Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 7, 2006

Memories of the traveling playhouse

"Backyard Enchantment," a recent Kansas City Star article about do-it-yourself playhouses, reminded me of the ones my sister Gaila and I had growing up.

The first - a 39-inch wide by 51-inch long by 47-inch tall house - was built by Grandpa Nels Mostrom. The door - a mere 13 inches wide by 32 inches tall - allowed enough room for little girls to enter but was much too small for adults. Grandpa had put linoleum on the floor, made screened windows that swung open on the sides, built a shelf in the corner and added hooks along one inside wall for hanging our tin tea cups. It was the perfect place for tea parties.

As we got bigger, the house became too small for us, but was the right size for our many farm kittens.

Although we had outgrown that playhouse, we hadn't outgrown playhouses in general so we begged Mom and Dad to let us use the brooder house as our private space. They relented, but we had to share it with chicks the first few months until they were old enough to go to the larger chicken house.

We swept and scrubbed away the feathers and other reminders that birds had once occupied the premises. And, magically, the place alternately became a home, a restaurant, a school or a hospital, depending on where our imaginations led us.

When it was a home, we furnished it with little chairs and tables, kitchen appliances and other furniture we made out of boxes or stray pieces of wood. When it was a restaurant, we served mud pies, grass and leaf salads and fish made from the decorative gold plaster fish Mom had once used to decorate our bathroom. When the playhouse became a school, we taught our dolls their ABCs and numbers, using paper and crayons we had taken out of the house. And when we turned it into a hospital, we examined our dolls with the play stethoscope and thermometer from our play medical bag and bandaged them with gauze - also confiscated from the house.

I was glad we had that experience and I wanted our daughters - my two and Gaila's two to share playhouse memories during their summers together.

Although we moved off the farm and couldn't move the bigger brooder house with us, the small house that Grandpa had made easily fit into a pickup. My brother Dave and sister-in-law Linda had transported it to Salina for their two sons to play in and then Linda used the house for several years for her pre-school. Then they decided it would be good for the girls to have some hours of fun in it.

But on the trip from Salina to Manhattan, neither Gaila nor Dave thought to tie it down in the pickup bed. Traveling north out of Salina, Gaila looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the house tumbling end-over-end out of the truck and into the ditch.

She inspected the house and was surprised to see it still in one piece, albeit a bit beaten up. But she couldn't lift it alone, so she returned to Dave's home to get help.

But when he, his son and some of his son's friends arrived at the place where the house had taken a tumble, they discovered two guys loading the house into their truck.

"Is that your house?" Dave shouted at them. "No, I don't think so. That's MY house."

Dave is normally pretty easy going, but he was on a mission. His tall slender frame must have looked pretty menacing because the guys didn't argue and quickly drove off.

This time - carefully bungee-corded in place and with Gaila traveling no faster than 45 miles per hour - the house arrived safely. After a neighbor spruced it up with new shingles, new windows and a new paint job, we put it on a cement block under our deck.

The girls played in it some that summer, but I'm not sure that it will elicit the same fond memories that Gaila and I have of it and our other childhood playhouse. I guess they were a bit too old to spend the hours playing in it that Gaila and I did.

Or not!

When I checked inside recently, there were pages from a Garfield coloring book adorning the walls and ceiling and a couple of small logs and a few dishes - confiscated from my cupboards - on the floor.

Grandpa Mostrom has been gone 25 years now, but his traveling playhouse is still making memories!

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