When I was a kid, I always had a cubby house of some sort. It was my own little space where I was queen. Sometimes I would graciously allow my brother or my cousins to come in to my cubby house. The only reason for that was that I knew they had their own cubbies that I would want to visit.
My cubby house was where I stashed my second best treasures. I wouldn’t keep my top level treasures there because of the afore-mentioned visitors to the cubby, all of whom were likely to pinch one’s treasures if they had the least opportunity.
My cubby was a place to read in peace, a place to eat the sweets bought with the weekly allowance, a place to dream big dreams and a place to escape from other people – something I quite enjoyed – and move into a fantasy world where everything was perfect.
My favourite place for a cubby was in my bedroom or in the playroom. I would gather up bedsheets, table cloths, pillows etc and drape them from the furniture to form a secret hide-out or smugglers cave. These cubbies had a tendency to collapse and fold in on themselves just when you least expected them to and were not resistant to bombardment with stuffed toys or tennis balls.
The obvious solution to this was to build a cubby under the dining room table.
A blanket or two draped over the table so that it reached right to the floor made for a dark, mysterious cubby that required the occupant to use a torch when in residence – perfect for ghost stories designed to scare the pants off little brothers. My cousin had his chemistry set in his under-the-table cubby until there was a slight mishap with some smelly substance that rendered Aunty’s dining room uninhabitable for nearly a week. Thereafter he was banned from cubby construction in the house.
My cousin and I were known to be, um, shall we say, mischievous and inventive? Our achievements in the field of treehouse building were the stuff of legend. This picture from the local newspaper of a treehouse built by some kids reminds me of the tree houses that Greame and I built all those years ago.
Of course, in our minds, it look more like this one from The Swiss Family Robinson movie. I loved that movie. It encouraged me to learn how to weave banana leaves into mats, roof coverings and curtains. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any coconuts so I never had a go at creating any of the wonderful water lifting machines. Greame did suggest tin cans but I rejected that idea out of hand…it had to be coconuts.
One weekend when I was about eight years old, we went to a drive-in movie. There, for the princely sum of two shillings, patrons could enter the monthly draw for some really fabulous prizes. Drive-in movies were the in thing back then and the huge parking lots were filled for every movie session. Anyway, on this particular occasion, the first prize for the raffle was a cubby house – gasp! It was spectacular.
It looked something like this one. I loved it on sight. Dad bowed to pressure and purchased some tickets, giving me the chance to own this dream house. Being me – the eternal optimist – I assumed that since I had a ticket, I was bound to win that house. I started collecting interesting items to display in my new cubby house. I created artworks for the walls and even made a letter box similar to the one in the picture so that my parents would be able to communicate with me when I had moved into my new dwelling. I was devastated when I learned that I had not won the cubby house. I had been so sure that it was going to happen. I had seen myself in that cubby house. I cried myself to sleep for a week.
But, as I was to learn much later in life, the Universe moves in mysterious ways. My father, wonderful guy that he was, had already purchased the necessary materials to build me a cubby house. Maybe it wasn’t quite as fabulous as the raffle prize, but I loved it with all of my youthful heart. It looked a bit like this, but it had a proper door, complete with a handle and even a peephole. There was a ladder attached to the side so that I could climb up onto the roof if I wanted to be a pirate pacing the deck or a princess in a high tower.
My cubby didn’t have flower pots hanging outside. It had my own personally designed flags flying proudly. And..it was all mine. My own place to do with as I wanted. Dad didn’t paint it. He left that to me. He asked me if I wanted shelves in there. Of course, I wanted shelves. I asked him if I could have a lantern. He bought me a camping lantern power by batteries. Smart man, my dad, imagine what I could have done with a kerosene lamp!!!! He put a camp bed in there for me so if I wanted to sleep in there I could. It was just wonderful.
My Dad was the best. He understood the need for a little girl to have a personal space in which to dream and create worlds of wonder. He didn’t try to impose his own ideas on me. Other than the initial construction, he allowed me to create my own place. It gave me a position in the world that was of my own design, still within the bounds of parental control and safety but isolated enough to give me a taste of independence.
A cubby house is a base for creative play, a fortress of solitude, a refuge, a place to be in command. It is, in my opinion, an essential part of growing up.