Cardboard boxes played a significant role in my childhood days. Don’t get me wrong; toys were wonderful, too, but nothing could out-do a cardboard box and a few kids to go along with it-especially my two best neighborhood friends, Chris and Nick, brothers who lived three blocks away.
Summer was always the perfect time to have a cardboard box. The long, lazy days offered sufficient time to experience the true essence of a box and to truly bond with it. However, in order to bond with a box, we first had to find one. The three of us would pile into the back of my parents’ truck, then sing the “Na Na Na” song (any song we only knew some of the words to but sang anyway) while we waited for my mom to find her keys. None of us dared to suggest that we ride in the front of the truck; that was for sissies.
Finally, after an infinite number of “Na Na Na” songs, Mom drove us to a box place, and there it was! The most beautiful box we had ever seen. It was a refrigerator box, most definitely the best kind to have. Refrigerator boxes could journey to far better places than any other box, and their ability to be anything was simply phenomenal. The furniture warehouse/showroom had thrown this glorious bounty out the back door like it was useless. We had arrived in time to rescue if form the nefarious jaws of a trash truck.
We watched with anticipation as Mom slid the box to the back of the truck. We crawled into the box for the ride home, sheltered from the wind and the bugs that seemed to aim right for the tonsils during mid-“Na.”
Arriving back in the neighborhood was an experience that made our heads swell. Everyone who was outdoors could see us, and word would soon spread that nick, Chris, and Eva possessed a refrigerator box. You see, anyone who owned a refrigerator box held an esteemed position. We would be legends. We would take our box where no kids had ever gone before.
We unloaded our treasure and carried it with great care into the back yard. Chris said we should spend a few minutes of quiet time to gather our thoughts, and then we could discuss our ideas for this magnificent being. We did so for about five seconds. Then suddenly, as if an unknown force opened our voice boxes, we broke into song:
Na na na na
Our box is groovy
Na na na
And so are we!
Okay, it was a short song. But is was beautiful. And I’m sure it would have touched the hearts of those fortunate enough to hear it.
It was time to make our decision. “Let’s go to Zo in our box,” I said.
“Who?” Nick and Chris gave me one of their looks.
“Where to go or where not to go, that is the question,” I retorted.
Nick told me I didn’t make any sense, and I explained that it was all very simple, that he and Chris just needed to learn how to think backwards. Chris decided nick was right-I didn’t make any sense.
“Zo is Oz backwards, you ignorant little twerps! We wanna go to Zo and do everything Dorothy does in Oz, but backwards.” I was hollering at them because I knew they had better sense than they were using.
Chris looked first at me and then at the box as he contemplated my bright idea. I wondered if Chris and Nick were seriously ill because they should have known by then, form all our past experiences, that boxes (especially this one) could take us anywhere. We could be or do anything we wanted because of the power of the almighty refrigerator box. And we could be backwards about it too.
“You know, Eva is right,” Chris said. “We have never done anything backwards before, so let’s make this the first time. But we can go anywhere backwards, not just Zo.”
At that moment in our young lives we understood clearly that we were going to go down in history. People al over the world would be talking about “The Three Backwards Box Kids.” Other children would attempt to go where we had gone, but none of them could ever be like us because their imaginations were inferior to ours.
We made a solemn declaration that our box would be a time machine. We swore on chocolate peanut butter cups that this backward idea was here to stay(at least until the next box). And anyone who broke a promise made over chocolate peanut butter cups was basically considered immoral.
After we had traveled several years back in time, we were faced with a dilemma. We were visiting with a singer named Elvis who inquired about how we got to Graceland. We told him about our time machine, the backwards idea, the chocolate peanut butter cup promise, and how we were going to go down in history. Elvis was all shook up about us, and he said that we were pretty neat kids?..but?..
“But what?” we pressed.
He wanted to know how we were eventually going to get home again if we could only go backwards.
In all our days, we had never been faced with a predicament such as this. We had also never broken a chocolate peanut butter cup promise. We were, you know, up a creek. We could not capitulate. Life always had its ups and downs-this was just one of the very big downs that would take a long night of pondering. Luckily, our parents would not let us stay out all night to play our make-believe games.
Soon my mom called out the back door, breaking us out of our imaginary world and landing us abruptly in the backyard again. It was time for Nick and Chris to go home. The three of us quickly made plans to meet at eight o-clock the next morning to discuss solutions to get us out of the disaster we were in. As I ran the few feet to my back door, Nick and Chris took off running the three blocks toward their home. Time could not be squandered. We only had until morning before we would be back in the reality of our imaginary world again.
At 7:33 the next morning, the phone broke the silence, and I stumbled out of bed with a hangover from thinking too much. When I answered the phone, Nick demanded to know if I had covered the box with plastic the night before like we were supposed to do, in case of rain. I looked out the window to see that it had rained, a very hard and drenching rain. With deep regret in my heart, I told Nick I hadn’t, but the responsibility belonged to all of us, so it wasn’t completely my fault.
Nick and Chris came over, and silence replaced our usual banter. Our box had only been with us for one day. Now we were stuck in the real world because our box was dead.
The soggy cardboard couldn’t just be left out in the yard to rot away. It had been a good box while it lasted, and it deserved proper respect. So we dragged it to the side of the street where the garbage was picked up. The day before we had saved it from a trash truck that would have taken its life too early; now it was time for our box to go. Although it was a natural death, it could have been prevented. This reality would be a weight we would carry for all our childhood days.
The three of us sat next to our dead box so we could be there when the trash truck came. We even made up a “Na Na Na” requiem, and we sang with all our might as the truck hauled our box away. No one could have put more sincerity or emotion into a song that we did that day. Although we were mourning our box, we knew we must go on. We must find another box, and we must build another imaginary world with it.
I miss the cardboard box days. However, just as we had to go on after the demise of our box, I had to go on and grow up. But my childhood imagination will always be a part of me. I will always believe in cardboard boxes.