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.