Our fascination with having a space all our own and getting away from it all begins when we are kids, when we still have little reason to even escape the world. And yet at those early ages we are fort fanciers, treehouse seekers, and bolt-hole builders (more on this fascinating term to come…).
One of the best memories I have of my dad was him crawling through a tunnel of boxes with my toddler daughter, completely forgetting the back troubles that had hounded him for years. They rested somewhere deep inside the boxes and requested snack deliveries from us peasants around them.
Just a short few years later my daughter cried when I sold some old ladder back dining room chairs with knobs that were perfect for making a beautiful canopy from a filmy opaque curtain I had tried to discard. “Where will I hook the clothespins?” she said desperately.
She typically built her fortress right in front of the television and declared it off limits to the rest of us. That pieced together palace hosted many a tea party.
I can’t say that I blame her. I myself have been a refuge seeker, way back into childhood summers. New appliances meant joy for mom, and for us it meant the best tunnel and hideout ever, as we toppled the boxes to their sides, filled them with expensive throw pillows and grabbed flashlights to enhance the mood. I draped sheets off the edge of the bunk bed my sis and I shared to enclose myself when it was my week for the bottom bunk.
In our back yard, a chain link fence was the perfect start for our lean-to tents and hideaways. My dad’s old army blanket was the best ground cover, and then all we needed was a quilt, a sheet, even some plastic to create the triangle into which we would burrow ourselves for hours, hiding away from the world, fortified with Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.
I was fascinated with movies where there were hideaways, like Swiss Family Robinson and Blue Lagoon. To this day, one of my favorite movie scenes is from Step Brothers when Brennan and Dale retreat to their treehouse to escape a mean brother.
If you have seen Step Brothers you get it, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s a good laugh at the end of a lousy week. Truthfully, I am still mad at Greg, Peter, and Bobby for not letting their Brady Bunch sisters share the club house. I hold grudges.
By the time I was a pre-teen, you would think the hideaway fascination would have stopped, but not for me. Across the road from my grandparents’ farm lived Natalie, a friend we only got to see on our twice or three-time yearly visits. She and Sally were our best buddies away from home, and while they might have enjoyed visiting us in the city, we thought nothing was better than a trip to the farm.
Natalie’s four wheeler took us down dirt roads on the bottom land, and one day I noticed a house off in the distance, a bit dilapidated but intriguing. A family that worked for Natalie’s dad on their farm had once lived there.
We headed over to it, and opened the door, despite the fact that looking back, just like I am 110% certain that leggings are not my best look, I am also 110% certain we were not supposed to have been in it.
Some pretty dusty and ragged furniture and rugs were still in place. My vivid imagination had us all wearing head scarves, sweeping, mopping, and dusting until it was spic and span, and then spending the night there.
A racoon or some animal that had taken up residence ran from a closet we pulled open, scared me enough to scream, and quickly snapped me out of my daytime reverie. But for a blissful moment, I thought we had found our bolt-hole (still promising more on this later…is the anticipation building?).
It is possible that desiring a hideaway is a family trait. My mom recalls wishing her father would build her a playhouse when she was a girl, but alas, the months to relax are few and far between for the farmer, and he never got it done.
He chose instead to build beautiful walnut clocks, which have been a much more transportable and lovely memory of his carpentry skills than a roughed out playhouse would have been. But when I talked about a little hideaway for my daughter, Mom was just as excited at the prospect as we were.
My nephew may have inherited a little of the bolt-hole desire (there is that funny word again… I wonder when she will explain it, readers are surely thinking…). My sister has a lovely back yard, filled with all things blooming and green. When we visited one day, they had added a garden shed.
Sis is happy with her hands in the dirt, and I think she imagined the shed filled with shelves of pots and trowels and other garden necessities (I am out of descriptive words here because gardening gives me metaphorical and physical hives…). But my nephew had other ideas.
The next time we saw the shed, it had a bunk bed built in to the side, and he had officially claimed it. At first, it was furnished with a leaking bean bag and an old rug. The following time, they had gotten it wired for electricity, and he had plugged in an old lamp, quite the ambience.
What followed were some serious decorating gaffes, like a Kansas Jayhawk banner (he is adorable but has terrible taste in sports teams), and some LED lights tacked around the ceiling to wall joist.
He and his buddies had countless overnights there, their suburban camping experience, escaping their tyrant parents, and no doubt eating junk food until they fell asleep, LED lights blazing.
My poor husband appeared to have outgrown the need for a bolt-hole (see now, you are just used to seeing this crazy word…) much earlier than the rest of us. When I asked him to construct a three poled tee-pee looking contraption for our daughter for the yard one summer, he thought I had lost my mind.
“She has her whole room to herself,” he said. When I tried to explain that it needed to be a little smaller and cozy, her offered her closet. Not the same, I protested, and after I purchased the lumber and brought it home, pretending I would just build it myself, he caved.
When he climbed inside the finished tee-pee with her, his feet sticking out, my heart melted. When summer ended, we couldn’t part with the tee-pee just yet and brought it inside. She was at a friend’s for an overnight once, and I came home to find he and the dog sound asleep in the tee-pee.
I made enough noise to allow him to pretend to be awake, and he claimed he was looking for a flashlight they had left in there, but I still believe he was stepping back in time to his fort building days for just a moment.
Maybe right when some of us adults were ready to let go of the whole hideaway thing, She Sheds became the rage. Moms all over the globe were claiming a space in their back yard and decorating that space in outrageous ways, lighting up Pinterest and home improvement magazine covers. Sheryl’s She Shed was even the subject of a funny insurance commercial.
If you are driving behind me as I pass a lot where they are selling tiny homes and sheds, please move on by. I will be rubbernecking until I cause a wreck.
I am busy visualizing what shrubs or perennials I will have my sister plant around my new She Shed. But big girl dreams die, too.
My homeowner’s association prohibits me from having a fine looking She Shed. But the one in my mind has a big window that looks out over the acreage we don’t own, and my easel, where I use acrylic and other mediums to paint, never has to be folded and put away.
In another corner, I have a cozy day bed for when I tire of my artistic pursuits and take a nap, from which no one wakes me and asks me if we have any pretzels or cheese or milk (wouldn’t you know where to look for milk, for Pete’s sake?) or where I put their one good pair of black athletic shorts.
When I was watching the adorable series Grace and Frankie, even Frankie, who lives in a beautiful beach home that is another of my dreams had her own bolt-hole, which I suppose it is finally time to describe.
The English coined the word bolt-hole, and used lovely Englishy sounding words like nook, and harborage and sanctuary and refuge and lair to describe it. I first read about a bolt-hole in a flowery gardening magazine that my sis probably subscribed me to, hoping to convert me.
I was intrigued by the title, and then more intrigued by the author’s words. She actually purchased a home with a little secret passageway about which her husband knew nothing.
As they renovated and refurbished their country estate, she saved scraps of wood and building materials to shore up her bolt-hole. She worked on it when the kids were at school and her hubby at work. She presented it to them with great fanfare one rainy afternoon and announced she was spending some time ensconced there while they all stayed away.
It was the best piece of non-fiction I had ever read, though not enough to keep me subscribed to the magazine. I was teaching English at the time I saw the article, and I shared it with my students as a writing prompt.
After we got past the muffled giggles when I discovered that bolt-hole sounded a lot like butthole to them, we talked about personal space. What would your retreat look like? Why do you need one? I received some of the best writing I had read from them, all of us just wanting our own space.
I think as a writer, I will likely need a bolt-hole to escape with my thoughts. Stay tuned for the reveal, if I ever emerge from it.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
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