Every five years or so our furlough travels take us through the little hamlet of Limestone, PA. Whenever we visit, I am flooded with memories of the five years I spent there as a child.

The First Baptist Church of Limestone, PA, and the parsonage where I lived from 1977 to 1982.

This time, as I made my customary pilgrimage through ancient haunts, it struck me that, although I did not know it at the time, I was slowly being developed into a writer – specifically a writer of fiction.

Let me explain.

My time in Limestone was in the late ’70s and early ’80s – the tail end of that bygone era when kids played outside. Not only that, but my parents stubbornly refused to get a TV, which meant that I was on my own for my entertainment. Fortunately, behind our house was a wooded area – to my five-year-old eyes a virtual black forest full of adventure waiting to happen.

On any given summer day I would walk out the back door of my house, bound up a concrete stairway, cross a plank extended over a small stream, climb up a set of roots that resembled a stairway, between two trees that formed a natural gateway, and be in my very own magic kingdom.

The gateway to my magic kingdom. The bridge has been improved since my day. It's nice to see that the trolls and fairies have been investing in infrastructure.

The gateway to my magic kingdom. The bridge has been improved since my day. It’s nice to see that the trolls and fairies have been investing in infrastructure.

Once I had entered my mystical realm, I would climb the tower of my castle and survey my surroundings, issuing orders and edicts to my faithful subjects. Invariably issues had arisen since my last visit which needed my immediate attention, and which only I could solve.

My royal tower. Also, alternately, a pirate ship or battle tank.

My royal tower. Also, alternately, a pirate ship or battle tank.

A great and mighty kingdom such as mine was bound to have enemies, and invariably those enemies chose to attack while I was present. In the face of overwhelming odds I would gather my forces into one of my strategically placed forts, and there we would make our stand, until, at the last moment, we would hurl ourselves out at the enemy in a desperate charge that so surprised and perplexed the enemy that they would run away in fear and dismay.

One of my forts. I doubt the recent picnickers were aware of the bloody conflicts that raged there.

One of my forts. I doubt the recent picnickers were aware of the bloody conflicts that raged there.

The battle won, peace restored, I would hand out medals for bravery to all, and hear the far-off voice of my mother, calling me for dinner.

It was all very magical, but, in retrospect, something even more important was happening. Every day I was going out into the woods and creating a story in my head. Each day the story would be more intense, the battle more desperate, the victory more glorious. In short, I was writing books without ever setting pen to paper. I have no doubt that there is a straight line between my forest adventures and Missionary Max.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention that, as I walked through the magic gate last week, I could swear I heard a voice whisper beside me, “Welcome back, Your Majesty. We’ve missed you.”