Some days I just want to crawl inside a cardboard box fort and hide from the rest of the world—like I did when I was nine or ten. Prince and David Bowie are dead. Harper Lee and Alan Rickman, too. Also disturbing, at least on some level: Donald Trump is running for president and McDonald’s chocolate chip frappés are officially extinct. These are desperate times and they call for desperate measures—like curling up in the fetal position within the comfort and safety of a cardboard-walled fortress, effectively separated and insulated from the madness outside that might otherwise devour us. At least that’s what I feel compelled to do when times get tough—revisit the glorious cocoon of my youth.
Back then, the only thing that came close to the impressive nature of a fort crafted from a discarded cardboard box was a fort whose roof was built with an embarrassment of blankets—a sprawling haven that encompassed an entire room, incorporating clothespins, stacks of books, heavy ashtrays and every available piece of furniture that would further the effort—that of making it somehow more expansive, inspired largely by a Manifest Destiny of sorts. But I digress.
I remember the birth of many a cardboard refuge as if it were yesterday. Once in a great while, there would be a sizeable purchase in our household, like a new refrigerator, washer or dryer. Naturally, this produced as a side benefit a most enormous box—a gift from the gods to my brother and me. Somehow said box made its way down the narrow staircase and into the middle of our basement rec room. Like maniacal hunters we circled the beast—scrutinizing every inch of its carcass, celebrating our good fortune and anticipating the ritualistic carving that would soon take place.
This, of course, meant that our mother would allow us to use steak knives to transform the aforementioned box into a masterpiece, making us drunk with joy while effectively violating one of the prime tenets of parenthood—the one involving sharp objects and underdeveloped motor skills. Inherently she understood that using a table knife was decidedly futile, and that scissors were pretty much worthless as a tool for such an undertaking. So we’d hack and saw through the cardboard with glee, inch-by-inch, completely unsupervised—the ever-present element of danger adding exponentially to our collective delight.
Not surprisingly, we were fatigued by the enormity of the task yet thrilled to be making progress toward our shared vision. Never mind that blisters formed on our fingers, cardboard dust particles filled the air and jagged scraps littered the floor. It was a small price to pay in the name of creating something larger than ourselves. There in the musty cellar, whiling away the hours, we carved windows of every shape and size, escape hatches and skylights galore, doors that would actually swing open and shut and at least one rectangular slot for assorted mail and other important deliveries—like Mister Salty pretzel sticks and wads of Monopoly money. Also essential, a pathetic-looking doorbell we sketched with a big, fat Magic Marker.
Adding to the nest-like quality of our creation, we sometimes hauled blankets and pillows inside or fashioned curtains out of dishcloths we swiped from the kitchen. Likewise, a slew of books and LOOK Magazines would find their way to the interior, dropping to the floor one by one, having been shoved through the mail slot in rapid succession.
Indeed, our fort was a beautiful thing and there was as much joy in constructing it as there was in playing with it—especially when pets were coaxed within. Much like the mountain of dirt in our backyard—the one that occupied my brother and me for the better part of our summers, inundated with more plastic Army men and Matchbox cars than we could reliably count—our cardboard box forts were semi-permanent fixtures that would live in our memories forever.
Looking back, I can’t imagine surviving childhood without either.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live, tempted to resurrect the cardboard box fort of my youth. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.
Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel