Friday, December 14, 2007

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

I spent a lot of time as a child mooning around the playroom in the middle of the night. My dollhouse, lithographed metal 50s ranch-style suburban bourgeois Sears and Roebuck icon though it was, seemed to come alive when I stared at it. By third grade, I was reading The Five Dolls books by Helen Clare, an English series in which a young girl, Elizabeth Small, divines the means by which one becomes small enough to walk up to the front door of one's own dollhouse and knock - and when the five dolls that live there come to life, the adventures that ensue are stories I loved. My goal in life for many years afterward, beyond learning the trick to becoming small enough to inhabit a dolls' house, was to have a real dollshouse, one in which the furniture wasn't plastic. Because I never really got one nor had the industry to make one, I spent a lot of time reading books about dollhouses, in particular Victorian dollshouses, which are undoubtedly the pinnacle of the whole dollshouse lineage. I ended by becoming quite taken with the whole Victorian period, and those of you who know me know I had a Victorian wedding. Now I live in a Victorian dollhouse, with a different pattern of wallpaper in each room, and I feel like a house archeologist.
For example, the keys. This house has two front doors. The keys are labeled "East Front" and "West Front." A thermometer is mounted outside the bathroom window, angled so you can see the temperature right when you sit down in the morning. Living in an old house is a kind of excavation, as the things left behind are clues to how people once lived and thought. John Lennon wrote: "Oh boy, when you're dead, you won't take nothing with you but your soul." We believed when we bought the house we were also acquiring a lifetime+ of attic-type remains stowed away in the barn (which is giant, and more accessible than the attic). Malicious or not, that didn't end up happening; the ex-owner, whose parents lived here for 50 years and who grew up in this house, had everything carted away, probably to the dump. That makes the things that somehow remain all the more mysterious. One LIFE Magazine out of the hundreds that went in the trash: "Our Great Outdoors" (1953). A molded glass eyewash cup. In the dining room's corner cupboard, two etched crystal goblets that seem to say, "Cheers, and good luck!" The key - one of many left hanging on a rack in the kitchen - marked "Buick," that perfectly fits my son's desk. The rolled Norman Rockwell calendar of the four seasons I found in a hall drawer upstairs, promotional gift of a local insurance company in 1949.


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