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.
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.