Cardboard Adventures

A mother and her young teenage son sat behind me on my bus ride home from work. From their conversation I could tell that the son had just come from a dentist appointment and was feeling a bit whiny from the experience.

His mother said, “I know it was rough, but when you get home you can go upstairs and play with your Xbox.”

A nice day like this, I thought, yet she suggested her son go inside and play with his Xbox?

When I was his age Mama would tell me to go outside and play with a cardboard box.

Not just any cardboard box. One of the huge discarded cardboard boxes from the nearby T.V. shop.

When my sisters and I were kids there was a T.V. shop across the field from our house. As new televisions were delivered for display, the huge cardboard boxes they were shipped in were then stacked behind the shop for disposal. If we promised to ask the owner first, Mama would occasionally allow us to drag one across the field to our backyard. Along the way, we attracted the attention of our cousins playing outside. They always joined the fun.

Although Mama allowed us to drag a box home from time to time, she did so reluctantly knowing that ultimately she would be left to dispose of the ragged remains. Sooner or later we would be done with the box. Sooner if it rained. Rain is cardboard’s enemy.

Those huge boxes easily held me, a sister or two, and one of the smaller cousins. An old rusty pair of scissors in Daddy’s garage helped us shape each box into our fantasy of the day. Once, we cut portholes in a seaworthy box and hacked off the top to make an open air deck. We crawled inside and waited for tidal waves.

“What’s this one?” Mama asked as she walked by to pick tomatoes, clearly wondering how long it would be before she had to dispose of our creation.

“A cruise ship!” we answered back.

“No. It’s trash is what it is.” she said, shaking her head.

We once hooked two boxes together to make a train. We cut away the front of one box so the engineer could wave to cars and we cut away the back of the second box so that passengers could wave from the caboose. We crawled inside and waited to arrive at the station.

“What’s this one?” Mama asked as she swept the sidewalk.

“A train!” we answered back.

“No. It’s trash is what it is.” she said.

One particularly grand box which had held a console television made the perfect army tank. We cut a lookout hole in the top, made several holes in the walls from which to shoot pretend guns, and we crawled inside and waited for the enemy.

“What’s this one?” Mama asked as she carried in groceries.

“A tank!” we answered back.

“No. It’s trash is what it is.” she said.

There was a period when we’d gone quite a while without cardboard adventures. It was during this bleak time that a delivery truck backed into my neighbor’s driveway. As we watched the truck maneuver closer to the back door, one of my cousins was the first to realize the magnitude of the event.

“Mrs. Brenneman’s getting a new refrigerator.” he said under his breath.

We fidgeted with anticipation.

After what seemed an eternity, one of the delivery men appeared with the empty cardboard box which had held the new refrigerator. With some effort, he dragged it into Mrs. Brenneman’s yard and went back inside.

Four of us kids, working feverishly like ants carrying bread crust, managed to slide, drag, and inch the massive cardboard box over to our backyard. We climbed in to savor the new cardboard smell and to experience the muffled silence. The silence was momentarily broken as our collie pushed her way in, licked each of us in the face and left. Even she seemed amazed by our good fortune.

We sat inside the cavernous box trying to decide what to turn this gift into. Before we reached a consensus it got dark outside. Cousins had to go home and my sisters and I had to go inside.

Morning came and horror of all horrors, it had rained in the night.Β  We ran outside to check on our massive cardboard box. The rain hadn’t ruined it completely, but the once stately walls now sagged, corners were rounded over by the rainwater, and the smooth outside surface was wrinkled and peeling.

Three cousins approached. We stood staring at our sagging mound of a box not wanting to believe that our prize was ruined, but it appeared to be so.

“What’s this one?” Mama asked on her way to get the mail.

“It’s trash is what it is.” we answered back, resigned to the soggy truth.

“No. It’s an igloo.” Mama said.

We looked at each other and grinned. We ran to the rounded shell of a box, molded the wet cardboard so as to give us one long tunnel as an entrance, and we crawled inside to wait for polar bears.

That young teenager just back from the dentist most likely went inside to play alone with his Xbox. I never had an Xbox, but unless it came in packaging large enough for cousins and me to fashion a cruise ship, train, tank, or igloo, I don’t know that I would have wanted one.

Stuart M. Perkins



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82 responses to “Cardboard Adventures

  1. Hi Stuart, I like your story and also believe that many kids today don’t experience imaginative play outside like older generations had. Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Ruth Nulph

    Enjoyed your story Stu. Our kids enjoyed boxes also. Larry brought home one large refrigerator box and they made a house with it cutting out doors and windows. That keep them busy for weeks. I also remember the TV shop you talked about. Your story brought back wonderful memories. Thanks!!

  3. Great story! One time when I was a kid, my mom gave my brothers and me each a cardboard box and some paper plates and told us to make cars out of them. We had so much fun using the plates for wheels and headlights and then drawing on doors and such. Then we all pretended we were driving around in our cars. It’s a fun memory. Celeste πŸ™‚

  4. A story well told!
    Reminds me of how often little kids opened a present, dutifully said Oh, wow! and after a short while ended up playing with the box!
    (Not to mention cats, who love nothing better as playthings.)

  5. What will come next from “across the field”? I can’t wait to find out. You have the writer’s gift of getting the reader to visualize the tale. Thank you.

  6. Hi Stuart — excellent tale on two levels for me: as a reader/writer, I was there completely; as someone who works in the UK with children (not in teaching but in the area of play), this tale strikes a chord. Yes, there’s ongoing debate here too about getting out to play vs technology. I’d like to reproduce this post of yours sometime, only with your permission though, on my other blog dedicated to children’s play (read by other likeminds of this sector). How about it?

    • Hi Joel, Of course, you can re-post this on your blog any time. I’m all for kids using technology, but I’m also all for them using imagination – and a spare cardboard box when they can get one! Thanks for the comment. Stuart

      • I thank you kindly! I see children using their technology and I think ‘there’s just the way it is’, but I also see the cardboard sort of play and know that many adults could learn from observing this. Thanks for permission for reproducing your post. I’ll let you know when that happens and where to find it.

  7. Love this story! When u started with the TV box, I kept thinking, he has to talk about fridge boxes because those were the best!!! (We used them to make sliding boards for grass hills…thanks for the (not *that* long ago!) memories. πŸ˜‰

  8. My person says she remembers walking six blocks to the appliance store with her sister and bringing home boxes.

  9. LindaG

    Love the story. So true. When we were children, the simple activity of playing outdoors with other children gave us social skills that, in my opinion, children today just don’t have. Nostalgia, I miss it! Thanks for sharing.

  10. My siblings and I loved to make forts out of cardboard boxes. The new refrigerator box was of course the best! πŸ™‚

  11. Man what memories this evokes! My younger brother and I would get the discarded furniture and appliance boxes over the years and transform them into adventures. My favorite memory was when we made a refrigerator box into a spaceship and mad like Don Knotts in The Reluctant Astronaut. I passed that legacy on to my boys and my oldest enjoyed the heck put of my cardboard version of Castle Grayskull for his He Man until we could afford the “real thing” which he promptly became frustrated with and cast aside in favor of the hand made one from Mom. πŸ˜‰

  12. PS Captain Kangaroo could teach you how to make anything out of paper, string and tape. πŸ˜€

  13. Love this. When my boys were babies, they spent more time playing with the Christmas boxes and ribbons than with their gifts.

  14. Amy Nedrow

    I enjoy your writing. πŸ™‚ and I can relate. “Go outside and play” was what I heard a lot. I didnt come home till sundown and mom wasn’t worried. It isn’t the same world anymore, sadly.
    My favoite memory, kids can’t know today, was being able to fill a bag with candy for 50 – 75 cents! A dollar was a whole bag! πŸ™‚
    Love your stories

  15. Judy

    Hi, I grinned all the way through your wonderful story. Yep, just like cats and cardboard boxes. Kids today don’t know what they’re missing. Remember how much fun a simple mound of dirt could be? Thanks for sharing this!

  16. barnesn

    Thanks for the memories! Loved this!! And how many times I’ve wished i could send my son outside. But outside isn’t as safe as it once was and kids don’t just hang out outside like we used to. There are definitely things to be said for the good ‘ole days!

  17. This post took me back to my childhood. You were so lucky to have that TV store and a sea of boxes. I remember wanting to buy large appliances just for the box. My sister used to tie a string to a shoe box and pretend it was her pet dog. What a wonderful era. I feel sorry for this generation that has just video games.

  18. Punam

    We could say the same about social networking sites. Teenagers as well as adults are on twitter, Facebook etc. but at least we are outside enjoying the weather and place we live in!
    I guess it’s a different generation with the smallest of minds and are too scared to open up and explore

  19. I remember making tunnels in fallen treetops after a storm …
    Boxes too, and making an iglo from straw bales (they were a lot smaller then) …

  20. Hi Stuart – wanted to give this a double ‘Like’! – I grew up on a (virginia) tobacco farm in the middle of Africa. For a short each year, the tobacco leaves were picked, tied to sticks and dried in a huge barn. You would be amazed what you can build in the back yard with a big pile of strong six foot long sticks and a couple of cousins, in the rest of the year. Brought back good memories.
    PS Don’t recall that we ever built an X Box either.

  21. Sig

    Where we lived there were steep, rounded hillsides covered in grasses, all dry and golden in summer. It never snowed there, but we sledded down the hills on flattened cardboard mattress boxes, or for a lark, we piled into one and rolled own in a heap!

  22. What a wonderful story, and so beautifully told.

  23. Pingback: Cardboard Adventures (Guest Post) | playworkings

  24. My dad worked for an appliance store for a few years while learning how to repair large appliances. He often brought my brother and me refrigerator delivery boxes. We were very popular those years!

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