Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Dollhouse

When I was a little girl, my Dad found this old, rickety dollhouse (nothing like the above pic) at a garage sale and brought it home to me one random Saturday afternoon. I had always wanted a dollhouse but this one was old and chipped and dingy, and looked like a box with a few holes for windows, not exactly what I had in mind. He said that together, we would re-model this house and make it just like new. (My dad LOVED home improvement projects no matter how minuscule). So one summer when my grandparents came to visit, the 3 of us, My Dad, My Grandpa and 6 year old me, set up shop in the garage to re-model the dollhouse. We worked on it for almost a week. I remember starting early in the morning and not finishing until it was time for dinner. It was hot and my mom would come out with trays of lemonade and she'd smell the turpentine and whatever other chemicals were emitting from the stain and paint we were using and she'd say, "Laura get out of this garage right now! I do NOT want you inhaling these fumes!" And I'd tell her that "I have to be here, it's MY house!!! (biiiatch!)" Kidding about the bitch part. Or maybe not. I was a beast.

By the time the house was finished I couldn't even remember what it looked like before. I kid you not, we could have been on a show called "Extreme Home Makeover Teeny Tiny edition." We sanded the floors, laid down little tiles (or carpet, depending on the room) and each room had themed wallpaper. When it was all finished I was so excited to put some people inside but my Barbies were too big so I used these Popeye and Olive Olye dolls, a bendy Pink Panther and a couple Corn Husk Dolls. They were a motley crew but they lived in the house until we set out to find a more socially acceptable family to call it home.

Every birthday, holiday or "just because" gift centered around this dollhouse. I'd get pictures for the walls, vases for the tables, toilets, a piano, even mini food for the kitchen. I loved the little plastic turkeys and canned goods (until my dog got a hold of them and chewed them all to bits). I also kept adding people to the house, sort of like one big happy extended family (or nowadays it would be more like some creeped out religious cult) but each time a new member was introduced to the family, we'd throw a welcome party. Could explain why I love parties so much today.

I had this house for about 2 years and then one day, right before Summer break my Dad came home from work and called for me to come outside. It was warm and still sunny so I thought he wanted to play catch (which we did most warm nights he was home). But when I stepped outside I saw his friend's truck in the driveway and my Dad led me around to the back. He opened the hatch and sitting inside was a gigantic 3 story colonial style dollhouse (just like the above pic, except it was yellow), which looked like it should be on the cover of Home and Garden magazine.

The house was huge, the exterior was a pale yellow siding with white trim and black shutters and had a platform built all around the front and sides to form a yard, with fake grass and gas street lamps. And on the inside every room had its own unique light fixture that was wired to a battery box in the attic so each room had working lights! The doors even had little brass knobs and some rooms had window treatments. I could not believe my eyes, I had never even known that such a house like this existed. It was the Cadillac of all dollhouses. Speaking of Cadillacs it was too big to fit in my Dad's trunk so that is why he asked his friend with the truck to drive it over. So while we're all standing outside admiring this amazing architecture, my Dad asked, "What do you think?" Without a second to spare I shouted back in his face, "I HATE IT! I HATE IT! I HATE IT!!!! GET RID OF IT!!!" and then I ran back into the house crying my eyes out.

Looking back, my Dad's friend must have thought I was the most spoiled brat who ever roamed this earth. Even so, he helped my Dad carry the house into our house as I sat on the couch seething at them both. After his friend left, my Dad was FURIOUS with me. He yelled and demanded to know why I didn't like this house that he had been looking for YEARS to get me!?!

Between snot filled sobs I told him that I didn't want a new house, I loved the one I had. His tone completely changed. He went from angry faced to holy shit face. I'll never forget that face. He said that I didn't need to give up the other house but that I could instead have 2 houses to play with, we could make a neighborhood. I remember thinking to myself, these two houses don't even belong in the same zip code. He lugged the house upstairs to my bedroom and wedged it next to my existing "vintage" home. I didn't like it one bit. I asked that he take it downstairs to the basement. He kept trying to reason with me and I wasn't having any of it. After his 3rd or 4th attempt I finally lost it and started screaming and crying all over again. There was another blow out and my Dad stormed out of my room almost dropping the dollhouse on his way down the stairs. I was so afraid he was going to fall down the stairs and hurt himself. This house already caused a lot of pain, I didn't want it to crush my Dad.

That dollhouse sat in our basement unoccupied the entire summer. I refused to look at it. When friends would come over my Dad would say, "Go show them your dollhouse." And I'd march them upstairs to my bedroom. He'd say, "NO!! The other one, come on!" And he'd take them downstairs and once they saw the house their eyes would bug out. They'd say, "You didn't tell us about this!!!" I'd roll my eyes and leave them to gawk as my Dad tinkered around with the lights and doorbell.

For my birthday which was the week of Thanksgiving, I received even more dollhouse fixtures and furniture even though my vintage house was full. It was starting to look like the set of Sanford and Son because I refused to put the new stuff into the new house since I was well aware that's what my parents were hoping I would do. Until...Christmas came around. A couple of weeks before Christmas my parents found a lighted tree that plugged into a socket in the living room of the new house. Now that I think of it, they probably had this custom made. With all the lights out in the house and just the tree lights flickering, it was a magical scene. We admired the tree from all angles and I loved to look inside the living room from the outside window. But that's all that was in this house, one lighted tree. Slowly I started to add a few things. A couch here, a table there, a toilet upstairs. It was sparse and I never wanted my parents to see me playing with this house so I would sneak downstairs when they weren't aware. And then on Christmas eve my sister and I were always allowed to open one present under the tree and it was our choice to pick which one. I opened up a dollhouse family of four with a pet cat. I remember taking out each person and playing with them right there under our Christmas tree for most of the night. I tied nooses around their necks and hung them in the tree as ornaments. When that got boring I decided it was time for them to see their new home. I headed down to the basement and sat each one down around the lighted Christmas tree. The cat too.

I'll never forget that Christmas. By the next morning the other 18 family members living in the old house had relocated to their new address. It was one big happy melting pot of a family. About a month or so later I gave my vintage house away to a friend of mine who had wanted a dollhouse for Christmas but didn't get one. It felt good to give it away to someone I knew would appreciate it. At least for a little while. Less than 6 months later as my mom and I were driving by her house, there sat MY dollhouse at the end of her driveway waiting for trash pick up. I was devastated. But I didn't give it away with the intention of getting it back one day so it had been hers to do what she wanted. I learned that lesson at an early age. Never give something away that you might want back. And this goes beyond dollhouses.

A couple weeks before my Dad passed away we talked about this dollhouse story. I apologized for being such a beast about the whole thing and for all the screaming and yelling (on my part). He said he didn't remember it that way. He said I was just "passionately loyal". I never really looked at it that way as a child but based on how I live my life today it makes perfect sense. Even if you have to yell sometimes.



karengberger said...

I love this story. What wonderful, colorful memories. Your dad sounds as if he was a thoughtful, imaginative, generous man.

Stephanie said...

I loved this story, too.

I don't want to sound like a weirdo "me too" girl who has a comment on every thing you say, but one of the first indications that my "calling" was interior design was a dollhouse my dad and I built out of scraps from the house being built next to ours, from scratch! It was sized for Barbie. We painted, wallpapered, tiled, carpeted. It had a garage, a patio, a loft-style bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and family room with a fireplace. I was just a little kid, but I was very particular about the colors, textures, materials we chose for the house.

You strike me as a passionately loyal type of person. You just seem very down to earth, and genuine. Good people!

lizziebelle said...

i think this is your best post. well so far i havent finished reading your whole blog because i just found it and read it at work...but i love this post.

The Engine of the Family said...

What a great memory...add me to the 'me too' list, cuz I loved this story also and is one of my favorites!

Smileygirl said...

Wow I was wondering if anyone was going to read that novel! Thanks for all of your very kind comments. I appreciate all of them and was glad to hear you loved the story. I think part of the reason these random memories are popping into my head is because it's coming upon the 2 year anniversary of my Dad's death. I was in a different place this time last year and was not able to express a lot of these things. But now there's more of a peaceful calm when I recall these memories and I feel like I have to write them out in case one day I forget.

And Steph, don't ever feel you sound like a weirdo because you can relate to some of the things on here. I think that's one of the cool things about reading blogs, being able to connect and see bits of yourself in others. Even if they live on the other side of the globe (or in our case, the same county!)

Based on the blogs I read, I'm surrounded in good company.


ChiTown Girl said...

Awww, my sweet friend! This is one of my absolute favorite posts so far. I LOVE any and all "Daddy" stories, no matter whose they are!!