Box City


Fifteen – it’s the number of shipping boxes that were saved and stored in our basement just before Christmas.

The reason for saving all that cardboard was twofold. Any unwanted gift, article of clothing, or broken toy could be returned to sender for up to thirty days after Christmas. Now that that day has come and gone, it was finally time.

The assortment of empty boxes ranged from shoe size (inside had been two adorable pink fuzzy bedtime slippers) to a box large enough so a 6-year-old could hide from her little sister. All were about to be part of an epic build smack-dab in the middle of our living room. Welcome, Dear Reader, to a place called Box City.

Saturday morning our two granddaughters were bubbling with excitement as they bounded down the basement steps. It had been over two weeks since I first told them what was stored in the basement and that they were going to be the ones to build Box City. It was about the only thing Little One and Sweet Caroline wanted to talk about.

“Can we color the outside of the boxes? Is there a school? What about a fire department? Can you help us make doors and windows?”

As they retrieved the boxes and placed them around the giant road map spread out on the carpeted living room floor, I answered each of the questions with a smile and a “Yes, of course.” Then added a few questions of my own.

“Are you going to have cars, and trucks on the roads? Are people and animals going to live in the city? What about a police department, hospital, or grocery store?”

So many things for our two little city developers to think about — no wonder they were so excited running from storeroom to carpet and back again.

To be honest, I’d also been looking forward to this day. Never had I seen this many empty boxes in one place to play with. Sadly, growing up back on Flamingo Street, our dad burnt all of the boxes in the fireplace as soon as the Christmas gifts were opened.

The girls first colored each box with bright orange, blues, reds, greens and then stacked them. Trolls lived over on the West Side, Unicorns made the East their home, My Little Ponies were stabled down South, and the North was where the little green army men had their barracks. And in the center of it all was the school everyone attended.

Box City was built and defended by little green army men but eventually destroyed by bands of rampaging dinosaurs — only to be rebuilt again. For the next two hours, I watched in amazement as the girls played together with not one argument.

I’d forgotten how my brothers, The Sister, and I played together a long long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away. For weeks we played with a much bigger, crayon-colored refrigerator box. And yes, it too had to be defended over and over again by little green army men fighting heroically against bands of roaming dinosaurs. I remembered … and smiled.

This coming Christmas, don’t be so quick to throw out those shipping boxes … save them. After all, it’s not really what a child takes out of the box (our gift to them) that’s important. It’s what they put back in: Imagination — their gift to us. An imagination now set free to live in a place we all call Box City.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog:]