Ammo Grrrll remembers THE PLAYHOUSE. She writes:
Sometime in 1924, my maternal grandfather came home from a neighbor’s farm hauling what he called “a chicken coop for my three little chicks.” When his three small daughters, who were 3, 4, and 6 came running outside, they found a beautiful little white playhouse, about 5 or 6 feet square, sturdily built from wood with a steeped shingled roof and latching front door. (Even full-grown, I could still stand up in it at its highest point, although that’s really not saying much. Plus, I am jumping ahead in the story.)
My mother was the 3-year-old and she remembered that exciting day for all of her life. We were told a more detailed version of that story as a bedtime story for years. The little girls could not sleep that night and begged to sleep in the playhouse. Naturally, that lasted about 15 minutes until they heard a Hoot Owl and got scared and came back inside. But the playhouse remained their one toy – apart from a few dolls, a red wagon and a toy telephone – they had for their entire childhoods. And the Depression hadn’t even hit yet. People just didn’t have all the STUFF we have now. (Go to your kitchen. Look around. I’ll bet you a free lunch if you come to Arizona that you have enough dishes, stemware, utensils and cookware to outfit another one or two homes. Am I wrong? And that’s just one room. Okay, now come back and finish the column.)
Children in Mama’s day were kind of miniature adults. Even the smallest kids had farm chores – feeding the chickens, slopping the hogs. Mama said that what they mostly did in the playhouse was clean it. An uncle who was a prosperous carpenter in town gave them a doll buggy for someone’s birthday. Mother would dress up the baby pigs in doll clothes and take them for rides in the buggy. She tried it with cats and chickens as well, but it didn’t work out.
They were little girls, in training to be housewives and mothers. So they played with dollies, served endless tea, and took the few little furniture items out of the house and scrubbed the floor and put everything back. She said that they could send away for tiny samples of dry goods like baking powder, flour, and coffee, kind of a primitive version of Amazon. Sadly, there was no Internet to check to see that their package was “9 stops away” like now. They would trudge down the long driveway to the mailbox day after day to check and finally a little tin of tea or a miniature sack of flour would arrive!
My grandparents lost the farm, moved into one small town in South Dakota, got another farm when the economy improved, and, after Grandpa got Parkinson’s, sold the farm and moved into a small town in Minnesota. The playhouse came with them in Grandma’s back yard. By this time, of course, Mother and her next-older sister had married and produced six kids between them. The oldest sister, mildly handicapped from a difficult forceps delivery, never married. She doted on us nieces and nephews. We loved her dearly.
Visiting Grandma and playing with the cousins was a treat about three times a year. Well into my early teens, the playhouse was a source of fun. We played “House,” of course, as smaller girls, but also “Alamo,” “Emergency Room,” “School,” “Miss Kitty’s Saloon” (complete with choreographed fistfights) and “Pirate Ship.” It was best to play outside where Grandma couldn’t see that I was wearing slacks and not sitting quietly in a dress embroidering dishtowels or pillowcases.
Is there any family untouched by tragedy? Our oldest cousin drowned in a terrible accident between his sophomore and junior year of college. The rest of us grew up and married and most had children of our own. Grandma moved into a nursing home and the playhouse went to my parents’ home for my young son and my brother’s kids to play in, the third generation of children to enjoy it.
Our son loved the playhouse. By this time the playhouse had been re-roofed and a few rotting boards replaced, but it had now been around for over half a century, in pretty brutal weather. It was now outfitted with relatively expensive toys, “wall-to-wall” carpeting, and more “boyish” toys like blocks, trucks, LEGO, and guns. Girls had dominated previous generations, but boys were not going to be entertained with dolls and dishes, no matter how “fluid” anyone imagines genders to be. They aren’t. Take away little boys’ guns and they will use a carrot or a banana as a gun. Or, God forbid, chew their Pop Tart or bologna into the shape of a gun.
The grandkids grew up, as grandkids will, and one granddaughter had kids. The FOURTH generation in the playhouse. But my parents were now in their 90s and moved into Assisted Living. The family home was eventually sold to a divorced lady with three little girls, like everything had come full circle. We were very happy about that and cleaned up and painted the playhouse for them. We bequeathed them a variety of Fisher Price and PlaySkool toys and fancy child-size furniture that went with the playhouse.
Alas, when I visited my parents in Assisted Living just a few months later, I made the mistake of driving by my childhood home. The new family had already got rid of the playhouse! It was like a punch in the gut. I did not tell my mother, but a neighbor did. Mother was sad but resigned. No member of our extended family had had room or use for it. At the time, only two grandkids out of five had children. One already had a modern plastic playhouse for her kids. We lived in Arizona where getting it here “on spec” for a future grandchild would have cost a small fortune. We have rocks and cactus for a “yard.” You don’t tell a toddler to “go play in the cactus.” Plus, the HOA busybodies would have had a conniption fit even if it had been painted one of the 8 approved colors. There comes a time in most families when there is nobody appropriate to pass a beloved heirloom on to.
It seemed to me it was kind of a metaphor for many things – the relentless march of time, the difference in expectations of a simple Depression-era child and a modern kid. Nothing lasts forever. Not even a sturdy playhouse built with love and good lumber in 1924. But, on a positive note, it was great fun while it lasted. I couldn’t calculate the thousands of hours that little children had enjoyed it. And it had a helluva run, just shy of 90 years. Not bad for any piece of real estate before it becomes a teardown.
Today is the closest to Christmas that a once-a-week columnist can come. So I want to wish everybody a Very Merry Christmas. Next Friday will preview the impending release of the SECOND VOLUME of Ammo Grrrll columns called, Ammo Grrrll Aims True. It’s pretty darn funny. I hope to be caught up with all four years of columns by the 5th anniversary in March.
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