Keep whatever’s inside; I’ll take the box

Burt's Eye View

Giddiness set in every time Mom bought a new box of Quaker oats.

Not for the cereal. I was an Alpha-Bits kind of guy, myself.

It was for the box.

Back then, rolled oats came in a big cardboard tube. With strings, crayons and a wooden spoon, Quaker Oats boxes converted into great tom-toms. Or you could jam the wheels from a broken plastic truck into them to make an oil tanker. Or with construction paper, Elmer’s glue and a pipe cleaner twisty tail, you could build a pig. Or a doll cradle for my sister.

They even worked as new containers for our Lincoln Logs when we ruined the original box riding it like a pony.

Other cereals featured free toys inside every box. With Quaker Oats, the toy WAS the box.

I loved boxes.

If Mom received a new toaster, Dad got a new power saw and Grandma bought a new hat, we boys had the beginnings of a robot with the empty boxes. The more boxes, the bigger the bot we could build.

Grownups were weird. They got all gushy over whatever boring thing came inside. They’d toss the boxes into the trash. That proved that adults possess no sense of value. Why, with a little imagination, boxes could become anything. And they did.

Nestle’s Quik came in rectangular boxes with a round metal disc in the top center that you pried off like a paint can lid. These boxes were great for carrying plastic soldiers, Hot Wheels cars or rock collections.

We also constructed many a race car from shoe boxes and cereal boxes.

Here’s a pro tip: 45 rpm records made great wheels if you had those adapters that fit into the big hole in the middle. Straws or skewer sticks pilfered from kitchen drawers served as axles.

Here’s another pro tip: Always use the 45 rpms at the bottom of the pile. They were less likely to be missed by the grownups.

Empty matchboxes with the covers that slid sparked all kinds of delicious ideas. They were like spy tools with secret compartments. If you had a big enough matchbox, you could load it with a live toad and leave it on the jumpy kid’s desk at school. Or the teacher’s desk.

Mice had an even better effect but it was hard to keep the fuzzy little things inside matchboxes. They gnawed through the cardboard. Let me tell you, a mouse running laps in your pocket is a sensation unlike any other.

Since Mom wouldn’t let us have matchboxes until they were empty (I was never sure why), we’d dig out the box of birthday candles and tell her it was the toad’s 107th birthday. And birthday candle boxes made excellent gasoline cans mounted on a jeep crafted from a mixing bowls box.

In our opinion, Mom and Dad needed to buy a new refrigerator or washing machine. My parents were of the mindset that if something was still limping along, there was no need to waste money on a new one.

I couldn’t fathom grownup logic. Couldn’t they see the beauty of all those giant containers? With boxes that size, we could build a rocket ship with a crew cabin and sleep quarters to fit all three of us boys. It would have been wonderful.

The other day, my wife asked me to fetch her some paperwork from her cardboard file box. I looked around. What file box?

She sighed. “The robot. They’re inside your robot. And please stop putting wheels on it. You poked an axle hole right through the tax records.”

Yep, I still love boxes.

— Put Cole in a box at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.