Saturday, July 23, 2011

$248,000 playhouse: grotesque, delightful

One of my mother's students, Susie, grew up not far away from our home in the Castro, then known as Eureka Valley.  I remember a visit to Susie's house and meeting her parents, and having delicious coffee cake, something I'd never eaten before.  Delicious crumbly brown sugar and butter topping!  I was probably 7 years old at the time, at the most.  My sisters were not along for this visit, so it felt special. I have a memory of wearing a yellow dress that day, but who knows really.  It's possible.

Besides the coffee cake, and the tether ball set-up outside, what I really remember about that sunny afternoon is the playhouse that Susie's father had made her.  Of course Susie, then a high school student, was too old for it, too big for it, but oh, how neatly I fit.

It was a tiny cottage with a split door and two little flower-filled window-boxes under two tiny windows. From my seat at the tiny table inside, I could gaze out over the closed bottom-half of the door and see the tippy-top of the tether-ball pole and the sky, the grown-up voices so far away.  Little shelves ran along one wall, covered with play dishes and tiny house-things.  I was utterly enchanted.  At last, here was my long-sought paradise: my own place on my own scale, a retreat in which I was in charge, no bossy big people allowed.

Except that it was in someone else's backyard.

I dreamed of that little house for years, wished and wished that my crafty father would make me one.  With his skills, he could have made me one out of painted cardboard and some empty tea-tins and it would have stood the test of time.  But I never got one.  As my parents knew, I didn't need one, really.  We had all of the open space of our neighborhood, all of the hiding places offered by the row of tall Victorians across the street, all of the privacy afforded by being wild in the street.

And yet, when I read Playhouses: Child's Play, Grown-Up Cash in this week's NY Times, it all came flooding back: the longing, the enchantment.  Take a moment and click through to view the slideshow.  Amazing!  And while I do think $248,000 is an absurd amount of money for a playhouse, wow, that playhouse is something else!  It would be amazing to be a kid with access to it, to get to walk across those suspended bridges into a private little housey all your own.  And then use the zip-line to the nearby castle.  It would be like having Disneyland or Mr. Roger's Neighborhood in your own backyard.  So Swiss Family Robinson!!

Yes, children can be perfectly fine with a cardboard box to play in, to make into their little playhouse.  And of course it's entirely unnecessary to have your own private Disneyland in your own private yard.  But sometimes I still dream of that little cottage, the set-aside of a space that would be just mine, just the right size, small and cute, charming little window-boxes, split door and all.

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