A short history of building forts: Chapter 1
Building forts is a part of me, a thread that runs from my earliest memories as a child.
Creative play was highly valued in my home, perhaps it was more the norm because this was a time before iPads and cellphones, Xbox and PlayStation. However, even as the norm, I do not underestimate the energy this atmosphere of creativity required from my parents. As a teacher who took a multi year leave to stay home with my sisters and me, my mom loved creating themed activities. There were ‘trips’ to Hawaii complete with a ‘flight’ (dining room chairs in a line), a lei ceremony, grass skirts, and fresh pineapple. I often got lost in ‘playing school’ at our large basement chalkboard for hours. One year my mom drew an entire city scape, roads and parking lots, on the back of a vinyl window shade for my sisters and me to drive our Hot Wheels cars on. (Note: being one of three girls did not mean I only had dolls to play with, there were plenty of Hot Wheels cars, and I might have been the only young girl whose Barbie tooled around town in a Tonka truck.)
As a mom myself now, I spend time pondering what creates a memory for our children. Occasionally my kids will spout off a beautiful memory from their younger years, and other times it will be something I rather hoped they would forget, there have even been a few that I swear never happened! Ironically, if you type in, “how to create a memory” to google, the top responses involve making a ‘memory’ on your iPhone. I do understand that many of our memories come from the pictures we see, which for my children might involve old blog pics and my Instagram feed. I have not yet read, but just received a copy of the book, The Power of Moments, by Chip and Dan Heath-and I’m excited to learn more about this phenomena.
When I look back to my younger days, three distinct fort building experiences immediately rise up. Interestingly, these three were common occurrences, I recall building and playing in them repeatedly during my childhood.
The couch in the family room of the home I grew up in from around age three until the end of middle school was a nubby orange and brown. It doesn’t sound like it, but it was understated considering these strong colors. The room was cozy, with two windows on the wall behind the aforementioned couch and dark paneling on the walls. This was our true family room. The room we played in, the room the Tiger’s game would be viewed in while listening to the play by play by Ernie Harwell on the black radio, and the spot for snuggling. It was also the site of one of the forts I built as a child. This particular sofa had back cushions that could be lifted up, allowing them to stick out perpendicularly from the body of the couch. To create the perfect fort, those back cushions needed to be propped up-possibly with the seat cushion turned on end. The seat cushions needed to be removed anyway to allow optimum head room. Once propped up, the cozy den was ready for moving in. In I would crawl with my favorite book, and maybe the cream colored afghan that was often nearby. It was quiet, and cozy, and perfect.
The dining room table was in it’s own room, between the living room and the kitchen. It was a space separate from our everyday kitchen table. Reserved for holidays and formal dinners. The table was long, and we were able to seat at least 8 people. The best part was however, the chairs. They had high backs with slats-making them perfect for creating forts. These chairs could be dragged to the neighboring living room and placed in a rectangle, making the perfect supports for a queen size bed sheet to be draped across the top. The slats would allow the corners of the sheet to be tied for security if needed. Once the roof was in place, the fort had plenty of floor space to be filled with pillows, blankets-like the pink holly hobby that I loved, and books. It was quiet, cozy, and perfect.
Growing up, forts were not to be limited to the indoors. My grandparents had a cottage in Pentwater, a lake town about 2 ½ hours from our home. Time spent there was always golden and always involved the long walk to the beach. Parking was always full at the State Park, so apparently it was easier to pack up three small girls and all of the beach playing paraphernalia and walk. As a child, the walk seemed endless, but realistically, it was about 10 minutes. Once settled at the beach, I would always set out to find my fort. This natural fort existed on a small sand dune and had walls of birch trees, dune grass and undergrowth. The ~ 4’ x 4’ ‘room’ was perfect for me. From this fort I could see the channel, and the lake. I could hear the magical rustling of the leaves in the lake breeze. I could cool off in the shade of the branches-a break from the summer sun. I returned to this fort each summer for more years than I can count-and it always welcomed be home. It was quiet, and cozy and perfect.
The memories of building forts as a child leaves me feeling warmly embraced. I did not receive the label ‘highly sensitive introvert’ until around my 40th year, but looking back, I imagine that this part of me was recharged in these cozy spaces. To this day, I love expressing myself creatively, I have dabbled in pottery, oil painting, watercolor and writing-and these loves were, I am sure, fueled by the creativity required to look at a couch, or a high backed dining room chair and to create a fort. I love that the mess and disruption that was created by these spaces was encouraged, I am sure I was encouraged to help clean them up eventually, but I am also sure that more often than not this happened while I slept. In a way, the visualizing, creating, and savoring of these forts is the story of my childhood. The way they encouraged play, and attentiveness, a love of both coziness and nature, a space for fun and quiet-but most of all, the feeling of being in a warm embrace. Thank you mom and dad.