Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Box That Rocks

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

My husband just amused himself by making a little kitty fun house for our cats. He took a big box, cut three holes in it, each one on a different side, and put it down in the middle of the living room floor. And sure enough, as I’m typing this one cat is inside and the other one is outside and they’re batting at each other and chasing each other around it and it’s very cute.

And it reminded me of times gone by, times when all I needed was a box to make me happy. I wish my needs were still so simple.

When I was growing up, my dad owned a small appliance store. (Not a “small appliance” store, but a small store that sold appliances.) Occasionally he’d bring home these huge refrigerator and stove and dishwasher boxes for my brother and me to play with. That was just the best. We’d construct houses, forts, entire cities made of boxes. We’d bend them and stack them and tear out openings. They seemed huge to me, too. Boxes twice as big as I was. I’d think that I could really live in them, forever. Of course, back then we didn’t have a lot of other stuff to play with. No videogames or computers or 500 channels of cable TV. Mainly just dolls and books and board games, and in the summer we spent a lot of time outside because there was just as little to do inside as there was outside, and outside was more fun because dirt was involved. So those appliance boxes were just the best. Until it rained, of course. Then we’d have to tear everything down and put it out for the garbage man, and wait until the next time Dad brought home some boxes.

Eventually, of course, I grew up and became kind of prissy, to tell the truth. Dad stopped bringing home boxes. But when I married and had kids, I got to return to that time again, just for a little while.

I remember oldest son’s first Christmas. My husband and I are pretty reasonable people, in spite of what you might think after reading this blog for awhile. We knew that it would be ridiculous to spend lots of money on an eight-month-old who still thought his fist was pretty entertaining. We left the major spoiling to his grandparents and uncles, and his father and I bought him just a couple of presents, mainly based on the size of the boxes. He spent hours and hours playing with those boxes — the actual toys being ignored. He stacked them and put them over his head and drooled all over them and we didn’t care. In fact we thought it was very amusing and congratulated ourselves for being such practical parents.

And when the boys were toddlers, we’d construct elaborate forts out of blankets and cushions and pillows and keep them up for days and days. They slept in them, even, and I’d bring them little snacks and even pretend mail, like they actually lived there and fun was had by all.

Then, somehow — it all got so complicated. Someone got them one of those mini Jeeps that had to be recharged all the time. Someone else got them one of those Playmobil sets — I think the first one was a gas station — but it was far too complicated for the boys and so I ended up spending hours and hours putting that thing together, from an instruction booklet that was about 500 pages long. Then the boys discovered videogames, my husband and I became enablers, and all of a sudden play time became this complicated set up of cords and cables and consoles and outlets. Then came the computers, the iPods, the portable DVD players….

And life — or at least the things that give us pleasure — became complicated. Even for me. To be honest, I’d much rather spend an afternoon shopping at DSW for the latest platform-soled Mary Janes, stopping at Starbucks for a double tall nonfat easy caramel caramel macchiato, going to Sephora to sample lipsticks, then dropping by J.Jill to see if there are any cute skirts on sale — than play with a box.

But still, sometimes I wish I was young, and the boys were young, and we could be happy with just a fort made of blankets, or a sunny afternoon, or a found penny on the sidewalk — something simple. Something uncomplicated.

Like the endless possibilities of a cardboard box.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, I remember those boxes. When someone on the street would get a new large appliance, it was a field day for all the kids. Remember rolling all across someone's lawn in them? The romance of those simpler times does make me nostalgic.

Great post!

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Whenever I get too nostalgic for my childhood, Judy, and start to get weepy about how things were so much better then...

I remind myself that those were also the days of Lawn Jarts. Remember those? Lethal weapons marketed as children's toys?

Boy, were those the good ol' days!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, yeah--I had a bad record with those--one time I threw one which ended up sticking out of the side of a neighbor's house. Another time I threw one down (while I was waiting my turn) and it stabbed me in the foot.

But every family in my neighborhood had a set. What were we thinking?

(I also remember when Mr. Potato Head involved using a real potato and the face pieces were sharp metal so you could stab them into the potato!)

Suzanne Macpherson said...

Love the "boxed" memories! I had an extraordinary fourth grade teacher that had us construct a television out of cardboard boxes and put on newscasts and shows for weeks. And well, being an only child, I could definitely hole up in a dishwasher box for days on end with my collection of bears and raggedy ann. My Raggedy Ann's name was Esmerelda. If you know why then you watched TV in Seattle in the 60's.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Wasn't Esmerelda one of the witches on "Bewitched?"