Monday, April 16, 2018
Tending Our Childhood Gardens
While roaming through a second-hand shop with my youngest granddaughter the other day, we wandered into the toy section where she was checking to see if there was anything she just had to have. For me it was a trip down memory lane, seeing toys I had gotten for her mother and her aunt when they were little, and even spying a few, precious items I remembered from my own childhood. I came upon a shoe box filled with tiny, plastic furniture, the kind they used in the doll houses of my generation, when I was suddenly reminded of a day a little over 25 years ago when the sight of a doll house brought me to tears.
It was only a few months after I had uprooted my entire life and moved to upstate New York to the little village of Marathon. There was an Antique Fair being held at the Community Center that weekend. I decided to wander over to see what they had, and to enjoy the beautiful summer day. At one point I was in a section that held toys, not only from my own childhood, but some old enough to have belonged to my mother's generation as well. My first surprise was to find a combination cork board and blackboard built into an artist easel with a roll bar up top that showed the alphabet and numbers from 0-10. I had owned just such an easel when I was a child. I saw my Shirley Temple dolls, my Ginny dolls (I expect there are fewer and fewer of us who remember Ginny dolls), and, lo and behold, there was my doll house! it was a tin doll house with the inner walls and floors stamped with windows, doors, wallpaper and even curtains. It was filled with the tiny, plastic furniture and tiny people to go with it, each room set up as if the family were alive and going about their normal day. As I gazed lovingly at my old toy, or, rather, it's exact duplicate, I suddenly felt tears welling up in my eyes and a tightness in my throat. I turned and ran for the nearest exit, finding a quiet place outside to hide and have a silent cry.
Seeing that doll house had, at first, brought back some beautiful childhood memories of countless hours spent arranging and rearranging the furniture and the family. At the time I got the doll house, I was 5 years old and we lived in a one bedroom apartment in a four-family house owned by my mother's cousin. My older sister and I slept in the only bedroom, sharing a bed. My parents slept in the living room on what was then the newest rage, a Castro Convertible Sofa Bed! Sitting on the floor of the bedroom, I would imagine what it would be like to live in a real house, with my own room and a yard to play in. The following summer when I turned 6, that dream became a reality and we moved into our own home right across the street. It was very old and in need of lots of TLC (like the yards and yards of faded, flowered wall paper that covered every inch of every wall in the house), but I had my own room and a decent sized yard for a Queens, New York neighborhood with trees and my mother's beloved roses buses and lilac trees.
Once the happy memories returned, it was inevitable that the less-than-happy ones would, too. My father has passed away just three months before I made the decision to pick up and move. My mother was still grieving in Queens. Someone had visited my old home and reported that not only had it been remodeled so that it looked nothing like the home I grew up in, but the back yard had been ripped out and cemented over to make way for an above-ground pool. My mothers beautiful flowers were all gone. Throw in two failed marriages to the mix, and the memory of a little girl dreaming of a real home was bittersweet to say the least.
I went home that day and stood outside the entrance to my new home in the village. The landlord had given me permission to plant some flowers on either side of the door and up the trellises. I thought about making a miniature garden, with a bird bath, fairies and gnomes, and, of course, a rose bush. The next day I went back to the antique show, back into the toy section, and purchased a tiny plastic rocking chair. I still have it, sitting on a shelf next to a tiny, wooden birdhouse. Whenever I see it, I think of my dollhouse, and, because I am so much older and wiser now (at least I like to think so), I am reminded that home is in the heart, not in any physical location, and we carry it with us wherever we go. Just like Dorothy, all we have to do is click our heels and say, "there's no place like home."
And so it is.