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Her adult children were in transition, and so were her living arrangements. But a discarded dollhouse reminded her of her many blessings.
A perfectly good cabinet just sat by the dumpster in the parking lot behind Toys “R” Us. Probably a floor model they were getting rid of, I figured. I pulled the cart right up to it.
My family was in need of all the extra storage space we could find at this point. We were living on top of one another in the small house my husband, Martin, and I owned, its walls bursting at the seams.
Our youngest son had stopped his college courses and moved home while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Our eldest had been hit hard by the recession. He’d moved back home too while he looked for work, bringing along his wife and my precious grandbaby.
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Currently the living room was full of baby clothes and blankets in neat stacks along the walls. This cabinet wouldn’t solve all our problems, but at least the living room would look a little less chaotic.
It seemed like just yesterday that everything was in its place, I thought as I went inside the store to ask about the cabinet. Then it all fell apart.
“That cabinet is yours if you want it,” the store manager said. “Check the box out there too. I can’t even remember what’s inside.”
One of the nice things about the boys being back home was that their father and I never had to do the heavy lifting. “Wesley, meet me behind the Toys ‘R’ Us,” I told our youngest over the phone. Once he arrived we got the cabinet loaded in my trunk.
Then we opened the big, oblong box and peeled back the Styrofoam wrapping. Inside was a five-foot-tall dollhouse, never been used.
Even the little furniture was intact: a pink bed and matching nightstand; a tub in my favorite shade of green; and a couch and lamp in baby blue, the color of my own living room at home.
“Wow!” I said.
“We should take this too,” Wesley said. “Luke might play with it when he gets a little older.” What a thoughtful uncle Wesley was. We’d make room for the dollhouse somehow.
At home we set it up in the living room. Late that same night, while everyone else was asleep, I crept back in there to look at it again. I’d seen a dollhouse like this before. It was long ago, when I was a child.
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I was five or six at the time, with my mother at the drugstore. As she put her items on the counter, I spotted an elaborate dollhouse in a glass case.
I knew better than to ask about it. Toys were an extravagance for other children. Children whose lives weren’t ruled by the chaos brought on by alcoholic parents. Certainly, a toy so pretty and expensive would be completely out of place in our ragtag home.
But there in the drugstore I could admire it through the glass. When I grow up, I’ll marry a prince and we’ll live in a nice house like that one, I reasoned way back when.
A house just like the orderly dollhouse I was staring at now: everything neat and clean and in its proper place. The vow that my adult life would be different had gotten me through some terrifying and lonely times.
But what had it all come to? Every one of us under this roof was at loose ends. It would take more than a new cabinet to get things in order around here.
I went to bed with the image of that perfect dollhouse in my head. I’m sorry, I thought, drifting off. I wanted to apologize to that little girl in the drugstore. She never got the neat, clean, ordered life she’d prayed for.
The next evening I was getting everything ready for dinner. My daughter-in-law was setting the table. Wesley and I were in the kitchen, getting the gravy just right. The others were in the den, watching the game.
“Come and get it!” Wesley shouted. We all sat down at the table. Luke squirmed in his high chair. I looked out at the well-loved faces around me–faces I now got to see every night. Suddenly I felt so very thankful. “Let’s say grace,” I announced. “Everyone grab hands.”