When I Was Queen of My Own Cardboard Kingdom

When I Was Queen of My Own Cardboard Kingdom

Looking back at my youth, like many of you, I carried the knowledge that anything I dreamed up could be achieved. I gave little consideration to planning how I would do something. Instead, an idea would spring into my mind and I went about making it happen. My child-mind was open to endless possibilities. Actually, scratch that. It was fixed on doing and not what-if-ing things into oblivion.

As a kid, if I wanted to ride White Thunder, the fastest horse in all the land, then dammit, I rode White Thunder! Even if no one else could actually see me doing it. And as far as my building of houses, racing cars, or running a “fishing shop” (weird, right?) – to a grown-up the end results might have looked like a heap of garbage, but not to me. No, my child-eyes weren’t yet poisoned by smothering expectations and the lack of imagination possessed by adults.

Where I grew up, the neighborhood perimeter was almost entirely fenced off. There were two designated entry points and a central loop road lined with bungalows. Now as an adult, I suspect that perimeter fence was in place not so much to keep anyone from coming into our ‘hood, but rather to protect the world at large from the dregs seeping out. The community was largely a haven for drunks, wife-beaters, brawlers, druggies, and creeps.

Beyond the fence ran a major artery lined with stores and small shops. Near the eastern entrance was an appliance store called Trader Horn. Think of it as a PC Richard’s-type place.

That’s me in first grade – circa 1980

Because I was small of body but large on dumbness, a gap in the fence behind Trader Horn gave me a shimmy-through access to the outside world. Why didn’t I just walk out of the neighborhood on the roadway? Because squeezing through a metal fence and jumping off a 5-foot concrete wall was safer than walking on the road. Being around moving cars was dangerous.

Instead, the Trader Horn gap was an escape hatch that would spit me out into the safety of a parking lot. And… I could see their trash from there. Those idiots used to throw away perfectly good appliance boxes.

In the world of the cardboard kingdom, sure dishwasher and washing machine boxes were alright, but finding a refrigerator box? Well, now that, my friends, was the holy grail. When I spied one of those, I’d squeeze through the fence, jump off the wall and drag it back to my house – via the road – which was apparently never dangerous in that scenario. Obviously, the box would protect me from an out of control Plymouth Valiant.

In hindsight, I’m sure that I looked like a tiny hobo dragging those big heavy boxes with my first-grade hands. The cardboard would be slick and slippery and hard to keep a hold of, causing me to stop and reaffirm my grip. :::scraaaaaape::bump:bump::scraaaaaape:: as I dragged my treasure home to set up a house in the broken blacktop and dust patch we called the front yard.

As a kid, I pretty much had the freedom to roam and do as I pleased with little supervision. That was the life of a kid in the 70’s and 80’s. So lugging a giant box home, taking a sharp knife out of the kitchen drawer and cutting windows into my new cardboard castle was never challenged. Chances are good, I probably ran out of the house with said knife in hand raring to begin sawing away. Things are different now. My daughter is graduating high school this year and I still ask her if she wants mommy to cut her steak for her. (No, not really.)

Here I am now at the midway point of my 40’s. Gone is the unfettered imagination and fearless pursuit of my whims. My can-do was replaced with what should I do? My dreams are small. And, I waved so long to the ability to function without fear of being judged or observed or criticized long ago. No longer am I a queen of my castle. Instead, I play the fool.

How times have changed.

7 Replies to “When I Was Queen of My Own Cardboard Kingdom”

  1. Beautiful piece. Nice writing with honesty and wit. It’s a pleasure to read.

    Yes, we had different lives as children. Despite my mother being the toughest on the block, she let us out to play with only a deadline to return. Exploring the neighborhood on our bicycles was paradise. I’m glad you retain good memories of that time in your life.

  2. When I was a kid, my brothers and I would be overjoyed if we got a hold of a refrigerator box. On summer days when we were out of school, we would actually ride our bikes around town looking for appliance trucks in front of houses. When we found one, we would drag it up the hill along side the Garden State Parkway to the edge of the guard rail. Then we’d jump into the box making it slide down the 100 foot embankment into oblivion, never knowing which direction we were going or what fate was to meet us as we hit the “V” shaped bottom. Ah yes… the holy grail of boxes. Good times.

  3. As so often happens, your writing gets me thinking of something. In this case, those lazy open days of being a kid. For me it was the 1960s but cardboard boxes, sharp knives, and all day adventures away from parents was the norm. And the weight of adult expectations hurled by me were still far off.

    I try and get back to that place even now. Being retired I have a lot of time to dream and play. But dreaming and playing are hard to come by. At least the kind that isn’t just escape.

    Your final invoking of the label “fool” reminded me of a favorite book by Edward Abbey — The Fool’s Progress. It worked to remind me that being a fool is a fine part of living. And that life is richer than I sometimes realize.

    Anyways, thank you for sharing your reflections. They mean a lot.

  4. Like Steve, life in the ever expanding suburbs in the 60’s was endless marauding on bicyles, hiking through farm land and building forts in woodlots, all of us free from adult supervision.

    I am certain that, but for the virtual locale, Ted, Richard, Steve, Rachael, David, and the rest of us could hop on bikes right this moment and spend an endless day marauding around the countryside, having almost as much fun as when we were kids.

    Thanks Rachael.

  5. It’s funny how life works. I haven’t visited your site in awhile and don’t usually comment. Today I tuned in to find this wonderful piece about the mind of a little girl when just the other day I was sitting in a restaurant watching the antics of a little girl at the next table and wondering what was going through her head. Now I know!

    I am familiar with how little boys think and typically point to the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes to illustrate that world. 🙂

    I was out roaming my small world in the late 60’s and early 70’s and my Mom knew where I was headed when I hit the door but never really knew unless I got into trouble and she received a call on the black, wall mounted phone in the kitchen.

    Our dumpster of choice was the nearby pool supply store that also carried Christmas decorations later in the year. All the decorated trees were chucked in the dumpster in January so we drug home countless strings of lights until Dad put his foot down and dictated the number of strings he would install, when they went up, and when they came down. If we kids had our way, our tiny ranch house would have been a navigation hazard for 727’s on approach to Midway. Thanks for sharing.

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