Things That Matter: A New Life for Children’s Fort

The New York Times carried a piece in its “Books” section recently called Memories of a Bedtime Book Club. It was about that poignant moment when it finally comes time for a parent to put away the children’s picture books.

It’s exquisite sadness—all the memories of wet hair, tired toddlers, and clean pajamas—come flooding back as we finally close the door and staunch the light from that warm chapter of our lives.

Not surprisingly, the task takes ages, as we pause over every title . . .

They’re not just books! They’re little time machines, capable of transporting us back to golden, gloaming moments—all the more gilded by the passage of time and the fading memories of the hard stuff. So, most of us don’t actually throw or give away that ratty copy of Where the Wild Things Are. We store it in the attic or in the garage.

Then there are clothes . . . and tiny shoes . . . and toys: I wrote about it in a post I called Family History Embedded in Toys on my own blog, Video Biography Central. This has been a year of many such nostalgic musings for me as my two oldest children are now away at college.

But the big struggle in our lives this year has not been dealing with the books. It has been to finally dismantle the kids’ outside fort. It has sat in our garden for all of the children’s lives and has hosted all manner of tiny occupants. It saw use right to the end—high school seniors sat in its rather confined upstairs space during an end-of-year party last year. Unfortunately, rats have had it to themselves for the last 12 months or so.

So it was time for the fort to go. And with it, the inevitable attenuation of many of our fondest summer memories. Because memories attach to things, don’t they? Not always, but usually. If you have ever revisited your old elementary school, you can attest to the flood of fresh recollections that came flooding in, seemingly attaching to the buildings and stairs and handrails themselves.

I often make use of this phenomenon in my video biography work. I love to take the subject back to some important place from their past and record the results, as I did for this lovely Irish couple from New Jersey: New Lives in America.

And speaking of buildings and schools, there are smells of course! Powerful memories can attach to smells. Catching a chance whiff of sun-dried washing can bring you back to the time you helped Mom pin the clothes up on the line all those years ago—when folks actually had washing lines.

Sadly, a fort can’t be packed away in the garage or an attic like old picture books, ready for another chance acquaintance and that happy/painful rush of remembrance. Not our fort anyway.

Fortunately for us, our need to junk the fort and our reluctance to destroy a vessel packed with the echoes of happy times coincided with the spinach, kale, and chard whole-food craze that is sweeping the world. I love green smoothies! But I don’t entirely trust the produce I buy (pesticides, freshness, etc). So it hit us like a ton of lumber: why not repurpose the wood and build garden beds for vegetables?

Now, some three months later, I have my spinach, kale, and swiss chard. And I have my memories too—right there in the wood that encloses the plants—as you can see in the before and after shots to the right.

Memories can live in many places: photographs, books, buildings, DVDs, and video—and, it turns out, even with old wood.

~APH: Life, Story, People~

A version of this post appeared earlier this spring in Jane’s blog, Video Biography Central.

About today’s contributor: Jane Lehmann-Shafron co-founded Your Story Here Video Biography, a documentary production company that specializes in video biography and family history documentary. Based in Orange County, CA, she creates award-winning films that have been featured in festivals in the United States and Canada. She can be contacted through her website. 

The Literary Digest, cover image by Norman Rockwell (Public Domain), used via Wikimedia Commons.


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6 Responses to Things That Matter: A New Life for Children’s Fort

  1. Jane, I just love this story. What a fabulous idea. What could be better than growing your own vegetables in a structure that holds so many memories. This gives new meaning to a ‘memory box’. Wishing you bountiful harvest as the memories continue.

  2. Jane Shafron says:

    Thank you Mary! And, we are having a very bountiful harvest indeed – we’ve even picked our first tomatoes from our repurposed ‘memory box’.

  3. Annie Payne says:

    Great story, Jane. If those timber boards could speak, what wonderful tales of adventure, pirates, mothers and fathers and other favourite children’s imaginary games they could tell. I’m so pleased that you have found a new use for these protectors of your children as memory boxes for your garden.
    Cheers, Annie

  4. Stephanie Nichols says:

    Lovely post, Jane! The boxes are beautiful, and you have certainly earned all that good produce you’re harvesting. What a great symbol of the new phase of life you’re entering.

  5. Tom Gilbert says:

    You brought back some memories for me. As Air Force brats, my brother, sister and I moved around a bit, but we often found time to construct various forts and tree houses. I loved the images you brought back – sensory details!

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