The Green Box

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.


It’s still there! I told my husband about the green box and he got curious. He looked it up on Google maps and took this screen shot. It looks so tiny, even uglier and more utilitarian than I remember. And somehow, that makes my memories of it even better.


  1. Hippiechick on April 24, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    What a lovely childhood memory.

    I loved this line: “I don’t know what it housed – electrical wiring, telephone circuitry, the secrets of the universe…”

    The secrets of the universe. I love that.

    And how cool that Chad found that picture. It always amazes me when I see something that I had imagined, through my child’s eye, a thousand times. It very rarely looks like my memory. The physical can never accurately represent the emotional story that we have attached.

  2. Karen L Hogan on April 24, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    It’s where they buried Jimmy Hoffa.

  3. Annette on April 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    I totally remember how warm those boxes felt. It’s something you never forget…and no, I don’t know what was in it either. 🙂 Here’s another memory, 5 cent ice cream cones at Thrifty’s!

  4. Michele on April 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I had one in my neighborhood too. This post made me smile completely!

  5. Dani H on April 24, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I remember the 5 cent ice cream cones at Thrifty’s, too! And that is a lovely, magical line, J: “…housing… the secrets of the universe.”
    I’m afraid we moved so much when I was growing up that I have neither the memories nor the people to contact, so I shall enjoy it all vicariously through you. Thank you for sharing! Oh, & in answer to yesterday’s post ~ I have two {exciting to me} firsts underway today: I have made roasted garlic soup and am making mini-baguettes. Kitchen *singing* & *dancing* & *baking* & *fun* underway. {And flour everywhere!} *hugs*

  6. judy on April 24, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Hippiechick, I love THIS line: “The physical can never accurately represent the emotional story that we have attached.” So true. I kept trying to imagine how much smaller I was so as not to overestimate the green box’s size, but… it’s giant in my heart!

    Karen, Ha! Maybe. Bet no one looked there.

    Annette, Is Thrifty’s even around anymore? I should do a post sometime that just asks people to tell me stuff they remember. That would be fun.

    Michelle, Me too, as I typed, and as I read your response. Thank you.

    Dani, “Kitchen *singing* & *dancing* & *baking* & *fun* underway. {And flour everywhere!} *hugs*” <— Oh my gosh, I'm all grins. Wish I was there!!!

  7. amydaugustine on April 24, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    We had a green box, too. Used it as “base” when playing Ghosts in the Graveyard on hot, humid summer nights. Thanks for sharing your memory, and for sparking a myriad of memories for me. =)

  8. Tricia on April 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Had I been your friend at the box, I’d have told you they stored naughty children in there. Or I’d have told you that’s where dead bodies go. I used to make my friends cry with my active imagination, and I wasn’t satisfied until they cried.

    I’m nice now. Now I’ll tell you something you want to hear. It’s a bat house.

    • BOBBY on April 24, 2010 at 7:36 pm

      hey Tricia — I commented the other day that your comments make me laugh and shake my head at the same time. You didn’t disappoint with your words today! haha!

  9. BOBBY on April 24, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    “I love your line”… “Oh, I love your line”… “Oh no, I love your line much more than the line you love of mine…”. Oh come on, its just a cute tease there — I know everyone can take it in a good, fun, triple scoop for 15 cents sort of way! (yes, I remember the good ol’ days at Thrifty’s as well)

  10. terrepruitt on April 24, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Even more than your description about the green box and what it housed I loved your description of “cellular memories”.

    I felt the glow because I thought, “yeah, thats how a writer describes things.”

    Oh, and remember not only the cost ot Thrifty’s Ice cream but the SHAPE.

  11. judy on April 24, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Amy, We used ours as base too for hide-and-seek. I want to know more about Ghosts in the Graveyard!

    Tricia, I was the kid who would have plotted for us to get into the green box and find out if you were right. We’d have been carted off to jail, our parents would have had to pay big fines, and maybe they wouldn’t have even bothered to get us out of jail… good things we weren’t friends. (But it would have been fun.)

  12. judy on April 24, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Terre, Me too! Cylinder scoops! 🙂 (And thank you!)

  13. Tricia on April 24, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Aw shucks, Bobby.

    Judy, makes me want to do my life over just to be friends with you.

  14. bsain on April 24, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Love this trip down memory lane. Makes me remember all the places we gathered at in my own neighborhood — my house was usually the gathering place. We had 3 trees perfectly placed in our backyard for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base. Loved playing Ghosts in the Graveyard — the whole neighborhood was the playground. I’ve done well to get reconnected with many neighborhood friends after my last high school reunion.
    Oh…and by the way. I have a huge green box in the corner of my front yard. It has a message on it that says “stay away — can cause brain damage!”

  15. judy on April 24, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Becky, Ha! So many things explained. 😉

  16. tonyTIMES on April 25, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Oh gosh the green box! I remember playing chicken on top of it with all the kids in our neighborhood, many many twisted ankles. It was right in our front lawn, between our house and the neighbors. I had a very active imagination so I played with my G.I.Joes and legos, the legos being ladders where they led to the G.I.Joe’s “ultra secret, super awesome, ginormous, etc. fort.” haha good memories! Thanks!

    Oh, and all my friends thought it was some kind of hub for morse code lol I’m sure there were more explanations we thought of, but that one we were “sure” of.

  17. Sue on April 25, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Tony’s GIJoe memory reminded me of the time a neighbor boy with his GI Joe and me with my barbie, played. Our parents were shocked when at the end of the day I came in with his GI Joe and he went home with my barbie. 🙂

  18. Estrella Azul on April 25, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Well… since we don’t know the secrets of the universe, I’m betting that’s what the green box houses 🙂

    Loved this post, so interesting what we remember and the details from our childhood, right?

  19. judy on April 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Tony, Holy cow, I love that other people have green box memories! (Your GI Joe exploits make me wish we were friends…. you’d have to be a million years older.) 😉

    Sue, I love that story.

    Estrella, Maybe I need to plan a Return to the Green Box Adventure to unveil the secrets it contains.

  20. John Pruitt on April 25, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Lol, The green box. Across the street from the newtons and rankins 🙂

    Do you remember the light post up by Tony’s house? And how if you got there at twilight and smacked it with your skateboard the light would turn on?

    Prior to the Garnsey’s it was the Green’s. Do you remember Stevie Green? Meanest kid in the world 😉

  21. chezhui on April 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    I don’t remember ever having said green box in Toronto? Now I wonder where did they hide the secrets to the universe in my hometown world?
    It’s a mystery…

    I do have the fondest childhood memories of the book mobile that came once a week. Those wondrous books unlocked many a mystery for me.


  22. judy on April 25, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    John, Yes! I remember Stevie Green! *shudder*

    Mairi, Well, if my green box held the secrets of the universe, yours would have been included! I don’t remember book mobiles. They sound wonderful!

    • terrepruitt on April 26, 2010 at 11:05 am

      I remember book mobiles. Never went into one, but I remember them. They still have them in San Francisco. I thought I saw one around here not too long ago and I was amazed.

      Wed., April 14, 2010 was National Bookmobile Day!

  23. tonyTIMES on April 25, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Mairi, I remember book mobiles, I got one of my first favorites: “Sabriel” by Garth Nix from one in the 5th grade… another awesome memory! Thanks, I’m going to scrounge up that book now and give it a speed read!

  24. Louise on April 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    I love your “cellular memory,” the magic green box! I think we all have some of those mystery objects that fired up our imaginations — and maybe still do!

  25. KristieM on July 8, 2010 at 7:50 am

    All I have to do is hear the phrase “the green box” and I instantly hear Rachel Garnsey in my head saying “I’ll be your best FRIEND!!!”

  26. judy on July 8, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Kristie, Is that good? Should I apologize? (Laughing. Thanks for commenting.)

  27. KristieM on July 8, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    LOL….nah, no need to apologize. The therapy did the trick! 🙂 As the youngest, I seem to recall getting shoved off of that box pretty regularly. Still, when I read your description of it, I had to smile. My oldest…who is just about the age I was when we moved, is reading over my shoulder now, eager for a taste of what mommy’s life was like as a kid. Thanks for giving her that!

  28. Shannon M on July 9, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    OMG Judy! I must have been really small, cause I remember the Green Box as having been HUGE! Thanx 4 the HAPPY Rockie Mtn memories!

  29. judy on July 10, 2010 at 11:55 am

    I wasn’t as small as you but I remembered it a lot more huge than the picture indicates. (Let’s still pretend it was huge.) 😉

  30. Shannon M. on July 10, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    By the way…
    You look exactly as I remember you! What a trip!
    And does John Hippolito still shove M&M’s up his nose? We were an odd bunch huh?

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