are,” said Bruce Ridgway, 64.
More than five decades ago, Ridgway built a treehouse with his friends. It was an impressive structure, four stories tall with its own fireplace. Perhaps the neighborhood kids overreached on that last detail.
“Fire burned through the hearth and caught the sap of the tree,” Ridgway said. “It went up like a grenade and blew us out of the tree. I was like a pinball, hitting every limb on the way down, about 40 feet.”
The new treehouse won’t be nearly as elaborate as that, and his grandsons, Jacob, 3, and Caleb, 2, won’t need a fireplace.
The project is in its initial stages, and the grandchildren are happy, especially after helping to hammer the treehouse ladder together.
“They can see it, what it’s going to be,” Ridgway said. “They’ve hugged that tree. It’s really cute.”
Ridgway is building the treehouse for them. He’s also building it for himself, but it’s not a bid to recapture lost youth.
The Tupelo home he shares with his wife, Marcy, is a testament to Ridgway’s passion for working with his hands. He did the trim and wainscoting inside. He built the mantle piece. He changed the columns on the front porch and put in French doors.
A visitor can look around anywhere and spot a project, such as the cellarette he built after a trip to Natchez.
“Back in the plantation era, you’d ride a ways to see your neighbors,” he said. “The trip took eight to 10 hours. It was rude to drink their whiskey. You brought your own. I saw one of these in Natchez and said, ‘I can make that.’”
It has compartments for Scotch, Cognac, Irish whiskey and whiskey, as well as separate areas for glasses. Velvet lines the inside of the cellarette’s lid, and there’s a locking mechanism.
“That was a lot of fun to do, in-laying the lock,” he said.
Work the plan
Ridgway is a planner by nature, and that suits his professional life. He’s vice president of facilities management and construction at North Mississippi Medical Center.
It’s his job to project the hospital’s needs 50 to 100 years into the future.
“We don’t want to design something for the next generation,” he said. “We want to design something for the generation that will replace the next generation.”
Even in his hobby, Ridgway builds things with an eye to the future. A swing he built when his kids were young has come back into service for his grandchildren.
No doubt, the cradle he built for the grandkids will last for generations. And there’s a good chance the treehouse, when it’s finished, will serve kids’ imaginations long after Jacob and Caleb have outgrown it.
“This has been a lifelong hobby. My dad didn’t know the difference between a hammer and a screwdriver. My eighth-grade shop teacher, he opened up a world to me,” Ridgway said. “I love being able to make something with my hands.”
While in bed at night, Ridgway thinks over his plans. Later, he puts his ideas on paper, but every project changes as it goes from the planning stage to the real world.
“The fun part is designing it, thinking it out, crafting it,” he said. “It’s always disappointing when it’s all finished.”
The disappointment doesn’t last because another project is waiting.
For a time, he became focused on fence gates in his backyard. His goal: to elevate the humble fence gate. By all accounts, he succeeded.
“I can’t count the number of fences I’ve built for people, and gates are my specialty,” he said. “My gate is a good bit different than what you can buy in a store. When it closes, it sounds like you’re closing your closet door.”
One at a time
A sign over his shop says, ‘Grandpa’s Workshop: Broken Toys Fixed Here.” It’s a relatively small, organized room with a place for every tool. When he’s working, he backs the cars out of the garage to get more space to maneuver.
There are no unfinished projects sitting around and waiting for inspiration to hit again.
“I do one project at a time,” he said. “I’m not going to have two. It will consume me until it’s finished.”
He spent the better part of one summer building a garden shed that comes complete with a barrel to collect rainwater.
“Our garden house I built out there, it will be standing if a tornado hits,” he said. “The house probably won’t.”
“That’s where I’m going to go if we have a tornado,” Marcy Ridgway said.
Don’t worry about her. She was joking. “Yeah, I’m going to be in there with the pitchfork and everything else during a tornado,” she said.
Both Ridgways keep busy. She’s made vintage flags, and has sewn dresses for Tupelo High School Madrigals. She made ceramic markers that label the Cognac and other bottles in her husband’s cellarette.
She’s planted untold thousands of flowers, and worked with her husband for several summers in a row to dredge out the now pleasant pond that borders their home.
“We’re exhausted at the end of the day on the weekends,” Ridgway said.
“We work really hard, then we collapse in one of our outdoor rooms,” she said.
“We’ve got five outdoor rooms,” Ridgway said. “That’s what we call them.”
They are spaces around the property, where the pair relax after a hard day of fun and home improvement.
One such room surrounds the garden house, and another is near the back of the property with plenty of shade.
Maybe the treehouse will become a sixth outdoor room. Or maybe the grandchildren will be left to use it as they see fit, as long as they don’t light any fires up there.
The kids will have their fun when the treehouse is complete, but they don’t have to wait. They’ve picked up some of their PePaw’s enthusiasm for doing a job, not just finishing it.
“The ladder is put together with dowels. Those little guys had their hammers and they were pounding away,” Ridgway said, pausing to laugh at the memory. “We’re having a good time.”
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal