Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Doll's House by Jody Casella

My dream gift when I was a little girl was a dollhouse.

I had a vision of it: A house made of wood-- not flimsy plastic like my Barbie camper--  but something finer. With multiple rooms. A winding staircase. Carpets on the wooden floors. Curtains hanging in the windows. Blankets folded on the beds. 

All shrunken down, of course, to fit dolls smaller than my statuesque, matted-haired barbies and headless Ken. 

Small was the key. I loved the idea of the tiny furniture. Teeny drawers with things hidden inside. Miniature table settings on the table. I had read the Borrowers series and liked to imagine tiny people living inside my walls, sneaking out at night to swipe a dropped pea for their dinner.  

When I turned nine, I was given a dollhouse by my mother and stepfather. It was your basic design. The back wall missing. Four rooms. A roof that folded back to reveal an attic. It wasn't finished yet--still unpainted, the wood bare--and unfurnished, which disappointed me. Plus, I was nine years old, and thinking of myself as past the dollhouse phase.

I didn't want to show my disappointment to my mother though. Over the next few months she painted the house. She wallpapered the rooms. She sewed curtains. She bought furniture. My best friend, who made it clear that she was also too old to play with dollhouses, came over to look at it. 

All finished and not much to do with it, and that seemed to be the end of that for the dollhouse.

But then we discovered something interesting in our neighborhood. In the window of one of the houses, was a dollhouse. Bigger and more elaborate than mine. My friend and I were intrigued and confused. We didn't think a little girl lived in that house, so who the heck was playing with the dollhouse?

One day my friend marched up the front walk and rang the doorbell. An old lady poked her head out and who knows what she was thinking at the sight of two strange nine year olds on her front porch. "We want to look at your dollhouse," my friend said.

The lady, oddly enough, invited us inside. This dollhouse was my vision come to life. Three stories. With multiple rooms and a winding staircase. A back wall that hinged. Shingles on the roof. Lights that you could switch on and off. Carpets and drapery.

My friend and I stood in awe as the woman opened a dresser drawer with tweezers. Inside were small items tucked away and folded. Clothing and towels. She lifted a book from a bookshelf. The pages had teeny words on the pages. And in the kitchen there was food pretend-burbling in a pot on the stove.

"Those are beads," the woman told us. Teeny green ones to look like peas. She confided other secrets. How you could cut pictures from magazines to make art to hang on the walls. Use scraps of fabric for the bedding.

My friend and I raced back to my house to get to work. My dollhouse wasn't a toy, we realized, it was a project. The game was to create the things to arrange inside. We played with the dollhouse for the next few years, long long after we should've been too old to play with dollhouses.

I have the house still. It's pushed in the back of my closet and nowhere near as amazing as I remember it being. Layered with dust. Some of the furniture broken or missing pieces.

But when I open a drawer, I find a bit of cloth, folded and tucked away. Forgotten by my nine year old, ten year old, eleven year old self. 

A small gift to me today of friendship and joy and play. 



13 comments:

  1. There are (at least) two kinds of dollhouses: those that serve as a setting for playing with dolls--these tend to be plastic, and sturdy, and for the very young--and those that serve to create a miniature world, and appeal to people of all ages. Maybe the same instinct can be partly satisfied now by building worlds online, but there is something irreplaceably satisfying about the tactile, about miniatures you can actually hold and touch, about texture and heft.

    I, too, had the second kind of dollhouse, and at some point I became aware that I would not finish it before I left home--the outside still unpainted, a couple of rooms still unpainted and unfurnished. It was my delight to hand it off to my niece, who finished a couple more rooms and changed some of the things I had done. I hope it will later be passed on down, and become a multi-generational project.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like how you've described it. Maybe it has something to do with our need to feel in control too--at least over one very small world.

      Delete
  2. Ohhh, how I love this! I always wanted a dollhouse too. Your post has reawakened those sweet feelings. Thank you. :) And happy holidays!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Such a lovely post! And how lovely of that woman to let you into her home to see her dollhouse, he probably had no idea she'd inspire you like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Janet. When I was writing about the woman, it struck me that it really was nice of her to invite us in. Kind of weird to think how we might view it today though. Not sure I'd want my nine year old going into a stranger's house!

      Delete
  4. My late father-in-law, a shop teacher, made one for my wife that now resides in our granddaughter's bedroom. Some things defy age and growing up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the idea of passing a dollhouse on. My daughter played with mine. I like thinking that she might want to share it with her children.

      Delete
  5. Thank you for the post, Jody!! You've inspired me to continue the project I began with my daughter. She and I built a dollhouse together a few years ago. We even incorporated a stained glass window from the Victorian dollhouse I had as a kid. It's one of the few parts that's survived. The outside of my daughter's farmhouse is done and painted, and she's collected miniatures for the inside, but we never completed the interior. Maybe Santa will bring me a kit to wire the house for electricity. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A stained glass window! I love that! Here's what I did yesterday: pulled out all of the broken pieces of furniture (from the house in my dusty closet) and pieced them together, while my husband was wrapping presents and eyeing me like I was a loon :)

      Delete
  6. I got a dollhouse when I was around 5--then I started fancifying it when I was about 10--pink ceramic bathtub, granite pots in the kitchen, electricity...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DO you still have it? Inquiring minds want to know...

      Delete
  7. Great post! I had a dollhouse very similar to yours, that was a project my mother worked on for awhile, but I have to admit I was envious of my friends who had dollhouses much more like the one the lady in your neighborhood had with working lights and lots of rooms and intricate details all thanks to their very talented grandfather. I still have a weakness for miniatures of all sorts.

    ReplyDelete