Blanket. Worn. Ideally with soft little knobbies, but not holes. Holes let in the rain after all and sisters are sometimes untrustworthy. The best kind of blanket is the one your mother gave you for your 7th birthday. You know the one: blue with white outlines of sheep (but really it’s grey and vanilla bean cream now because you’re older and your mother is gone). The blanket fort blanket is the first step in construction because it’s hard to create without the right materials. This is something you will learn later when you have many things but no instructions.
Warning: Blankets don’t make good roofs, but it will be all you have, so you will make due. A blanket fort is only as good as the blanket you start with. Unlike real houses, the blanket fort needs a roof first, because without it, it’s just an idea, and ideas can’t keep the rain out. Some people believe blankets are not for forts, but your niece will teach you to sleep with a song instead of covers and that any roof can be good.
The day you got the blanket should be fuzzy (like the resolve you have when you invite your sister to live with you). The most important part is to remember how it feels when your mother covers you. You never had your own blanket before and wouldn’t again for a long time after.
You should be proud of your blanket and the other things your mother left you, namely your sisters. They’ll have it harder. You know this.
Some blankets are better than others and your mother can be many people.
Walking stick. Tall. A Walking stick is crucial to building a blanket fort because otherwise the blanket swoops down and makes you feel too big to be in a blanket fort.
The walking stick should be from the Pacific Northwest, near a river you fell into once in the winter. Or, from the ocean. You can always find good walking sticks at the ocean (especially if you were born there and return often to find memories of your sisters when they were young). Be sure that you choose your walking stick carefully. Some seem smooth but leave you with slivers that are deep and will never work their way out. Some snap too easily under the weight you carry.
Before you continue, let me tell you something about sticks: they are flammable (as are the feelings you thought you’d grown out of). So do not bring flame into the blanket fort, especially when your niece is there, and her mom is gone too.
In the blanket fort, your walking stick will go in the center. It pushes up the middle so you can almost stand (as a child, not now) but it will require additional structural supports because a stick and a blanket can’t be a house.
Pillows. Plural. Pillows are the foundation of a blanket fort. You cannot sit for long on the hard floor of your childhood home. In addition, it may be dirty and pillows are the best at hiding dust bunnies. Dirt in the house is hard to avoid, but in the blanket fort you are allowed to pretend. Pillows create a feeling of safety that’s hard to replicate, so it’s a good idea to remember it.
Suggestion: Old pillows are best. The kind that live in a house longer than the children and with feathers that work their way out over time. The roses on the pillow cases should be yellow, for happiness (they’re red underneath, but you don’t need to know that yet). Feather pillows and roses go well together because those are things your mother loved.
When you were young, your pillow belonged to someone else first. Your mother, probably. When you are older you’ll buy cheap pillows that are too fluffy for good sleeping. It will be at Walmart the day after Thanksgiving without your mother or your sisters. Now your pillow is expensive like the achievement you earned by leaving your homes. Even the pillow you hold between your arms (because you gave your bear to your niece when she left) is this fancy brand. It’s made from “patented interlocking fill” which is comfortable for your head. This is the part of your body you really should take more care of.
The most important reason to use pillows in the blanket fort is for softness, because it’s hard on girls to lose their mothers.
Dogs. Many people forget how important dogs are when building a blanket fort. If you do not have dogs, cats may be used. Sometimes cats are easier—dogs are crazy. But I recommend dogs because they know more than you, and less. And that’s ideal. Sometimes the dogs will be ghosts that you forgot to say goodbye to when you thought you’d be coming back soon. Cats never die though. Nine is a big number when you’re in it.
The type of dogs you choose is irrelevant (even bad dogs can be good dogs if you love them right). The dogs you have now are perfect, especially because they knew just what to do when your soul was aching for your sister and her daughter and yourself. They knew how to tell your niece that everybody loves her, even when the fighting is loud and makes the house cry. Dogs in the blanket fort will remind you that you are good and the world can be too.
Where the dogs go inside the blanket fort is up to them. They’ll lay on top of the pillows most likely, with their heads smooshed up against the chair leg like it’s comfy. Dogs are adaptable and brave, even after people put them in forts.
Whatever you do, keep the dogs away from the walking stick. For obvious reasons.
Snacks. You CANNOT build a blanket fort without sufficient sustenance. The type of snacks you include depend on how old you are: 9—second raw hotdog (you ate the first before starting); 16—unhealthy popcorn and possibly tacos; 23—tequila (you’ll need this for when God doesn’t fill you up anymore) and oreos; 30—healthy(er) popcorn and tea that calms you.
When you arrange the snacks, you must consider the type. Tacos do not go well on pillows and tea is hot when spilled. It is essential to make sure you have enough (like the patience you’ll need when your niece cries at mealtimes even though you know she’ll like it once she tries). It will be hard, since you don’t remember your mother ever making you food.
Eating the snacks can be problematic since you never had enough when you were young. One day you will have all you need and try to share with your sisters, but not really because you’ve grown accustomed to what you’ve earned. They’ll be on their own, so make sure that if it doesn’t work out with your sister and your niece then at least you keep the tequila stashed away (in case you need to look at it to remember feeling 23).
Please remember that the food you use in your blanket fort will change over time, and that it was never really your choice to begin with.
Painted denim bookmarks. These will be the ones your mother made, cut into fraying circles with painted roses and butterflies. Lose yours between pages and give one to each of your sisters. Draw them in your mind again and again. They will remind you that your mother was artistic, but also that the things she left would mark your books.
Coloring book. You cannot make a blanket fort without one. Winters are too long in childhood and very short now. Coloring is the answer to both. For your 9th birthday (probably), your mother gave you the box of 96 Crayola crayons. You colored princesses (the old ones, not the new brave ones) and also Simba. When your sister steals them and drops them down the heat vent, don’t be mad. You will own many more. Plus, your niece will share hers when she comes and leave you some after she’s gone.
Cribbage board. Specifically the one with the rose painted around the holes. Blanket forts require at least one game (so that you remember what fun feels like). Cribbage is the only game allowed in yours because it will be the only one you like. However there are no cards, because something must always be missing. You will put the board under a pillow because you don’t really have it. It is missing too.
Light. A good flashlight is a blanket fort must. Keep it handy because the dark is unsafe most of the time. Your mother knew. Your sisters too. Your niece will light up the dark for as long as she can. It will teach you something that you will figure out later, maybe. It will scare you when it’s gone.
The flashlight you choose for the blanket fort should be able to fit in your pocket, but it won’t because you’re a girl and all your pants are elastic with stirrups. So you’ll have to think of a way to dangle the light above you like a beacon.
Some people don’t like light in their blanket forts, maybe because they’ve never gone into the real dark before. You will need it though (to illuminate your regrets and your wishes). It’s important that the light does not hurt your eyes (you’ll need those to watch your sisters grow). The light in your fort should be soft. And, ideally, it will be a gift, so that you don’t need to do everything alone.
Warning: Even with light, you will be lost for a while. So be ready.
Remember, a blanket fort is only temporary. Blankets and pillows have other uses, after all. However, you must imagine your blanket fort lasting as long as you will. Your mother taught you to believe anything could happen, even if it won’t, and you will teach your niece how to build a real house.
For now, crawl in. You may have forgotten how, but your niece will teach you. She’s the best of everyone: your mother, your sisters, and you. She’s made of memories, so remember everything, even when it tears at you with long ago fingers. When the fort, and your niece, are gone, cover yourself with the blanket. You know the one.
Pearl A. Griffin is a writer and teacher from Vancouver, Washington. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Pan-European program at Cedar Crest College as well as a BA in English Education and Douglas Honor College minor in Humanities from Central Washington University. Her writing, often infused with wry humor, draws from a deep love of travel, an ever increasing feminist perspective, and a personal history of hardship. You can find her work at Gone Lawn and The Conium Review.