When Noel returned from San Francisco without money or new orders, there was no lack of work to do to keep us afloat. When we weren’t building dollhouses or working our day jobs, we were learning to hunt, gather, barter and preserve. Our rental house came with a funky apartment over the garage, and, in summer, a fisherman/charter boat skipper tenant. A few nights a week, Bill would knock at the back door to point out the 2-3 salmon he had thrown on the lawn. The deal was we would smoke them for half the catch–Noel would fire up our trusty Little Chief Smoker—a little $50.00 plug-in aluminum box that turned raw fish into gold–and we’d be in fish. More treats came from the woman next door who ran a fruit & veggie stand on the highway. She’d show up after closing, usually around 10:00 p.m., with a handtruck stacked with boxes of rotten peaches she insisted I can or freeze then and there—“They won’t be any good by tomorrow!” Jams made from almost gone peaches turned out to be heaven, and worth staying up to deal with. Besides, Noel had to stay up and turn the fish in the smoker.
That December (1974), while we were digging in to fresh Dungeness crab (courtesy of the crab fisherman neighbor), our dollhouses were in New York enjoying a residency in the FAO Schwarz Christmas windows. One chilly morning a letter with a New York postmark arrived. It was from a retired psychiatric nurse asking us to build her a house. She had seen our work in New York and related the story of calling Schwarz to ask for our address, telling them she was a junior high shop teacher and wanted us to come talk to her class. I will call her Mary Ann and note that she set the pattern for what would be the often funny, ingenious and sometimes devious ways of the miniature collector. We didn’t know it then, but with that first commission we had graduated from toy builders to miniaturists. Plus, we had a fire in the woodstove (our sole heat), food in the belly, and no meetings to attend.