The Junk Fort: How a Dead Mouse Is One of My Favourite Childhood Memories and Shaped Who I am Today

Across the blogisphere, bloggers are pulling their favourite childhood memories out of the recesses of their brains in honour of Steena Holmes’ and her new book, “Finding Emma,” and as part of WOW: Women on Writing’s mass blogging event.

No surprise, one of my favourite memories, and one that shaped my childhood and thus my adulthood involved a whole lot of unstructured play (free play) in my beloved junk fort on the acreage where I grew up.

I grew up on a strange shape of land on the outskirts of a hamlet. In actuality, the land was old school grounds–I grew up in an old school. Half of it was built in the 1930s, the other half in the 1950s. But by the 1960s it was abandoned and left for sale in an auction.

When I was about eleven or so and when the junk fort was in its full prime, my friends and I played there daily. And during those days, I learned a lot about life.

The junk fort was a tricky place to get to in some ways. You could see it through the sparse, drought-wrenched Honeysuckles, but weaving your way through that twiggy hedge was tricky. Even though I ventured to that junk pile daily for months on end, there were days when I had to do some backtracking through the tall grass to find the rotting old boards we’d used to bridge the exposed dirt that lead through a break in the hedge.

Beyond the hedge was a whole new world. Sure, we could be seen from the yard, the road, the grain elevators, and even the other side of town, but it was like a secret, private haven for us kids. We were allowed to roam to play in an unstructured, unscripted, and unscheduled way.


We had a grain auger, a truck deck set on barrels, scrap metal and boards, industrial-sized duct work, some sort of crazy turbine, wooden crates, old cars, long grass, and more.

The auger was our entrance, the truck deck our personal disco, the long ducts became house walls. The main duct joint with its its various square holes for branching out vents became an oven, the turbine thing a washing machine. We made bedrooms, makeshift tables, used buckets for chairs. Seeds of Timothy grass became part of our “food” stores. Sprinkles were pilfered from real kitchens to add colour and pizazz to our culinary creations.

But looking back, one of the coolest things about the junk fort wasn’t just the freedom to play and imagine, but the things I learned as a natural byproduct of that free play.

How to Get Along With Others

In a town off 100 we were incredibly lucky to have seven of us girls (plus poor Ryan) within a two year age gap. But, for various reasons, the reality was that it was usually just three or four of us hanging out (no Ryan). We were affectionately dubbed the “Raggamuffins.”

The fact of the matter, living in such a small town out on the prairie, was that if we didn’t want to spend our childhood playing alone we had to figure out compromise, conflict resolution, forgiveness, communication skills, persuasion, and so much more. Because when we failed it meant we playing alone. And while that might seem okay here and there, in the long run, it’s not. It’s boring.

It wasn’t like today where parents are more ready to jump in and solve minor problems, our parents were struggling through the 80s, trying to keep their farms and families afloat and the last thing they wanted to deal with was our minor conflicts that we could surely solve on our own.

And we did.


Building a fort out of junk you learn a few things about the laws of physics, mechanics, as well as spatial awareness. I tell you, if you are trying to lift awkward bits of venting and duct work on top of something else, you learn to figure out what might fit and what might not pretty darn quick! You learn how to fit things together, how to make them stay, and more.

We were also mixing strange things together to try and make different “foods” and quickly learned all sort of things about soluble materials and other sciencey-type stuff I don’t have the vocab to describe.

How Not To Be a Sissy Girl

Growing up on a farm there weren’t a lot of opportunities to be a sissy, but on occasion there was a slim chance to jump in and make a choice. Out in the fort you could either get grossed out by the mold growing on your last playtime’s fake meal or just chuck it and save your “plate” so you could make another. You could snatch the dead mouse out of the fake oven or bucket and fling it away and carry on, or you could squeal like a girl and give up the fort.

There weren’t that many great forts around so the choice was always to fling the dead mouse.

How to Get the Best of Pesky Boys and Fend for Yourself

The feedlot next door to us had a couple of boys about our age. They were rough, cruel to kittens and baby birds, and seemed placed on earth to torment girls.

The group of us girls were tough and used to fending off older brothers as well as sticking up for each other when the odd, aggressive interloper appeared. And these boys were definite interlopers. The tried to torment us as only boys can without laying a finger on us–hard to tattle on that, isn’t it? Ooh, it still makes my blood boil!

It was in the midst of them verbally shoving us around and realizing that they were about to wreck the fun we were having and that we were on our way to becoming a permanent target when I remembered… the dead mouse.

For boys with a stomach for cruelty to small animals they sure could squeal and run like a bunch of sissy girls at the sight of a dead mouse dangling from my fingers.

They never returned and our fort was saved.


Chasing those boys away was a turning point for us girls. We took pride in yelling after them, laughing in the face of their fear. Turning the tables on them showed us that we wouldn’t be beaten, and that with some quick thinking were more than we could imagine. Sticking together was important.

I don’t know about the other girls, but my confidence grew that day as well as the belief that I could take care of myself. I gained pride in having the courage to stand up for my friends when the chips were down and of course, for protecting and defending the fort.


I’d like to thank WOW!: Women on Writing as well as Steena Holmes for bringing this, one of my favourite childhood memories, to mind as well as reminding myself the power of free play to develop skills and traits that I surely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop without that junk fort. And besides, what girl doesn’t revel in the idea of scaring off some mean boys? It makes you want to lean back, hands on your stomach, and bellow out a ginormous laugh doesn’t it?

A little message from WOW!:

I wrote today’s post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing’s “Everybody’s Talking About Favorite Childhood Memories” mass-blogging event celebrating the release of Finding Emma by Steena Holmes.
Finding Emma BookSteena is a woman who believes that ‘in the end, all things succumb…to the passions of your heart’. Steena’s life revolves around her family, friends and fiction. Add some chocolate into the mix and she’s living the good life. She took those passions and made them a dream come true by pouring her heart into each of her stories.

Finding Emma has quickly become a bestseller. Proceeds from each book will be donated to The Missing Children’s Society of Canada – an organization dedicated to reuniting families. Visit for more information.

If you comment on today’s post on this blog or any of the others participating the “Everybody’s Talking About Favorite Childhood Memories” day, you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Finding Emma!

To read Steena’s about childhood memories and view a list of other blogs participating in the “Everybody’s Talking About Favorite Childhood Memories” day please visit The Muffin.


How about you? What did you learn from childhood play or how did your favourite childhood memory shape who you are today? (Commenters will be entered in a draw to win a signed copy of Finding Emma!)

Playtime is more fun when it's shared with others. Share this post with your friends.


  1. Reply

    I loved this memory! I had a similar place growing up where I would play with the boys and often beat them up to prove that not all girls were sissy’s! At the time I thought it was in a jungle, but the more I think about it – the place was just a junkyard behind the complex I lived in.

    Thank you for taking part of this memory tour and sharing this! I have a huge smile on my face right now 🙂

    • Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Steena. Forts were awesome weren’t they? It was like our own world where our rules reigned!

      Good luck with your book. And thanks for asking a great question too!

  2. Reply

    I loved reading about your fort. How amazing that must have been for all of you. You have me thinking about my own times of courage as a child. Thank you.

  3. Reply

    Great story, Jean!! We grew up with tons of free play time and it was the best! Neighbourhood hide and seek games were amazing! One of the houses had a huge yard with tons of trees … and bats. Lots of bats. Some of the kids were afraid of them, so it was a great hiding place! I’ve liked bats since 🙂

    • Reply

      That would be a fantastic place to play hide-and-seek, Jemi. And I can see why you might like bats after that. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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