This post is part of a series of personal memories involving dollhouses. This story is written by a teacher from Wisconsin about his grandmother’s Tin Marx dollhouse. If you would like your story featured, please email it to email@example.com
Every Sunday morning as I was cozied in my bed, my father would come into my room, abruptly wake me, and tell me it was time to go. It was time for our weekly visit to my grandmother’s house. My father and I would walk up to her small cottage-like house and hope she was home; we never called ahead. If she was out with her knitting group or playing scrabble with a neighbor, we would leave and try again the following Sunday. If she was home, we would go in and sit for a while and then adventure through the house.
My grandmother was an eclectic single mother who took pride in filling her home with interesting items and oddities. Every nook and cranny was filled with vintage toys, crazy art, old books, and amazing objects. Sunday mornings at my grandma’s house were little adventures. Rummaging through piles of stuff trying to find a treasure. Grandma would tail a little further behind as I trekked through the house. She wove an ornate story about every single item I touched.
In all my adventures at my grandma’s house, I remember a particularly warm September morning more than the rest. I was off to explore through the oddities and see what type of things I could find that I hadn’t previously encountered. After a few minutes of rifling through a pile of old clothes, I uncovered a dollhouse under an old sheet.
Each of the small rooms seemed to glow with their own light and my grandmother’s face mirrored their warmth. Although the colors were worn on the Tin Marx Dollhouse it was still the brightest thing in the room. As a girl, my grandmother had modified the model. She previously had added felt to the floors and swatches of wallpaper from her childhood home to the walls. She picked up the dollhouse, set it on the kitchen table, pulled up a chair, and waved me over.
As we huddled around each individual room, my grandmother would tell me the story of the family that inhabited the early 1950’s Model. Most of the hard-plastic furniture that came with the set had disappeared over the years, but a few iconic pieces remained. As she began her story about a family of four, she righted the tipped furniture; the crib in the nursery, the sofa in the living room, and the refrigerator in the kitchen. She explained that the mother would stay at home to take care of the children, by her own choice of course, and the father would leave every morning for his job as a lawyer. She assured me that he’d be back that night. Her own father was a sailor in the Coast Guard and spent most of his time out on Lake Michigan.
She would continue to explain that the children, Sally and her baby brother Tim, had the best time with their mother in that house. They would play and learn all day. They would dance in the kitchen and sing together in the living room. When father came home at night, they would all gather around the kitchen table for a wonderful meal of roast chicken, braised carrots, and a perfectly baked apple pie.
I didn’t grasp the full importance of my Grandmother’s stories until after she passed. I grew up and stopped visiting so frequently, but my grandma’s house always was a place of wonder. She taught me that the weird can be wonderful and that everything has a story. Most importantly she taught me about imagination and the power of a dollhouse. In that worn Tin Marx dollhouse, my grandmother would escape from whatever troubles were placed upon her as a girl. It was in that dollhouse that my grandmother learned the power of imagination. Fifty years later, she taught me how to use that power. I can never thank her, and that dollhouse, enough.
Travis Whitt is a storyteller and teacher in Wisconsin. He enjoys sharing stories and finding magic wherever he can.
My mother had this exact Marx model – I am happy to learn the brand and see it again here. I love looking at the details on the walls in each room that I only vaguely recall, along with the little windows that I can almost feel when I see the punched tin diamonds. Mom received it from Santa when she was perhaps 4 in the mid-forties – but remembers being somewhat disappointed that she had not received a doll carriage. She admits she may have only asked for the doll carriage on Christmas Eve so Santa did not have time to change his surprise gift.
We no longer have the house, which I only regret now that I have rediscovered my passion for miniatures. It was sold a few years ago as it was very large to store, no one was terribly interested in it, and some of the roof paint had been scrubbed away in an effort to remove a stain. Though the structure is gone, the furniture was saved. It was furnished with Mom’s original pieces for 40+ years with not very many changes or additions – a combination of plastic pieces and wooden sets that also came from Santa. It was a toy house for playing pretend, not a hobby house for creations. So when I decided that I wanted a new dollhouse as a teen, I found that her house and furnishings had a very small scale that wasn’t compatible with my growing collection. Some room sets are 1:16 scale and others are 1:18, neither of which fit with my 1980’s 1:12 scale structure. I have done a little bit of research recently to learn that the solid walnut pieces were from the Nancy Forbes Dream House line. Most of the sets for each room are complete, though all of the table lamps are missing. Mom does not recall that any of the furniture was in a package, but rather already in the house under the Christmas tree. The mystery that remains is the fact that the bed and vanity are skirted in a little green trim which doesn’t appear in any Nancy Forbes images I find online. Mom doesn’t know who expertly outfitted them – maybe a special Nancy Forbes set, or maybe Mrs. Claus?
Thank you for the walk down memory lane!