On the street where I grew up, between the McKeans’ driveway and the Garnsey’s, there was a green box – about three feet high, four feet across, and made of metal. I don’t know what it housed – electrical wiring, telephone circuitry, the secrets of the universe…
What I remember about it is how it felt to hop on top of it, how the metal, warmed by the sun, felt good under my legs. I remember how I wanted to lie back and let my feet dangle but it wasn’t quite big enough for that. I’d have had to lie diagonally which was usually impossible since I was rarely the only kid there. On our suburban street filled with children, the green box (ugly, innocuous, utilitarian) was the unofficial, unspoken, universally agreed upon, hub of everything.
On and around the green box, the business of being a child was conducted. We jockeyed for position, figuratively and physically. Only three or four kids at a time could sit on the box, the rest milled about waiting for an opening, sitting on the ground, or on the sidewalk, lawn sprinkler water flowing down the gutter over our bare feet. On the green box, we chose teams, bragged, gossiped, made room for our best friends so we could whisper in their ear. We fell into and out of childhood crushes, dreamed of being elsewhere even as we clung to the security of the world we knew. To each other.
Writing a piece recently about my childhood, I remembered the green box, and it was one of those cellular memories, the kind that resides in your body as much as your mind; you touch it and everything glows; you feel it in your limbs, in the relaxing of your shoulders, in the smile that wells up from somewhere deep inside. I emailed some friends I’ve kept in touch with (or found again after years). I asked them something that never even occurred to me to wonder about when I was little. “What the hell was in that green box, anyway?” I wrote.
They answered. Everyone I emailed answered. They wrote words that touched me, tickled memories, made me feel wistful and happy and sad and fortunate. They waxed poetic and nostalgic and I could tell they were as full of memories as I was.
Not one of them knew what was inside the green box.