Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Cardboard Refrigerator Box

Assignment: write a short piece, a poem or fictional or autobiographical story, that comes from your ancestral memories, as far back as you can remember (as a child or adult). Tell us a story that gives us one or more specific ways of being you have inherited from your ancestors, and its effect on you. Look at this as an exercise in circling the universe you have grown up within, and try to express the largest circle of your life. Note what was strange, odd, weird, or bewildering - our ancestral memories, recovered – transform them into the richness of narrative

My Cardboard Refrigerator Box
     The year was probably 1955, so I was five years old. My home was a farm house set alone on a half section of family farm passed to my father from his father. It was dry farm land in central Texas and we were in the middle of a ten year drought. At the beginning of yet another thirsty summer, winds stirred up dust devils on the acreage between where the cotton was planted and where the maize was struggling to sprout. The most prolific crop that grew on our land was tumbleweeds. They were carried over and across the fields by wind that blew relentlessly. Howling winds also brought colorless grit into the house that settled on the window sills like a membrane of dust and sneaked into the cracked linoleum kitchen floor.
     About fifty feet east of the chicken coop was what I thought of as my play area. It was perhaps twenty feet north of the area where my mother vainly tried to grow purple iris, carefully carrying jugs of water to encourage their growth. From this vantage point, within sight of the kitchen window, the pecking chickens and the iris blades, I liked to sit and play on the packed dirt. I would create imaginary Lilliputian animals from limestone rocks and use paper dolls as characters in stories. It was a fantasy play world that my two older brothers did not share. They thought it not an active enough place for their world of playing cowboys and hunters. They ventured further away from the house where they could hide in scrub brush and mesquite trees that gave scant coverage for their war games.
     In my place among the rocks, tumbleweeds and hard packed dirt, I had laboriously cleared off a space where I could sit more comfortably on the ground without intrusion of goathead weeds and burr stickers that dominated my parched earth playground. Those thorns were a pesky part of outdoors, as were the cactus prickly pears sporting larger needles that also flourished within a few feet of my area. It was almost impossible to move around without some vicious sticker finding a way to burrow under skin.
     There were no trees to provide shade from the relentless, burning hot sun, so I chose to be in my area only in the early mornings or just before supper when the sun was low on the horizon. That was also a time when the wind slowed down just a bit, and the sizzling temperatures abated. When the wind quieted from its fearsome whistling at those morning and evening hours, the sandy dust would not blow into eyes so readily. Those were my times for playing outside, for make-believe and thinking of the future.
     I don't recall the purchase of a new refrigerator that year, but I clearly remember how excited I was that the corrugated box that crated the appliance was given to me after my brothers were through using it for target practice with their home made bows and arrows. The big target practice box then became mine and was dragged over to my area for a playhouse.
     Drawing pictures with crayons on school lined Big Chief tablet paper, I began to decorate the inside of the refrigerator box, making it my fantasy home. Someone (my older brother?) cut a hole in its side after laying the box horizontally, so I had a “real” window in my rectangular box. Inside, it offered shade from the bright sun and protection from the tumbleweeds and stickers. On my cardboard floor, I would lie on my stomach and look out, and claimed the box as my very own house.
     It is hard to believe that at the age of five, I worried about where I would live when I grew up. I had a sense of knowing that I would not live with my parents in the future, yet I worried how I could afford to live in my own house. I knew in the depths of my heart and soul that all the grown ups had paying jobs, and that there would be no more jobs in the future. I was absolutely sure that when I grew up, there would not be an occupation for me because all the jobs in the entire world were already taken.
     I envisioned forever living in this box, and how it would be to live without running water, how cold it would be during the wintertime. I had seen “bums” on the trains, the term used by both my grandparents and my parents who grew up in the Depression years, and I suppose I thought I might be like one of them, living in a box, without a job.
     My dad worked all the time, during the days farming and even at night when he taught, and we did not have much money. I knew life was hard and money was scarce. It must have been at this point in my distress when I finally brought up these concerns to mother.
     Mother came through. She assured me I would not have to live in a cardboard box, and it was not for me to worry about that these adult problems. When I confided my concern that all the jobs in the world were already taken by other people, she told me that those individuals would die by the time I grew to be an adult, and that I could have one of their jobs. Of course! Why had I not thought of this, that there was a job replacement mechanism already in place in God's world. Relief must have flooded through me.
     Mother told me of the Biblical scripture in Matthew that if God cared enough for the birds to feed and clothe them, he would surely care for me. That was the first time I recall that she brought up that message, and one she repeated many times during her life. I was reassured that I would get by when I grew up.
    That beat up, finally discarded corrugated box must have either been burned later when the fields were occasionally cleared by fire, or perhaps it was blown away into another cotton field. Whatever happened to that box, it was not longer my worry place.