What is it with kids and forts?
I remember as a kid building forts and tree houses with my friends. I recall as a parent, my children using pillows and cardboard boxes to construct their make-believe hideaways. Now my grandchildren seem to naturally want to use blankets over tables or delight in scrambling into a pop-up version of a tent/fort/hideout/playhouse.
So is there some sort of fort-building gene in every child’s DNA?
Some experts consider fort-building a universal drive in all children, that it builds creativity, promotes teamwork, encourages critical thinking, and sparks the imagination. Who knew that such a fun activity could be good for you?
In 1962 I was eleven years old. My best friend, Little Mo, lived two doors down. (His dad was Big Mo.) Little Mo and I had a lawn cutting business in the summer. We played baseball in my front yard whenever the weather allowed, that is until I hit a home run through Mrs. Waldrop’s bedroom window. But the week after Christmas that year, we hatched a scheme to build a super-duper fort, a festive fortress of fir along the rear wall of my house.
We would create our very own Yuletide Citadel out of Christmas trees.
In the early 1960s, our County provided trash service. Almost immediately after Christmas Day, several neighbors took down their short needle balsam fir trees and placed them on the curb for the County to pick up. Few people had artificial Christmas trees in the 1960s. The ones that did had those white silvery, in my opinion, ugly bleached out aluminum version of a Christmas Tree that resembled frozen tinsel. I always wondered if Santa visited such houses with these unorthodox, non-conformist, heretical imitations of an O’ Tannenbaum? Alas, I digress.
As Little Mo and I scanned the curbs along our street, we beheld dozens of discarded (formerly known as Christmas) trees bound for the County Landfill. Could they have one more function to perform? Might they still serve a practical purpose? We thought so.
Ah, the imaginations of eleven-year-olds……
Off the two of us raced down the street with the noble purpose of redeeming these once prized evergreens. We began hauling these castaway trees to my backyard and soon amassed about 18 trees. The construction of a balsam barricade of Christmas trees commenced. We even managed to create a roof. Leaving a small opening, we were able to crawl inside our private sanctuary with its lingering pine scent. The trees also had the bonus of leftover tinsel adding a sparkle to the exterior of our fortification.
We were quite proud of our creation and spent the day playing and imagining all sorts of adventures. Whenever dangers appeared, or a nosy neighbor stared at our unique fort, we retreated into our sanctuary where we were safe to let our imaginations run wild.
Then dad came home.
He did not share our enthusiasm for Christmas Tree forts.
Adults rarely appreciate the value of a good fort, especially one made of re-purposed Christmas trees.
No doubt our garbagemen the following week also wondered why a two-bedroom home would have 18 Christmas trees lying by the curb for pickup.
Maybe that explains why I always laughed when my kids built their version of a fort and now chuckle when my grandkids do the same. Funny how recalling the fort-building and Christmas trees of my childhood can kindle a cherished memory and produce an enduring smile of contentment.
Putting this memory in print made me realize why I have always had a fondness for the 16th-century hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The opening line states, “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing.”
If fort-building by children provides a sanctuary, a place of peace and safety and fun, maybe it simply reflects a yearning within each of us, no matter our age, for “A bulwark never failing.”
As a child, I built forts. As an adult, I no longer need to. I have found “A bulwark never failing.”
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)