Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Memories--Forts

There was a row of cottonwood and poplar trees not far from the house. They were close enough to walk or ride our bikes to, even when we were really young with little legs. A ditch ran right in front of the trees, making it a perfect place to build forts. We made ourselves homes using burnt cans from the trash barrels as pots and pans, and a piece of tin that blew off the barn and fallen limbs for walls. We drew our water from the ditch to make mud pies and then pretended to fish in that same water when we’d finished our baking. One fort even had a tree we could climb so it had an upstairs bedroom (if you didn’t mind sleeping standing up), a kitchen with a shelf that overlooked the river (ditch) or a bathroom, depending on who owned the fort for the day. Sometimes we built our forts together, but usually we built our own, ten feet a part, and then visited each other like neighbors. Fort building was one of my funnest pastimes.

Not surprisingly, one of my first chapter books was The Littles. It’s a story about the Littles’ family. “The Littles were tiny people. They weren’t just small, they were tiny, about as long as a pencil . . . Baby Betsy was no bigger than a thimble. The Littles looked like ordinary people except for one thing: they had tails. They weren’t useful tails. But they did look pretty, the Littles thought.”

The Littles lived in the walls of the Biggs’ house and once, when they needed to go to Cousin Dinky’s wedding, some of them climbed into a green, plastic, strawberry basket with a balloon tied to it and floated to the party. Fun as their adventures were however, it wasn’t the stories that caught my attention but the drawings of the Littles’ home.

They made an ottoman from a tuna fish can, a plant pot out of a thimble, a dresser from a band-aid box, a mantel from spools and end tables from pill bottles. They hung a postage stamp as we would a framed picture and a pocket watch for their mantel clock. In short, the Littles were ardent fort builders. They could make a home from scraps.

Fort-building came in handy when we were first married. It seemed everything in our home had a dual purpose or was a cast-off from someone or something else. Yet today I see that we are down to only one thing that would still qualify us as fort-builders—the antique, wooden kitchen table that we painted red and use as an entertainment center.

Long live the antique, wooden kitchen table.

Were you a fort-builder? Do you still have anything to prove it?


Heather @ Multiple Hats said...

Jane, this was a great post! I LOVED The Littles! Haven't thought about those tiny people in a long time! What with their thread spool furniture and all.

We were mostly indoor fort builders - the blanket over the couch kind. Except in winter - then our snow forts would rival anyone's. Carl the snow plow driver would make us the BIGGEST pile by my best friend's house, and we had tunnels galore. No furniture required.

Our first apartment had an airline seat couch, milk crate end tables, and an old mattress that had lost any shred of form so that it could accordian fold up against the wall as a sort of futon. Sort of. Only the wooden apple boxes remain, as cubbies for the boys shoes at the entryway. Long live the wooden apple boxes :)

Kathy said...

I LOVE this post. Our trees were Quacken Aspen. Our ditch was out in front also. We had a big cotton wood that was struck by lighting and cracked right down the middle and split three different ways and laid each huge branch parallel to the ground. We could run every where on them and they made the greatest jungles, forts, mansions, airplanes, etc. So fun to grow up in the country!

ShelleyG said...

I could build a mean fort with couch cushions and blankets. :) If I built with wood outside in our neighborhood, I usually built bike ramps for my brother to jump off of, which meant my mom preferred the indoor structures. What a fun post!

Emma J said...

Oh delight! I'll have to go look for the Littles when I next go to the library - I somehow grew up without reading about them. (Such a rare delight to find an unread book for my second childhood!)

I read instead about the Borrowers who lived similarly though without tails but with the same delightful making-do dollhouse-type furnishings.

and I would have liked to build forts with you along the ditchbank beneath the poplars! - my brother and I rowed Hawaiian outrigger canoes in our ditch and gathered plates for poi from the dried-clay cracked ground of our garden. We also trampled down mazes in the alfalfa field (only once!) with all the paths leading to a central den with a tapsetry door finger-woven from multi-colored yarn.

And now?

Egg baskets and crackled finish casseroles hold magazines and books. A flowerpot I never got around to planting flowers in and an old red breadbox are our version of the Kitchen Drawer. Empty shelves and square baskets for my otherwise non-existent linen closet . . .

Mindy said...

What a great post, very creative! I had to think about this for awhile. Our bed frame used to be a relatives bike rack. My husband thought I was crazy when I first thought of it.

Anonymous said...

Oh brother---this is the very first time I realized that the "Littles" were little and the "Biggs" were big. How's that for not seeing the forest for the trees?

We, too, were fort builders, even naming them: Project 1, Project 2, and (wait for it...) Project 3. One of these days I'll have to tell you about them as they were fantastic.

Thanks for a trip down memory lane:)


Jill said...

It's rather sad that kids don't have the freedom or opportunity to run wild, scavenge and build forts quite like this anymore!

I have always loved making a home, and would spent the majority of my play time creating Lego homes or Barbie homes complete with clever use of items for furniture. I never got tired of it!

michelle said...

I loved The Littles!

I so love the way you are writing your personal history here, Jane, week by week. I have gently prodded my grandparents and parents to do the same, to no avail. What a gift.