Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cardboard boxes and little kids make for great stories!

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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.

Story #1

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!

Story #2

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.


At 1:19 PM, Anonymous kkt said...

that's a great picture! i have one of me in my own little backyard tent just like it!

i don't have any kids, but i do have a cat. and, well, he IS my child!

his favorite thing to do is to crawl into boxes, of all sizes! i have one picture of him sitting in this little tiny shoebox and he doesn't really fit into it, so the pic reminds me of a muffin because of the way his body spills over the side of the box!

one day, i splurged and bought him a kitty bed. it was soft and warm and comfy. and he wouldn't go anywhere near it! he'd run away from it and jump into one of his (many) old boxes i have for him.

i call him "box cat"!

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Those are great stories!!

I am the oldest of 23 grandchildren. I am also only 4 years younger than my youngest uncle. Needless to say we all grew up in the same house with each other. If you can imagine a Philadelphia row home in the 70's that only had 3 bedrooms but actually held almost 15 people - that's my house. There wasn't much room for toys since people took up every nook and crannie, but with so many babies there were plenty of the best toy ever invented - Pamper's diaper boxes.

You probably remember thes things. In the days before "real cloth feel" and "easy to open bags" of diapers, Pampers came in boxes. Big, thick sided, open-with-a-flap-like-a-box-of-tissues boxes.

Once a box got to below half it was free game. Who ever got it first had the best toy in the house. We would get my grandpop's stinky black markers that he got from working at the hospital - you know the type, stink so bad that you can smell it through the walls - and we would proceed to turn that innocent looking box into a LeMans worthy race car. A couple of headlights in the front and some cool stripes down the side and that baby was ready to fly.

On carpet you could get one of those puppies going at a good clip if you have the right person behind you pushing. The coveted speed though was going the speed of stairs.

We convinced my uncle that it was a good idea to move the table from the bottom of the steps so that we could take our race car up to the top of the stairs and ride down like we were sledding the slolam. We used to have so much fun with those diaper boxes.....

I have a scar over my left eye to prove it. :)

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Lara said...

I love your stories...the one about your son's very own Sistine Chapel brought to mind my own cardboard box adventure...

My dad got a new guitar, I believe I was in second or third grade at the time, and I was totally enthralled by the box the guitar came was triangular and just so cool. I remember that I decided to write a play about pine trees, just so I could use the box halves as a prop. I wrote the play (not sure what it was called anymore, but I vaguely remember something like "A tale of two trees"), enlisted my younger brothers and neighborhood friends as actors and charged a dime admission to our backyard production. I know it included a song I was learning on the piano at the time: "The fairy processional." I think it was the first play I ever wrote, and the beginning of a long career in the theater, ultimately ending with my college major in opera performance. :)

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Julie M. Hickey said...

He he he. I was just telling my DH yesterday that I can't wait to move into our new house so that we have enough room to build the kids a house out of the refrigerator box! I'm dreaming of putting windows and a door in it, curtains, maybe a little window box or two - all made out of scrapbooking paper of course :)

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous *Keri* said...

Loved the stories! And of course I have a box story of my own....

My neighbor, my younger sister and I came across a box back when we were 8 and/or 11 years old. I don't remember what it held but it was tall and narrow and just the right size for an aged 8 or 11 girl to slip it over her head and wear it like a head to toe sheath. We cut a small window to see out of and "Boxy" was born. The person wearing the box took on the identity of Boxy: friend and perhaps even Superhero. Of course Boxy always had to have close friends around in case he fell over. (You could not get back on your feet while wearing the box without help). Eventually arm holes were added and a "Boxy Radio Show" was recorded. (I really, really, REALLY hope that got recorded over). I still have pictures of my sister wearing the Boxy costume. I think I would like to post them on her blog right now.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous kaylaaimee said...


We had a wardrobe cardboard box once. I think I was about 8 and my sister was 3. We made it a castle, a car, a spaceship, everythign you could think of.

And then one night, it rained.

And rain ruins cardboard boxes.

And we both cried.

Because we had a whole two weeks of fun in that box. And when would we ever get another one that size? And we didn't ever get one that size again. So our tears were worth it. And I think if someone gave me one of those now, I'd take it over to my sister's house and we'd play beauty salon. Or astronauts.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Amy B. said...

I love your box stories. boxes are wonderful. Just a big cube that captures a child's imagination. I've been a bit too "Good Housekeeping" about them. thanks for your stories. I think I'll relax a bit. ;)

Back when Sarah was four and I only had two children and much less stuff, we lived in an apartment complex. Sarah had a pretty big room for a little girl in a toddler bed. One day one of our neighbors got himself a new Stereo/TV system. The boxes ended up by the big garbage cans. Both my dh and I saw the potential in those things. The main one was three ft. square. huge. It and the two speaker boxes, (you remember when the cool speakers used to be at least 30" tall,) were dragged up to sarah's room. Her daddy made her a house. He cut a door and windows, and used the speaker boxes to create a second room. She loved that box house. she would carry her pillow and blanket into it and sleep in it overnight. she played in it for hours. the speaker box section was flimsy and only lasted a few weeks, but the main house lasted three months. she cried the day we had to get rid of it. it was worn out. colored all over with her decorations and loved for 100 days. but it couldn't hardly stand up anymore. it was a sad day we said goodbye to the box house.

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Becky said...

boxes boxes. I remember me and my sister used to take the biggest box we could find and take it to the largest hill in the yard, climb into the box and start rolling down the hill. Now that I am older and I can't help but think...ya know that box was pretty thin and not much protection giving how fast we were going...giggle.

My son loves boxes too. He swipes all the boxes I get from packages and has made himself a Box couch for his bedroom. Complete with throws and pillows :)

Thanks for the great stories

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Becky Thompson said...

What a great story - and fun stories in the comments, too!

Boxes were a huge part of playtime when I was a kid, brothers and I made many forts/spaceships/houses out of big boxes my dad would find for us.

I encouraged the same play in my kids when they were little - the box was always the best part of the present. Adam and Samantha made racecars out of boxes one time - they had so much fun cutting and coloring and beating those boxes up. I love play like that that stretches the imagination. It's the best kind.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger sarah said...

i like your blog- i just started mine- and they are quite a way to relax!!!
thanks for the stories!
sarah castro

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Queue_t said...

I only have " fort " stories, I don't remember ever getting to play with a box, but we had many blanket forts- inside and outside and my mom was pretty good about letting us use the clothes line too! LOL
We were "army brats" my brothers and I thus when ever it think of blanket-tents it is a " fort" to me. we would use pillow and books and clothes line clips to hold up those blankets to many differt thinks, I still love " tents" today as an adult - I am lucky both my older boys are scouts and my Dh doesn't like to camp, so I get to go on the ocasional camp out with them, tents and all.
thanks for sharing your fun box stories. Tamara aka queue_t


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