Remember my bunny house, and the magical story of the doll houses that my parents built?
Well...here's the original. The first. Hewn from the trunk of a massive pine that fell across our road during one tumultuous, stormy winter's night when I was small. My father cut it into segments in the morning, removed the debris from the road, and hauled the best piece home to his studio. He cut down the branches, sliced off one side, and carved out the insides. He chiseled the stubs of the branched into windows and cut out arched doorways. He built balconies from plywood, and ladders from stained and sanded scrap.
Mike and I hauled it down from my mother's pristine attic, where it has nestled among the stacks that store both my parents' paintings from over the decades. She brought down two neatly labeled boxes of doll house furniture and, much the worse for wear but still achingly beautiful (more on that in a later post) the miniature dolls that originally inhabited it. In place of some of the more fragile and time-worn pieces, my mother bought Q a family of rabbits to take occupancy of the tree house.
An instant hit, as you can imagine.
The curtains (hand sewn by my mother) are dusty, the ribbons falling down from their original swags. The handmade rugs are curled and tattered with age and loving use. The tiny silk flowers and moss that originally decorated the outside of the tree are crumbled and grey, some torn away by tiny fingers, some simply disintegrated with light and time. But the main structure of this fabulously-conceived piece holds true and strong. The walls are as polished, glowing and beautifully-carved as ever, the three floors so solid that, in spite of its massive weight, you can carry it by them without a single nail easing loose. The wheels still roll, the balconies are straight and true, and the roof - raised just a bit and slanted front to back, in a nod to modern architecture, on pegs in order to leave a sort of modernist clerestory at the top of the house - is still flush and sturdy.
Look at the perfect, regular marks of my father's chisel in the arch of that doorway, in the chute of that window. My father, born so poor that he lived in a one-room, dirt-floor shack with his parents and 11 surviving siblings, went on to be the valedictorian of his highschool class, in spite of the fact that English was not his first language. Following that, he won, in his 20s, a prestigious spot as one of the government-sponsored WPA artists who decorated government buildings throughout the Midwest with his spectacular historical murals, and later a Fulbright grant, and places in many of the world's most prestigious museums as well as the Library of Congress. Trained only as an apprentice to a prominent artist of the time, he was also a self-taught architect who designed and built from the ground up one of the houses we lived in during my childhood.
It's no wonder, then, that this miniature oeuvre is such an enduring work of art, design and construction. It feels like a posthumous honor to him, then, to see the next generation of our family enjoying the work of love that he created for me one long, cold winter's day when I was small.
This one's for you, Papa. I hope you are somewhere beautiful watching this now and listening to my loving words. OX - Your MaiTai.