One of the stories my sisters and I fondly retell from our childhood is what we refer to as “The Box Parade”. There were six or seven families that lived on our street with children in the same age bracket as us. These were the kids on the school bus every day and the kids with whom we jammed cards into the spokes of our bicycle tires. They were our teammates for games like Giant Step and Red Light, Green Light and sometimes, when the air turned crisp and the crabapples fell, they were the adventurous pack with whom we played a game that made paint ball seem tedious.
We would jam those crabapples onto the ends of sticks and fling them toward one another at warp speed. I can still remember my friend Cathy yelling, “Cover me!” as she shot out of our bunker behind the Fuzzy Deutzia, (it’s a bush), tucking and rolling like a stunt woman in order to get a better shot at our opponents who were camped out by the maple tree guarding their own stockpile of the coveted fruit. We were twelve. You might have walked away from a crabapple match with little welts all over yourself, but you’d never complain.
Then came the summer when the empty parcel of land that sat behind the houses on the right side of our road surrendered to the determined advances of bulldozers and builders. A new neighborhood was being born. We had no idea then how a change in our local landscape would impact the way we did things as a group, but it eventually would. More children meant a change in dynamics and the original core would fizzle over time, but while the new houses were under construction, it was business as usual.
Watching the fabrication process unfold was interesting enough, but turning this disruption into something we could have fun with was something else altogether. We discovered that as appliances were installed into each new house, the boxes they came in were tossed to the curb. After the crews left for the day, we seized the cardboard that they considered trash. I don’t remember whose idea it was to cut arm and eye holes into the discarded refrigerator, stove and dishwasher boxes, but it was brilliant! Some of the boxes were so large, that two or three of us could fit together into one. What a treat for commuters passing by we thought, to see a dozen oddly shaped corrugated boxes come to life and parade down a road they drove on every day in a fog of ritual.
And so, on one fine summer afternoon, we assembled to do just that. Our street flowed downhill from the Wilson’s house at the peak, to the place where the road leveled out at the base of our driveway. We hurriedly decided who would partner up and who would carry a box alone, and then began our sidewalk stroll. The procession was an instant hit. A constant revelry of car honks and buoyant comments reverberated inside the cardboard walls. It was hard to see where we were going and we bumped into each other more often than not. We were ridiculous and it felt wonderful! It was intoxicating, eye-watering, nose-snorting joy and produced, at least for me, one of the silliest, happiest memories of neighborhood friends.
Time eventually did move on. We grew into adults separated by new interests and new phases of life. Years later, I was conducting a new hire orientation for my company, droning on about employee benefits in front of fresh faces pretending to look interested. When it was over, a first-day engineer approached. I thought he was going to ask me a benefits question. I smiled, waiting for him to start the conversation.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” he accused in good humor.
I studied his face trying not to embarrass myself by staring. Instead of familiar features, I saw only a pleasant 30-something year old man with a receding hairline.
I apologized. “I don’t remember. Did we meet at a different company?”
He sheepishly smiled and said, “I’ve got two words for you; Box Parade.”
Oh my goodness! It was a kid from our old neighborhood uttering a secret password from our youth. It was an unexpected gift in an otherwise routine day. Once he started laughing I could see the familiar features of the boy he used to be. It was certainly one of those “small-world” moments that you hear people talk about. We both agreed that the box parade was one of the best days growing up in our neighborhood. We wondered if all the kids involved remembered it as affectionately as we did. Who knows, we joked. Maybe somewhere, there’s even a driver who remembers passing a procession of waving appliance boxes. Who knows.
Image source: The Rhythm Hut