This is me when I was four. I must have been shocked, surprised and half asleep. It was Christmas morning, 1981 and I was the lucky recipient of this gigantic dollhouse. My great-grandfather built it for his daughter in the early 1900s, it then passed to may aunt and then to me. I loved it. It became a house for all sorts of dolls; little dolls, plastic dolls, wooden dolls, paper dolls and Barbie dolls, though they couldn’t fit through the doorways. It didn’t come with much furniture, so I spent my time making things to fill the rooms; sofas from folded up t-shirts, coffee tables from those plastic, three-legged things that go in the middle of a pizza, a toilet from a short glass filled with water and cardboard attached for the back and seat and a waterbed for Barbie; a gallon Ziploc filled with water placed into a box with some kind of fabric stretched over the top. You get the picture.
Playing dolls for me meant designing the rooms, designing their “stories” and creating their look. It was all about setting things up. I was a nanny for several summers as a teenager and one day the girls asked me to play Barbies with them. I jumped at the chance. We created their clothes, built their house with books for the walls, designed the rooms, and made up names for each doll. After about an hour, the 5-year-old said, in her very articulate, patient way, “You know, Tricia, we’ve been in here a long time and we haven’t even played.” What?! For me, designing was play. I’ve done it my whole life. Once, in college, right in the middle of preparing for some intense paper, I decided it was extremely important to create a whole German village out of shoe boxes (I was a German major after-all). I painted each building, cut individual tiles from orange construction paper, painstakingly gluing each piece to the roof of every building, made a church with stained glass windows from wax paper, a tiny Bible for the altar and lots of little candles so those entering the church could light them as they prayed. I then labeled each building with its German name, die Schule, die Kirche and each part of the building with its name, das Fenster, die Tür and so on. It took me several hours every day and I stayed up late into the night working on it. Eventually I finished it and gave it to my cousin’s little daughter. I’m not sure how I managed it, but somehow I got my paper done too. Did I mention I love designing things?
Back to my beloved dollhouse; it had gotten left behind at my childhood home when my dad moved out and another relative moved in and had been missing somewhere in the family for several years. I imagined it had gotten passed down somewhere along the family line and was never to be seen again. You can imagine how excited I was when, just a few years ago, an adult with a child of my own, I received a call from my mom. She had the dollhouse! It had gotten passed down and then passed down again to my brother’s daughter, unbeknownst to me. She had outgrown it and they were cleaning out the garage. My brother brought it over to my mom’s, wondering what to do with it. It was still in pretty good shape, despite some water damage in one of the bedrooms, appearing just as it would in a real house. There’s truly something magical and living about this place. How to get it to me from Minnesota to California in one piece without spending a fortune? Just put it on a friend’s semi truck who was driving a small airplane from trade show to trade show. Two months later, he arrived, and yes, the dollhouse was still in one piece. He was relieved to get it off his hands, having nightmares every night of the antique dollhouse, full of family history and memories, sliding off the shelf in the trailer and smashing to pieces. After we loaded it into the back of my husband’s GMC Jimmy with part of it sticking out and bungee cords holding the trunk closed, I imagined it slipping out and smashing on the freeway just 45 minutes away from home. It made it and now graces our dining room.
I have challenged myself with its restoration and renovation of the rooms. I want to create a special house, a unique piece, not just fill up a dollhouse with random things. My dad told a friend I was going to restore it and she asked, “Is Tricia pregnant with a little girl?” No, I’m not. This one is for me.
I hope you’ll come along with me as I set about to claim my family history, to tell my story and to create “A House Full of HERstory.”