It was a good day when Bud Rice got in some new refrigerators for his store on Main Street. Because then, when he put the empty boxes outside in the trash, my Greatest Childhood Friend Randy Bottoms and I could ride our bikes down there and each drag a box home. The empty refrigerator box was an important component to one of my favorite childhood rituals, Staying Out Late.
The decision to Stay Out Late was almost always spontaneous, rarely planned. After a summer afternoon of playing outside, somebody would come up with the idea that this would be a really good night to stay out late. After the decision was made, then it actually became necessary to do a little planning. Our group usually consisted of me, Randy, my twin sister Janet, her friend Cindy Douglas, and Randy's sister Swanna. Occasionally J.P. Hicks from down the street would also join us, along with various other neighborhood kids.
One of the first items on the agenda was a trip to Buddy Gray's store to get hot dogs. There was one particular brand of hot dog that we usually settled on because it was invariably the cheapest. I don't remember the brand, but I do recall that the franks were dyed a bright shade of red, much brighter than competing brands, which was also a factor in our selection. Some chips, and if we had enough cash, maybe some candy bars, and we were set. We waited to purchase our drinks closer to our feast, because we wanted them to be cold.
The field beside our house was the location for the festivities. We managed to scrape up enough dry wood for a fire, and after we got the fire started, it was time to cook the hot dogs. One or two of us would then get on our bikes and head to the laundry that was located at the corner of Featherston and Eighth Streets, in order to purchase our drinks. They had a coke machine, so we dutifully gathered up enough empty bottles to put in the rack beside the machine to cover our purchase. We would have never even considered buying a coke without turning in an empty bottle; it was just kind of an unwritten code. If we had no empty bottles, we would go to Buddy Gray's store to get our cokes just so we could pay the nickel deposit.
I always preferred a mixed drink; one-half Mountain Dew and the other half Fanta Orange. This meant that I had to buy two drinks, drink each one down halfway, and then combine the contents into one bottle. Occasionally, the lure of the exotic became too strong, and instead of riding our bikes to the laundry, we would make the dangerous crossing of Church Street and ride to Denver Plummer's Gas Station for our drinks, because Denver had Cream Soda.
We would eat, laugh, ride our bikes around in the dark, and generally just enjoy being kids. We were never too loud, and I don't think the neighbors minded us staying out late. We didn't play any music, just kind of goofed around. Randy, J.P., and I once put a bunch of plums, some Mountain Dew, a little bit of chewing tobacco (it was J.P.), and anything else we could think of into a jar and sealed it up. We stored it in the back of an old truck tool box that came off one of my dad's old telephone trucks. We called it The Concoction. For the next year, it became a regular test of our resolve to open up The Concoction and take a big whiff.
After the fire died down and the girls had gone in, Randy and I would see how late we could stay out in our refrigerator boxes. By this time we had customized them, with windows cut out to allow air flow on a hot summer night. We would get a pillow and a blanket, fully intending to spend the entire night in our boxes. I don't think we ever actually made it the full night. We used to spend hours, it seems, just staring up into the night sky. We were looking for satellites, which, if you looked really closely, looked like stars that were moving slowly across the night sky. There movement was so slow it was almost imperceptible, but good satellite watchers like Randy and I could always spot them.
The next day, the boxes were put to a new use. We cut them open along one corner and laid the cardboard down on the sloping bank in our front yard. We could then take our shoes off, and in our sock feet take a run at the cardboard and slide down the bank. It was tremendous fun, and incredibly, none of us ever broke our arm doing that.
By the time we got to junior high, Staying Out Late had become a thing of the past. But even now sometimes, when I look at the sky on a gentle autumn night, I wish I had a refrigerator box.