I was a terrible daughter. After college I put a whole continent between myself, my parents and my childhood. Eight years later my biological clock (or was it my mother?) was urging me to get married and have children, in that order. It was 1975–the Watergate trials were winding down, Barry Manilow was turning “Mandy” into gold. When Noel and I decided to take the plunge, we were already joined at the hip by home and career. We talked about it one night, and the next day were on our way to the county seat to get a license. Along for the ride was a friend who was picking up his divorce decree. When my sister was married my mother turned into a clipboard—she was efficient and doting, but the months of planning, dresses, invitations, tears and rituals drove me crazy. I thought a home wedding with two friends and a judge would do fine. I called my mother five days before, knowing she wouldn’t have time to get there. Being Mother, and ever-forgiving, she did arrange with friends to have flowers and champagne present, and mailed us on of her stellar baba au rhum cakes. I tried to record the ceremony for her, but mid-stream the cats got in a fight in the dining room, snagging the tablecloth and pulling it and the baba to the floor. By the time we began again, the cassette machine had clicked off, forgotten. She didn’t have to know the judge almost slept through the ceremony (his first question when we called to waken him was, in panic, “Is your mother there?”). The flowers were beautiful, and the baba was grand, if only in scraped-together spoonfuls.
In 1975 I changed jobs to produce and “star” in a one hour daily radio program broadcast over the telephone via a small-time station in Seaside, Oregon. Besides providing local news and interviewing town luminaries (including the high school band, and Noel) I had to get my own sponsors, write, read and record their spots. For a while it was more fun than the hardware store. Noel was painting the local, full-scale saltwater taffy store Pepto Bismol pink. In between times we built three more dollhouses, all on commission. And we acquired a dog—Sunshine, a golden Lab mix.
Our second commission came from a couple from who saw the first displayed in the window of our wedding witnesses’ pottery store. They wanted a red Victorian. By this time we’d learned to take a down payment. We delivered the house on Halloween, after a long drive north in the VW camper with the dog. We arrived in time for dinner, and had been invited to stay the night. Their house was plain, like a series, or warren, of connected low garages or modular units. It turns out they were collectors, and had built a house to defy thieves and the tax assessor. The walls were cinderblock covered in wood siding. Inside was an astonishing and eclectic museum—antique snuff boxes, dinnerware from the captain’s tables of old sailing ships, Early American antiques and itinerant salesman samples, and dolls. Dolls everywhere. Doing things. Dolls eating in highchairs, dolls at play, washing clothes in tiny tubs, reading or sewing.
We were wined and dined, and we shot some pool. At midnight they showed us the vault where the dollhouse would live, a huge room accessed via a door behind the pool cue rack. It was floor to ceiling dolls of every description—ancient idol dolls, Chinese doctor dolls, China dolls– a fortune in antique dolls, all busy at work and play in their doll furniture and playthings. It was as if they had stopped whatever they were doing when we came through the door. It began to feel a little weird. Later, as we settled into our twin beds under perfect antique quilts in the room next to the vault, I wondered if we might be waking up tiny in the morning, shrunk into doll-like people, forever building our miniature house. Noel was worrying about Sunshine, outside in the van on a cold night, and decided he needed to bring her in. He was gone a long time, and I had dozed off, to be awakened by a vague scratching noise and tiny voice on the other side of the wall. No, not dolls coming to life, but Noel on the outside, trying to get in. The front door had locked behind him, and he didn’t want the customers to wake and see him bringing the dog in to their precious surroundings. It was a long night, but we awoke in scale, and in time to smuggle Sunshine out to the car before anyone was the wiser. Or they were cool enough to say nothing about it.