Cardboard boxes and little kids make for great stories!
Gwyn surveys her kingdom from her Bedouin tent, circa 1958. Note cardboard box in that cool wagon!
This morning I woke with a nasty headache, the kind that squeezes your sinuses and the optic nerve, unresponsive to Advil. This state led me to a morning of sloth, highlighted by surfing favorite websites over and over. At the Simple Living Network forums, someone linked to this story, sharing that the ultimate favorite toy, the cardboard box, has been inducted into a Toy Hall of Fame. Rightfully so and about time, I thought through my pounding brain.
As so often happens, old memories long forgotten were plucked out of their little synaptic corners, and two separate stories involving kids and cardboard boxes bubbled out of the dendrites and made all the right connections.
As kids, my brothers and I enjoyed the freedom of my parents' minimalist approach to Good Housekeeping. I had a longstanding fort behind one of the living room chairs, constructed with blankets draped over the chair, held in place by the books in the shelf behind, and filled with whatever treasures I needed to conduct my affairs. The clothesline would be rendered unusable for its original purpose, a "Bedouin tent" set up for playtime on a warm summer's day by Dad.
Growing up in 50s and 60s suburbia as we did, this kind of thing is all the more remarkable, and I'm sure partly responsible for our neighborhood status as "different." I've learned different is far more interesting, and isn't that just too bad for all my friends who had to walk across the plastic runners through the house to sit on the plastic covered couch?
Anytime a large packing box came into our house, it was cause for celebration. We couldn't wait to get our hands on those things! One such box---was it for a new refrigerator or washing machine?--found its way into family infamy. My youngest brother Fritz and his gang of little hoodlum friends laid claim to that box. This crew of kids had caused mayhem at Silver Lake Elementary in kindergarten. All the moms strongly advised the principal that separating them would be in the school's best interest. He kindly told them that "we know best." Suffice it to say that the Hayes Street Gang never shared teachers for the rest of their elementary school careers!
Toward the end of that era, they established a "club" in that packing carton, right in the middle of our living room. We'd all watch as they hauled blankets, toys and other things in there. We'd listen as their giggles would be stifled, followed by a shifting of the box, moving seemingly of its own accord a few inches.
One afternoon, I noticed Fritz coming toward his box with a smooth flat appearance under his shirt, which he was clutching furtively as he headed into the box. I knew the score and the jig was up.
"Fritz, what's that?"
"Nothing, it's just a comic book. Go away!"
"It is NOT a comic book, you were upstairs, weren't you?"
"It's NOTHING, go away!"
I lunged for my still smaller brother, wrestled for the item in question and discovered that, sure enough, it was one of our father's Playboy magazines.
"Don't tell Mom and Dad! Please, don't!"
I didn't say a word, but instead peered inside the box. In one corner were one or two other contraband publications, and scribbled on the inside of the box was a marquee sign, "Hayes Street Playboy Club," with various childish naked ladies drawn throughout.
My only regret is that I never took photos. It was hilarious! Far more entertaining--and enterprising--than the random clicking of internet p*rn sites that occupies inquisitive minds today.
By the way--Mom and Dad thought it was hilarious, too. All the other moms? Well, it was no more than they expected, given the history of these boys!
My older son had an intense interest in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when he was around 5. This was the first time the Turtles hit the small screen and a Target store near you. He had a modest collection of action figures which I thought was excessive--two empty ice cream buckets full--until I saw some of the collections of his friends, filling entire closets.
I actually found the Turtles moderately entertaining myself. Moderately. Being a Responsible Parent, I felt it was my duty to help him understand the origin of the characters' names, that Leonardo, Donatello (his favorite), Raphael and Michelangelo were NOT mutated turtles, but Old Masters of the Renaissance. I checked out kids' library books about the artists. I even found a really cool Leonardo pop-up book from the Museum Gift Shop. He got it. More than I realized.
One day our refrigerator died. When the store delivered our new one, they were pleased to roll it right off the truck.
"Where's the box?" I asked.
I'm sure they thought I was crazy, but this was the first time we'd have access to a big box, and I wanted my kids to enjoy that experience.
They brought the box in, and it was placed in our living room, where my son immediately set up housekeeping.
After a few days, I noticed his feet sticking out the end, art supplies scattered about. I asked him what he was doing.
"I'm suffering for my art, Mom. I'm laying on my back to paint the ceiling, like Michelangelo did to the Sistine Chapel."
Ah yes, my lessons had stuck. That little boy has gone on to a high school art career that included a gallery show and a first place at the state Visual Arts Classic last year. He's now embarking on a career in animation himself, enrolling in a bachelors program in Animation Arts.
Yes indeed, the humble cardboard box is truly deserving of this honor. I don't remember any good stories coming from the glitzy, broken toys of childhood.
If you're reading this post, please take a moment to read its comments. There have been some great stories shared about cardboard box memories that are not to be missed! Thanks for visiting.