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.  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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80 responses to “Cardboard Adventures

  1. I love this! It brought back so many memories…I’ve no children, so my cats get to play “the box game” which they infinitely prefer to an Xbox (-:

    • I’m still excited to get boxes just for the joy of watching my cats play in them. (They say cats are simple creatures, but I think it’s the humans that will just sit and watch them play!)

  2. I am having such a good time and lots of goo memories when I read your stories. Goo job!

  3. Cardboard boxes and scrap lumber—the stuff of dreams.

  4. I’m new to your blog site and want you to know I LOVE your stories. You write them in such a gifted way that they transport me in time — every time!

  5. Ours was rom our “hi-fi”. How we loved that box! Thanks for the memories.

  6. Sorry. The “f” sticks on my computer. I hope its not from over use.

  7. Kids had more imagination in those days and were allowed the time to indulge it.

  8. Wonderful! Interestingly enough, while teenagers may prefer an Xbox, all of my toddler-aged grandchildren would be delighted to have a large box in which to play.

  9. so awesome – reminded me of the ‘go outside and play’ days too. Wonderful story.

  10. I love this! Very nicely done.

  11. your mama was a noble woman.

  12. Yay for mothers and their quick thinking.

  13. What great memories this brings back.

  14. merrysusanna

    Love this. We used to hang blankets and sheets over the clothesline. So much fun!

  15. Ah, yes…cardboard adventures…my favorite! Thanks for the memories.

  16. Memories~ we played with boxes, too! We “sailed” to Australia, rode a “train,”made ourselves a box house to live in. We coloured, cut out and glued magazine babies to the walls! We enjoyed the process as much as the product! Thank you for reminding us ( once again) what counts in life~ fostering creativity through play, problem solving, and communicating with others. We learned those skills in a box!

  17. I loved playing in boxes too. Wouldn’t give up those memories for anything in the world!

  18. Great story! I didn’t play with boxes when I was young, but my sons did. I remember the fort they built with help from their dad using the box from our new refridgerator. Great memories. Thanks!

  19. kissysmom

    Well, bless your little hearts! This one brought back memories for me. My best friend and I always used the boxes for a club house……for a club of two. Great story, well told.

  20. dlankey

    I am always so excited when I get an email from storyshucker. As usual this one was delightful and brought back memories of the cardboard creations of my youth. Imagination is a powerful tool for problem solving, invention, and fun. Too bad our toys have become so advanced that many times there is no need for imagination.

  21. Loved it! Simple childhood games. We used to take turns rolling each other around in an empty metallic barrel and pretend we were taking a roller coaster ride.

  22. pi314chron

    Stu, you can always be counted on to spin a good yarn! My kids didn’t play with cardboard boxes but as an amateur astronomer I’ve spent a few hours in a refrigerator box rigged up to view a solar eclipse by the projection method. Simple, cheap, effective…plus one can pretend he’s in a medieval tower watching the eclipse! Works for me!


  23. I sat here reading this post and wondered how three children could fit in such a narrow box. Then I realised that TVs used to be huge.

    I should probably buy an xbox.

  24. Brieuse Bernhard Piers-Gûdmönd

    No big cardboard boxes once upon a time could mean no imaginative play which could mean no fabulour Stuart M. Perkins’ stories today.

  25. My husband drives to the back of a refrigerator store on weekends to do just this kind of play with our kids and they absolutely love it!

  26. I enjoy these stories of childhood play. I can identify with them.

    I disagree with some commenters here. In my experience children of the 21st century are as imaginative and creative as ever. Just as we used what was available to us, and created whole worlds and stories from a simple beginning. I find the young of this time, in all age ranges, to be immensely smart, interested, imaginative and admirable.

    (I don’t know that it matters, but I’m 60.)

  27. When I was young my parents bought a new fridge. We would enclose a sibling in the box and then slide it down the stairs. It slid really well, only doing a somersault as it hit the ground. If you were unlucky it would come to a stop with the boxed person on their head. No one was hurt . . . badly. It was a lot of fun.

  28. We have three kids and all of them used to love the boxes more than the toys inside – at least until the boxes were more or less in tatters…

  29. Andrea

    When my kids were young I made a wendy house out of a huge box. I cut out & painted doors & shutter windows. It lasted for ages and still talked about 25 years on! Best toy they ever had. Thanks for reminding me.

  30. The silence and anticipation of a fresh empty box. How I remember that magic!

  31. Ah, the joys of a cardboard box. Great story! I have three kids and all of them have had the joy of cutting up and marker-ing up a big box to house beanie babies, webkinz and the like. Only my kids played with it in the garage, safe from rain. And even with my own box-playing memories, as an adult I took on the stance of your mother and was always excited when I could pitch the box. Adulthood ruin us.

  32. Oh that’ lovely. My boys are 4 and 3 and they have been playing with boxes since before they could walk. They have been train drivers, pirates, astronauts etc…and because I home school, we go all out and put wheel on and paint it and strap bottles to it and dials and such. My eldest son loved his robot box and my youngest wants to be a Jumbo Jet for Halloween so we saved some of our boxes from the move. Even my cat partakes in a box or too. You can’t beat a box and it can be whatever you need it to be. We have chore boxes, music boxes filled with everything from rice, to gravel. We have even made money boxes out of small boxes and toilet rolls. I’m glad to see my family aren’t the only ones who enjoy the magic of a good box. Thank for sharing and for getting me remembering my boy first years of Home School Preschool. xoxox

  33. Imagination is a wonderful too, particularly in the eyes of a child!

  34. Karen

    I love this – it brought back so many memories of adventures in our backyard. I feel sorry for the teenager playing Xbox – he’s missing out on so much.

  35. Blessed are the eyes of children because they see with their hearts. “Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, neither entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him”.(1 Corinthians 2:9) God must be the best playmate: funny, adventurous, inventive, heroic, for that is the stuff He has included into the hardwiring of every child and of such is the lingdom of heaven!

  36. It’s so cool how your memories can ignite my own precious memories!
    Kevin came home with a cardboard box he dragged from Lord knows where. He had a snake in it. Yep. His pet copperhead. He was not happy when mom poured gas on it and lit it on fire! Oh how I laugh now!

  37. You’ve inspired me to go on a quest for huge cardboard boxes for my 6- and 8-year olds this weekend. I am going to let them read this story when they ask why!

  38. johanna buchanan

    Sometimes we didn’t even have a box. A sheet became an Arabian tent, the bed a magic carpet that could fly across the world. Happy days

  39. Our childhood was so much more imaginative, wasn’t it? I loved this post – it really highlights just how far we haven’t come as a species!

  40. This was such an awesome story, I loved it! I am definitely going to encourage my son to use his imagination rather than play video games, and this right here is a great reason why 🙂

  41. This reminds me of the wonderful children’s book titled “Not a Box” by Antoinette Portis. My kids (and obviously you) quote it all the time — imaginatively inspired by the simple pleasures of a box.

  42. Great story! What kid doesn’t love boxes. And am I missing the “like” button for this post? I would have hit it twice. 🙂

  43. ly

    Delightful–you had a better box!

  44. I loved your story. When my brothers and I were young, our grandfather, a carpenter, built a two story playhouse in our back yard. Boxes became furniture or places to hide. Boxes, also, became my favorite Halloween costume: a robot with a door to push in and deposit candy.

    I agree with the few comments above. Today’s children are doing fine. I would say they are getting ready for their future just as we did. They still play outside, but with stranger/dangers and the like, they are no longer able to go as far from home. Stores break down boxes so they are as available. And give the poor kid on the bus a break! He just came from the dentist and was probably tired and needed a quiet pass time. It sounded to me like the mother had full control and was awarding the kid with time with the Xbox.

    My own kids were introduced to the gaming equipment when their cousin gave us his Commodore-64. Then Grandma got them the gaming electronics as they got older. They still loved box forts, snake traps (boxes with ‘reading material’–they thought the snakes would appreciate that) and other pursuits with boxes. In fact Christmases were the best for all the boxes. When it was too cold to stay outdoors they would make forts with couch cushions and blankets. They’re all grown now, but through their gaming have made so many wonderful friends. And yes, they still play a bit. Adulthood and jobs, and college didn’t take away that love. And they love to go tubing down the river in the summer, down icy hills in the winter. They go out camping and hiking often. They spent yesterday with a few gaming friends out on the lake peacefully putting around in a friend’s boat. Nothing is wrong with this generation. They have their memories to look back on—maybe not our memories, but that’s okay. There was a time in our history when children worked and didn’t play at all. Those are the children to feel sorry for.

  45. momooo209

    Reblogged this on A Medley of Whims and commented:
    I loved this post so much that I thought I would reblog it… I’ve never reblogged anything before but maybe I will once in a while from now on.

  46. Love this posting, simple times and simple things make for great toys.

  47. Great post which conjured up many good memories for me. Over here in the UK shops aren’t allowed to give you cardboard boxes to play with anymore – health and safety or some such gubbins. I reckon they’re just scared of the fleet of tanks which might materialise and mow them down!

  48. Thank you for this delightful story and reminder of simple pleasures, imagination, being outside/outdoors, and, well, having fun …

  49. Yes, yes, yes… this was a great reminder of my childhood.

  50. FANTASTIC! I’ve always prided myself on the fact that my kids don’t play any video games and play outside instead. I have many memories playing in cardboard boxes and my kids are now forming similar memories (even in a world with xboxes!)

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