I wrote this piece 22 years ago and considered it my signature piece for a very long time. It might still be, even though the characters have aged! I publish it for my friend David Alburger who posted a great picture of a granddaughter in a large box. Bing! Heartprint!
Gimme The Box!
By Mary Mooney
I love boxes. Before I moved in with my husband, I had an entire closet stuffed full of them.
While helping me pack, he picked up a large coat box and said how flimsy it looked, compared to how heavy it actually was. He took off the cover and found another box. And another, and another, and another, and so on, until dozens of boxes and lids were strewn at his feet while he, roaring with fits of laughter, held, pinched between two finders, a tiny, one-inch jewelry box.
To placate him, I threw them out. All of them. It was an extremely painful experience.
Then the following Christmas, because of a paper shortage, the few boxes that were available weren’t given away with a purchase. I had to BUY them! Can you imagine such a thing? It was abominable. I fantasized about my closet of destroyed cardboard every time I shelled out cash money for a box. . .and I began to secretly save them. . .again.
I knew I had an obsession that was probably inherited like my eyes or smile. My mother saves boxes, too. When my family purchased a new outdoor gas grill that was shipped in a huge box, I realized how significant boxes had been in my life. It had more to do with creativity and imagination, than obsession.
At 40, not at all svelte, yet unable to resist, I hid in the empty grill box and waited for the opportunity to scare the bejeebers out of my sixteen-year-old son. It would have worked, too, if only I hadn’t been caught up in nostalgia.
Being encompassed in the airless, smooth, brown cardboard, transported me back to my childhood on Alabama Avenue.
We lived near a coat factory. Behind it was a loading dock, stacked high with flat, folded, new boxes. My friends and I would hang around and be general nuisances until someone from shipping would take pity and give us boxes big enough to stand in.
Three or four of us, each with our own box, would slip inside and let our imaginations soar. Sometimes we would thump them down the sidewalk on four sides, like they had square wheels, giggling wildly as we banged into each other. Old Izzy, childless by nature, not by choice, would sit on her porch watching us, cheerfully clapping and calling out to Elmer that he should come and watch us.
Other times we would “work” the box, crunching it just enough so it rolled smoothly like a Sherman Tank. Old Elmer would pretend to shoot at us with his finger gun from behind his porch railing and we would close ranks and advance until Izzy shouted to not come any closer or we would destroy her flower-bed. That was the best!
When our knees wore out, we would hit the slopes. Our slope was a hill behind Izzy and Elmer’s that we called Red Rock, but no one knew how it came to be called that. I don’t think there was a rock there at all, just wild flowers, weeds and dirt that headed nearly straight down to the railroad tracks below. It was our favorite place in the neighborhood.
We’d swipe some paraffin from the fruit cellar, rub it on the cardboard and fly as fast as lightning. You haven’t lived until you tumble, head-over-heels, inside new cardboard, down a steep slope. It’s more fun than sled riding because you don’t get snow down your pants. That was the best!
A good box could last a whole week if you didn’t forget to bring it in out of the rain. Yet, eventually the seams would give way. Unable to part with it while it still had some life, I would sprawl on top of the tattered cardboard in the sun and pretend it was a beach mat and I was in Hawaii. I’d scribble the happy scenes of my summer on it in crayon and lean it against the rusty orange swing-set until my mom declared it trash.
Everyone’s mom trashed their boxes at the same time so they wouldn’t be laying around for a whole week before the garbage men came again. The curb was overflowing with broken-down cardboard and fantasies.
It didn’t matter, though, because when we got tired of roller-skating, riding our bikes, irritating the cats and running through the sprinkler, we’d all head back to the factory. . .and beg again. That was the best!
Sitting, eyes shut, motionless, miles and years away in the dreamy bubble of my youth, I barely heard the tapping on my cardboard haven.
“What are you doing?” my son and husband asked, unfolding the flaps to check if I was still breathing.
“I’m sitting in this box.”
“Why?” they wanted to know.
“Because I’m remembering how much fun I had with boxes as a kid. . .and because I want to.”
They folded the flaps back up and went away talking about how I’d finally “snapped”. I tried to re-capture the moment, but it, like all good moments, was gone, lost in the cloud of their jokes and laughter.
That box lived in my den for weeks. I watched my kid crawling around inside it, trying to freak out the dog. I watched him beat it like a drum, wear it on his body and balance his soda on it. I listened to my husband complain about the space it took up and heard him repeat over and over how we should get rid of it.
Then, after an extremely tense day on his job, looking over both shoulder’s, not seeing me watching him, my husband crawled into that box, suit and all, and folded the flaps around himself. I knew where he was going. . .and that was the best!