As you may or may not know, I am writing a memoir about my family, particularly my mother. So today I pulled out a big plastic bin in which I keep old letters, diaries, and other memorabilia, to look for a sympathy card I received from my mom’s first boyfriend when he found out she had passed away. Not only did I find that I had received not just a card but two letters from him, which I had forgotten about, I also rediscovered my old dollhouse furniture – which I hadn’t forgotten – and got totally sidetracked. I cleared a shelf in my study and set it all up.
I was not a big doll fan as a kid. I wasn’t exactly a tomboy, because I was not at all interested in athletics, but I was into subjects considered more “boyish” at the time: science – archaeology and astronomy in particular – and architecture. I loved building dollhouses, but not playing with dolls. My little brother had an indoor slide, basically an open-sided wooden box with a ramp, that we turned into an apartment building, with some kind of pulley system we rigged up as an elevator to take tiny toys to the top.
My only real dollhouse (oh, I wish I had a picture of it, I can’t believe I don’t!) came from Tammy Van Milligan. Tammy was a year ahead of me in school and rode my bus. Sometimes she got off at my stop, even though she didn’t live that close, so she could walk with me. Why, I’m still not sure. I guess she had some kind of self-esteem problem and it made her feel good, as a fifth-grader, to argue with me, a fourth-grader, and always win. We argued over the pronunciation of “miscellaneous,” for instance, which I had just learned to spell for the spelling bee, and was pronouncing as “misk-ellaneous.” Tammy was not above stopping a random adult in the street to resolve the debate, which she did. I was indignant: “But it’s spelled with a c!”
Anyway, Tammy Van Milligan had this wonderful dollhouse that she was “too big for.” It was two stories, pale green with a red roof (funny; I now live in a home whose interior walls my husband chose to paint pale green, with accents in “picnic table red”). Each room had different wallpaper. I loved and coveted it. Tammy and I were always trying to raise money, and one time we decided to have a yard sale in front of my apartment building and sell our unwanted toys. Her big item was the dollhouse, and every time someone looked at it, I despaired of ever having it. My mother chronicles this event in my baby book:
"March 1980 Disappointed again! [The previous entry was about how I went to hear Alex Haley speak – I’d read Roots half a dozen times – but wasn’t able to get his autograph.] The yard sale she [me] & her friend Tammy VanMilligan [held] only netted her $2.65 whereas Tammy made about $11.00."
Happily for me, though, the dollhouse didn’t sell, and I saved and saved and pestered Tammy until she let me have it for some ridiculously low sum like twenty dollars. I was on cloud nine. We took my brother’s slide, which he was getting too big for, removed the ramp, turned it on its side, draped it with an old sheet, and enthroned the dollhouse on top. I started saving my money again, this time to furnish it. My parents would take me to Kay-Bee Toys (before they changed the name to K-B), and I’d spend my allowance on one thing at a time, agonizing over the choice. I’m certain the bookcase, dresser, and bed came from there.
The blue coffeepot set came from some little mail order catalog like Harriet Carter: I’d save up my money, carefully total up the price with postage and tax, and give it to my mom, who would write me a check. That way, I saved a quarter on the money order.
Some of the things I made: the candles are cut-down birthday-cake candles that I stuck on little wooden disks. The white “glasses” with blue roses are actually cylindrical beads. I rolled the balls of yarn and stuck them with straight-pin “knitting needles” in the tiny sewing basket. I sewed the tiny cushion and wove the green yarn on the straight-back chair.
But just over a year later my parents decided to move to Cincinnati, and now I was the one selling the dollhouse in a yard sale. I carefully packed my furniture away and kept it, I’m not sure why, but I’m glad I did. If you know a child (or adult!) who would be thrilled to have these miniatures, let me know; I would be thrilled to pass them on.