In search of story



Once upon a time I walked into my grandma’s kitchen and stopped with a gasp, not believing my eyes. There, on the other side of that rolling rumply floor, was a dollhouse unlike any other. I had to touch it to prove to myself it was real. Such a breathless moment of wonder comes rarely in a lifetime and that’s why I remember it.

Grandma had made that dollhouse from a tall cardboard box and fragments of her own house — bits of wallpaper, plastic shelf trim, Christmas tape, fabric. Except for a few pieces of dollhouse furniture that had been dug out from Pompeii, Grandma created everything. Out of nothing, almost. (Grandma and God were quite a team.)

Many years later, Grandma told me that she’d been astonished at the hours I’d spent with that dollhouse, and I was astonished that she was astonished. Had she not seen what she’d made for me? Did she not know what she’d taught me — that cardboard is the building block of the universe, the alpha and omega of childplay? that household flotsam is treasure? that I had to have a closet like this when I became a grandma?


My grandson can look at any discard in this closet and see five hundred things it could be. My granddaughter can see nothing that couldn’t be improved by being pink. Together they build cardboard cities, urban sprawl from here to there in my home. It is every time a salute to that dollhouse, that grandma.

Some day they will be too old for this closet and it will become boring with ordinariness. But they will never be too old to carry on the legacy: life is a pile of scraps; make something out of it.

Pizza oven. With pizza.

Pizza oven. With pizza.

Ballroom. With rose garden.

Ballroom. With rose garden.

City aborning

City aborning


The heiress

My father’s mother was driving him nuts. She would shovel her own snow, she would mow her own lawn with her push mower, she would stay in that house. She apparently did not know that she was in her 70s.

When she finally permitted my father to think he’d prevailed, she wanted speed: decision made today; move tomorrow! I was a young adult at the time, and I found that my age was no deterrent to sense of loss. No more Grandma’s house?

Mourning, I went to help, unprepared for the energy with which Grandma was separating herself from her meager possessions. Panic seized me as I saw her emptying her pantry, and I launched myself into a goalie’s stance between her and the wastebasket. DON’T THROW THAT OUT! was wrenched from me every time she carried a discard across the kitchen. That dented colander, the freebie glasses from movie theaters, her noodle cutter — in the garbage? I don’t think so! Grandma indulged me and, with minumum head-shaking, handed over her cast-offs and, with them, comfort.

My grandchildren love grapes, and I wash their grapes in that dented colander. I see it in Grandma’s lap as she cleaned green beans at her kitchen table with the plastic tablecloth and the salt shaker with the rice in it. I see her cotton housedress and apron. I see behind her the screened door that thwacked smartly when left to close itself.

As I hoist the grape-weighted, dripping colander from my sink, I say to my grandchildren, “This belonged to your great-great-grandmother.”

Secretly I say HA! to my grandma. She might have sold the house but I got the good stuff.

One grandma's trash is another grandma's treasure.

One grandma’s trash is another grandma’s treasure.