I do not remember having a lot of toys when I was a little girl. My family was poor, and even buying paper dolls was something that could only be done on rare special occasions. I learned to get more mileage out of paper dolls from one of our teen-aged neighbors, who taught me how to draw new clothes for them by tracing around a paper doll’s figure. Many of the things that inspired my imagination were to be found outdoors: rocks, various backyard flora and fauna, and, as a result of my father being a carpenter, some odds and ends of construction debris such as blocks of wood.
Where I made out like a bandit was in the area of anything for a kid to play in, on, or with that could be constructed from wood. When I was probably still a toddler my father built a toy box for me. It was painted red and designed to look like a circus wagon, with appliquéd animals and a fancy carved border around the top. And it had wheels and a handle, so I could pull it around. All of my toys fit into it easily. And best of all, when we lived in a house that had a deep yard with lots of open space, my father built me a play house. It was also painted red. It probably wasn’t more than 8’ x 10’, and possibly less, but it seemed plenty big to my friends and me. We would even use the extra wood blocks to mark out separate “rooms” in the house. It had a door in the middle of the front with a window on either side, and a window on each side. The back was solid. To the left was a sandy area bordered by a mulberry tree and apricot tree (this was in Southern California) where my friends and I would play variations on Swiss Family Robinson and Beach Bums (who also lived on a deserted island and built their own house; a lot of my neighborhood playmates were boys who didn’t seem to know who the Swiss Family Robinson were, so I think I just ended up saying, “Well, then, pretend we’re beach bums”).
There were a couple of times when I could not play in the playhouse; those were the two times that our German Shepard Trina had puppies. She always went to the playhouse to have her puppies and we could fix it up to keep her and the puppies warm and comfortable.
On the right side of the playhouse was our vegetable garden. When I was given a few plants of my own to take care of, I decided the playhouse would be a farm house and I was the farmer. That may have been when my love of gardening started.
On the other side of the garden was the garage-cum-workshop that my father built for himself. I can still remember him sawing and hammering wood in there while I played in my playhouse. I would go in to get whatever scraps I could to furnish my little house. To this day one of the smells I most love is the smell of newly sawed wood.