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“Dollhouse” By Margarite R. Stever

I’m excited to announce that I picked up my computer from the fantastic technology wizard who repaired it today. I have no more multi-colored stripes impeding my vision of my screen. It’s so nice to be back to writing on a laptop that’s only a year old with everything functioning correctly.

I’d forgotten how difficult it was to write on my ancient laptop. Everything took twice as long because the poor thing was worn out. Between the right Shift key and touch pad not working and the fact I had to restart it at least three times to connect to WIFI, using it was an exercise in frustration.

I worked like that for a long time, though. I wrote most of what I’ve had published on that old Gateway. In fact, I wrote “Dollhouse” on it. In case you missed it, “Dollhouse” was published last fall in Chicken Soup for the Soul: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.

This piece means the world to me because it’s a true story from my time with Grandma P. Sadly, I lost her when I was only seven years old, but my memories of her are my most cherished.

I hope you enjoy my short memoir, “Dollhouse,” which still makes me cry every time I read it.

Dollhouse By Margarite R. Stever

I grew up in a family of modest means. My mom worked as a secretary, and my dad worked in a factory. I stayed with my grandma while they worked. I loved spending the days with Grandma. She made everything fun. She was on an even tighter budget than my family, so she didn’t spend much money on toys. She made them instead. Grandma was incredibly creative and spent hours making my toys.

I had a passion for dollhouses. Grandma made dollhouses for me from cardboard boxes. She used shoe boxes, laundry-soap boxes, cereal boxes, and canning jar boxes. The canning jar boxes were the best. They had dividers, which provided many rooms. One average-size canning jar box became a twelve-room mansion for me. Grandma decorated my cardboard dollhouses with aluminum foil, wrapping paper, magazine pages, and whatever she had lying around the house.

I played for countless hours with my cardboard homes. A tiny, rubber, posable doll and plastic baby from the dollar store usually lived in my temporary homes. Sometimes, Grandma made paper dolls and paper clothes for them. They were the perfect size to live in my cardboard mansions, and very special because Grandma drew happy faces on them for me. I didn’t realize that other little girls had Barbie Dream Houses. I thought everyone had cardboard dollhouses.

One day, my uncle came to visit while I was at Grandma’s. He saw me playing with my cardboard dollhouse and asked, “What are you doing with that box?”

“It’s a dollhouse. See the windows?” I said, pointing to the aluminum-foil windows Grandma had taped to the side of the box.

“I see. Do you play with this dollhouse a lot?” he asked.

“Yes. When it wears out, Grandma will make me another one,” I answered proudly.

My uncle turned to my grandma and asked, “Why doesn’t she have a real dollhouse?”

Grandma replied, “The boxes don’t cost anything. Dollhouses are expensive. Have you ever looked at them in the store? Besides, she doesn’t need one. She has a great imagination. She’s just as happy with a box.”

They moved on to other topics of conversation that didn’t interest me as a four-year-old, so I went back to playing. My uncle didn’t stay very long, and I forgot about the entire conversation.

The days rolled into months, and it was soon Christmas. My family happily gathered at Grandma’s house to feast and open presents. Everyone was all decked out in their Sunday best. I was wearing my red velvet dress with the tiny, silk rose on the front and my shiny, black patent-leather shoes. I was only allowed to wear those things for special occasions. My mom tied a dishtowel around my neck to make sure I didn’t spill anything on it.

We opened presents once our Christmas dinner was eaten and the kitchen cleaned. I opened presents from Grandma and my cousins, but noticed that my aunt and uncle hadn’t given me a package. My mom always told me not to bring attention to those types of things, so I kept quiet. Toward the end of our celebration, my uncle announced there was one more gift.

He went into Grandma’s spare bedroom and brought out an enormous box. It was big enough for Grandma to make into a dollhouse, race-car, or pirate ship. I was hoping that whoever got the present would give us the box when he gently set it down in front of me.

“I made this for you,” he said as he stood back to watch me open it.

I tore into the package like a wild animal. He had to help me with the tape on the box, but then I was all over it. I opened the flaps to reveal a wooden dollhouse! The outside of the house was painted white, and the roof was forest green. It even had wood paneling on the walls. The house was two stories and had four rooms. The bottom story featured orange floral flooring, and the top featured pink floral flooring. Two white doors made up the front of the house and opened to reveal all of the rooms. I was beside myself looking for my little, rubber doll and plastic baby, so I could play with my new house right away.

“Wait,” my aunt said, “I think you missed something.”

In the bottom of the giant box was a shoe box filled with plastic doll furniture. There were little yellow beds, a lamp, a kitchen table with chairs, a pink couch, and a TV. There was even a complete rubber family with a mom, dad, and little girl. I had the best time with that dollhouse.

I took the dollhouse home with me, so I still played with cardboard dollhouses at Grandma’s. The giant box didn’t go to waste. Grandma used it to make a fire truck for me. She covered the sides with red wrapping paper, glued on paper plates colored black for tires, and gave me a red plastic fire chief’s hat. My fire truck saw lots of action before the sides collapsed.

It has been over forty years since that Christmas. Grandma has been gone for over thirty-five years, and we long ago stopped celebrating Christmas with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I’ve grown up and have grandchildren of my own now.

That old dollhouse has been through a lot. The doors are missing. The paint is chipped. The roof needs to be glued at the peak. The furniture was lost years ago. However, I keep my dollhouse in a place of honor in my study where I create my best art. The four spacious rooms that once housed my little, rubber family now hold other treasures that I have picked up along the journey of my life.

Starting out life by using my imagination taught me the importance of creativity. I’ve always been able to entertain myself due to Grandma teaching me how to pretend and make up my own stories. She taught me to be happy with what I have, and not spend my time wishing for other things. Someday, I will teach my granddaughter how to create a happy, little home with nothing but a cardboard box and her imagination. I may even make her some paper dolls with happy faces. Thank you for reading Ozarks Maven! If you’ve enjoyed my little seeds of wisdom and joy, please subscribe to Ozarks Maven, Like Ozarks Maven on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter @OzarksMaven.

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