Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Clutter? No, my childhood.

When I first walked through the house we've lived in for eight years now, the owners had taped handmade arrow signs throughout the rambling downstairs. Past the peach-colored room with French doors and the biggest entertainment console I'd ever seen, down a dark hall past a laundry room and bathroom, signs said "Keep Going! Don't Give Up Yet!" I finally crossed through a barren storage room with rough concrete floors to see a door in the corner with an arrow beckoning and behind that: another narrow shelved storage area, and a wholly unnecessary second kitchen.

My dad's first reaction, when he saw the embarrassment of storage space in the new house compared to the snug bungalow from which we were moving, was to shake his head and say, "If you've got it, you'll fill it up."

I think of that response each spring when I enter the narrow storage space, determined to pare down its contents, and see my box of troll dolls sitting on the shelf. 

Constant companions through my elementary school years in the '70s, the five trolls - Herbert and Pinky were the parents, Hubert, Buttercup, and Daisy were their three same-sized kids - are still packed into a tissue box-turned-camper and surrounded by little cough drop tins containing their homemade wardrobes. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Blumberg, had a strict no-dolls rule for her class. But because we were suck-up good girls and she must have had too few of those, my best friend Kitty and I were allowed to bring in our respective troll families and line them up on the edge of the desk every day, their googly eyes bearing witness to the blatant favoritism. 

For two girls who were singled out as class leaders, Kitty and I sure fought a lot. We had a major argument nearly every day of third grade; by fifth grade we were no longer speaking. (No worries: that troll foundation proved enduring - even though she lives on the other side of the globe now, Kitty's still one of my dearest friends.) 

Trolls enjoying view of scenic Bar Harbor
Even if we fought, we at least agreed on our trolls. We spent afternoon stretched out on our respective bedroom floors, cutting scraps of fabric into tiny shirts and dresses and sewing clumsy single button closures on the back. That summer her family took me along on an epic road trip to Maine, and most of my souvenir pictures are close ups of the trolls, with lighthouses or lobsters or starfish fuzzy in the background.

At some point - probably around the first time a boy asked me to sit with him for the haunted house ride at Roseland Park -  I boxed them up, sealed the box with duct tape, wrote TROLLS on it and threw it into my parent's attic. Eventually they slapped a mailing label on the box and sent it out to California where my husband and I are raising two daughters. When the oldest one entered third grade, I pulled out the box, surprised to see that Herbert and Pinky were still nestled in the chaste matrimonial embrace in which I entombed them.

"Girls, here. I want you to have these. They were extremely special to me. Here, see all the cute little clothes I made?"

Within about an hour of surreptitiously watching the girls while pretending to cook dinner, I swooped in to rescue them. The trolls, not the daughters. Herbert NEVER wore the argyle vest made from the top of my dad's work socks, and anyone could see that Buttercup looked terrible in mauve. I packed up the box; the fact that the kids didn't protest was probably a sign that the relationship was never going to work out anyway.

Did I throw them out when I started this year's spring cleaning? Of course not. The box is back in the storage area. And I await the arrival of my grandchildren in twenty years with hope eternal.

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