Restoring Imagination

The two-story house had sat empty for well over three decades. It was probably closer to four, but no one could really remember the last time the dwelling had been used.


Abandoned long ago.

Its bright yellow siding had faded from the color of sunshine on a bright summer morning to the hue of the powdered lemonade mix that settles to the bottom of the pitcher when it has been left to sit in the refrigerator past its time. The stark white trim, in the few places where it still remained, now shown no brighter than dirty water in a puddle.

Windows bowed and cracked in the summer heat while their panes slowly gave way and fell askew. Chimneys crumbled and eventually vanished as they turned to dust. The railing of the staircase leading to the attic bedroom had long since collapsed and the stairs from the main floor had become dangerously loose over time.


Years of disuse lead to destruction.

The Victorian-era furniture had all been wrapped with care before being abandoned to swelter in disuse. Over time, however, the protection had failed to keep a layer of dust from accumulating on the plush, emerald green sofa and a musty smell from overtaking the floor coverings.

This had once been the home of the Harris Family–John, Jeannie and their three children. The oldest child was Suzie, and while evidence of her and her parents’ names have been found on long-ago posted mail, the names of their son and baby daughter remain unknown.

John was a business man, leaving home every morning in coat and tie and returning in the evening to lounge on the emerald sofa reading the newspaper by the warm fireplace.  Jeannie, by all appearances was a homemaker, roasting turkeys and baking pies, while her children played Monopoly or read quietly in their third-floor room.


Evidence of family life.

Both sets of grandparents were known to visit frequently, often bringing with them gifts of kittens, toy trains or boxes of store-bought donuts.

This was a happy family. Happy, that is, until the driving force of their joy stopped visiting as often. That giver of joyful life experiences was a little girl with ginger curls and an active imagination. She would stop by the little yellow house every day to play with the children and help Jeannie cook dinner for her work-weary husband. She planned parties and birthday surprises. She was there when the grandparents came calling and when the children went to bed.

She…was me.

I was not much older than the Young One when my mother told me I was not allowed to enter the basement for a few weeks. I could sense the excitement in the new rule, and I knew that on the other side of that basement door was a surprise. Being a lover of surprises, I had no intention of crossing that threshold even when my brother was allowed access or when my granddad stopped by for an unexpected visit only to disappear behind that closed door. He and my father would be below for hours, leaving me to imagine what greatness awaited me at the end of their project.

My anticipation reached its climax Christmas morning when waiting under the tree for me was a shiny new miniature dollhouse all sunny and bright and handcrafted for me by my father, his father and his son. The draperies hanging on each sparkling window had been stitched with my mother’s own hand. Each subsequent gift that year offered another piece of the house and its family–a velvet covered sofa, a butcher’s block, a canopy bed. Then came the dolls with their painted smiles and fabric bodies, all waiting for me to tell their stories.

I spent years with the Harris family, but as girls do, I eventually outgrew the fascination. Playing with makeup and experimenting with hairstyles became more important, until eventually my mother covered the unused house with an old hoop skirt, wrapped and boxed each accessory and moved it all to a dark corner of the attic.



That is where it stayed…until two months ago when she decided the time was right to pull it out and re-gift it to her granddaughter. When my parents traveled the highway from Pennsylvania to Kentucky to spend Christmas with me and my family, they brought with them a van full presents and a long-neglected dollhouse.

The Young One and I are now in active restoration mode. We’ve disinfected every surface, vacuumed the carpets and laundered the handmade curtains. We’ve pulled off the loose trim and discarded the irreparable staircase railing.

And finally, we’ve awakened the wonder of the Harris family. Suzie is playing school again with her brother and baby sister. John is back at work after an extended leave and Jeannie is back in the kitchen showering her family with all the love she can fit into her menu.

Furnished Dollhouse

Ready to play!

We still have work to do. The trim needs replacing, and the window panes need a fresh coat of paint. If an imaginary rainstorm comes to the neighborhood, poor Suzie and her siblings will be washed out as the roof currently has two gaping holes where the chimneys used to be.

Years of joy await the Harrises and their yellow house again, and I can’t wait to watch the stories unfold.

Have you ever passed down a beloved toy to your children?


4 thoughts on “Restoring Imagination

  1. What a beautiful doll house! I remember, vividly, how desperately I wanted a doll house. I would have settled for a pink, plastic one from K-mart, but my dad sent off for blue prints and architecture plans for a Grand Victorian number. He spent time penciling in lines for hardwood floors and bannisters. Needless to say it would have been gorgeous. I say would have been because he never finished it and I never got the longed for doll house. Strangely the memory doesn’t bring sadness with it, but happiness at what my father had planned for me, even though it never happened. He is not alive anymore, but I like to think he would have finished it someday, if not for me, for the grandchildren. Enjoy your house and your memories!

  2. Pingback: Calling All Superheroes | Stiletto Momma

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