Child-built Forts and Hidey-holes

Not “my” fallen tree fort, but one similar



When I told a friend the topic of today’s writing, she instantly recalled her childhood special place. She spent countless contented hours “hiding” under the lace-draped dining room table. Four legs splayed from a central pedestal. Into one of the quadrants so created, she perused a favourite book. Every now and she peaked under the antique cloth to check on the grown-up world. I suspect most children remember a special private place they created from dozens of cushions or cardboard boxes or giant snowballs. What follows is a description of three of my mine.


Directly inside the back door of our new house is a small vestibule. To the left lies the kitchen. Straight ahead, a steep staircase stretches downward. The first ten steps terminate at a landing. Connected at a right angle to this resting place, four more steps reach to the basement’s painted floor. Hidden below the juncture of the opposing stairs exists a private room with an opening just the right size for someone little to squeeze through.


Into this hiding-place, I drag my pillow and blankets. Lots of blankets to warm and cushion the cold cement and a special wine-red one to tack over the door-less entry. Inside are tranquility and darkness and mystery. Earlier, I had concealed in my fortress a few necessities. A tiny black diary—a book of secrets. No one must ever find it. A stubby pencil. A flashlight. Books. Stuffed animals. Miniature tea cups, saucers, plates, and utensils.


My friends join me. Three Bears and Sister. How I long for a real sister. Oh, I already have one, but Celia is fifteen. To her, I am an irksome child. So, I invented a proper sibling. One that listens to my stories and enjoys spending time with me. Bears and Sister are more real than parents, kinfolk or the family dog. We giggle. Shhhh. We mustn’t be found. We travel to distant places. Share stories of glamorous people. Cook up plots against my brothers. Drink tea. Eat biscuits. And dream.


I was fifty when I met Harry Potter. He too had a room under the stairs. Some readers thought him abused. I considered him lucky. Well, except when Dudley jumped on the steps causing debris to cascade over him. No one in my family did that.


My fort-under-the-stairs was a safe and happy place. And, a place where I was in control. I abandoned this haven only when my curious older brother poked his head under the wine-red blanket. By that time, I had grown bigger. My space had not. I needed to re-imagine a niche all my own.


The meadow beckoned. From the time my family moved into our new house, the vacant lots adjoining our property had been my warm-weather playground—a few acres of weeds and wildflowers, mystery and magic. Two large trees presided over this domain—one upright with low branches, perfect for climbing; one toppled but still-living, perfect for hiding. Under this last, I created my second fort.


Bowed to the ground, leafy branches fashioned a green igloo. Inside, I carved out a nest. Lying on my back, I gazed up at a bright picture-puzzle of white and blue, gold and emerald. As the world orbited and the wind blew, patterns danced. A waltz, a tango, a quickstep, a ballet. When the skies teemed, I got wet. I realized that, in times of affliction, a sanctuary with neither roof nor walls gave no protection at all.


A subdivision was growing up around our house. Pieces of lumber lay discarded beside the nearby wooden skeletons. I didn’t think the builders would mind if I pilfered a few of the shorter boards.


With explicit instructions to return the tools to their proper places in the garage, Father provided me with nails, tape measure, handsaw and hammer. I already had a pencil.


The length of the scavenged wood determined the size of my castle. I set to work. Care was crucial. No material could be wasted. Eventually, a tiny wooden box emerged—just long enough for the almost four feet of me to lie down in. I collected some pieces of plywood for the roof and just enough more for the door. Although I struggled with the hinges, I managed to make them work. Next, I added hook-and-eye fasteners to both the inside and outside. For the window, I sewed a calico curtain and slid it over a slim rod.


The construction completed, I asked Father if I could use some of the house trim paint. I had been dutiful about returning the tools. Father said yes. There were two colours, lime green and bright coral. I liked the sour-apple hue but was not fond of the tangerine. Sadly, my fifty-cent per week allowance did not allow for the purchase of new paint. I would have chosen blue. Any blue—sky, navy, royal, cornflower, even teal although that was more green. At least I thought it was. The lime, I brushed on the body of the place and the coral I daubed on the door.


I waterproofed the building but I’m not sure how. I slept there sometimes. Even in the rain. But, never in thunderstorms. Once, my parents forgot to pick my up from summer camp. I had to sleep alone in a corner room on an upper floor of a time-worn wooden barracks. Throughout that eternal night, a ferocious storm groaned, and howled, and hissed, and slammed wet bullets against the window. I never much cared for downpours after that.


One expert on child-built spaces said that the building of forts is as important as the playing in them. Critical thinking skills and scientific reasoning are developed. He went on to state that lack of parental involvement is healthy. How grateful I am that no adult offered to help me construct that first house-of-my-own. Maybe I grew smarter because of that independence.


Whereas the first two forts were private places, this one hosted friends. But, only when I allowed. I was the queen. I ruled the realm.


One shiny Saturday morning in early October, I arose to discover my fort in pieces. Green and orange boards adorned the meadow. My response not only surprised the perpetrator, it surprised me. I accepted the situation with aplomb. The neighbour lad who had created the havoc never achieved his expected reward. A younger me would have lunged at him—a lioness incarnate. But, I realized that I was a young lady now, or so my mother said. Young ladies did not play in forts.

Postscript

I have to thank Jo for the appearance of this piece writing today. I wasn’t “perfectly certain” that it was ready for publication. Thank you Jo for believing in me and my writing. I love you.

2 thoughts on “Child-built Forts and Hidey-holes”

  1. I can just picture your lime green hideaway with the tangerine door! Even though blue was your preferred colour choice, the green/orange combination would have been exquisite from an artist perspective. Love your stories Prairie. Brought back fond memories of building forts in the woods with my brothers! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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