A story of a craftsman
| "She may donate a magnificent doll house my dad made to a museum." So said Michael, my client in reference to planning his mother's taxes for next year. "Magnificent doll house", what a lovely phrase, made more poignant by the fact that Dad made it.
Today, if I were to want a magnificent dollhouse, I would have to visit an upscale store in some tony village catering to people in $45,000 cars. "Make" is a word that is on the endangered species list.
Before a rant could take possession of me, memories rushed in. My brother made my niece a dollhouse. Magnificent it was not, but it was utilitarian and delighted my daughter when she saw it. My brother's skills came from my father, an electrician who found work in the deep depression at an oil refinery and retired from there in 1970.
Dad's father, the putative German spy who ended blind and whom I never met, was a carpenter. Every so often Dad would tell the story of his bold commando raid on his sister's dollhouse, made for her by the carpenter-father, Charles Lidle. The swashbuckler blew it up with firecrackers and cherry bombs, but ended up facing the firing squad of his father's belt.
Dad would only tell the story to his daughter-in-laws; relating it to his children would somehow have removed some of his aura. He would never try anything in front of us that he could not do. He would not play ball, or participate with my sister in our summer ritual of playing miniature golf, though mother would play every night with us. He would stand outside smoking his cigar.
Ah, but I am getting away from the doll house, and after taking the link back another generation to almost the turn of the century. Was 'making' a prerequisite for survival back then? My client is a historian, he would know better than I, but there is strong evidence for the theory.
Dad never made a dollhouse. I suppose he had an aversion to them after the earlier incident. Is this why his daughter turned out to be another baseball player and not one enchanted with dolls?
Dad's specialty was trains. The house I lived in the first six years of life had a permanent train platform in the basement. He assembled the trains from kits, but the platform itself was his little world that he built from scratch. I remember little of it but the post-modern factory with a saw tooth roof made from Venetian blind slats.
I suspect my brother helped him and developed his talent from the time spent in that basement. Knowing my father, he probably conducted a scorched earth operation before we moved to Venezuela and then to our house in the suburbs. There he put up a rudimentary platform for my sister and I, but the houses we made were from plastic kits. That was about my skill level.
He spent his time finishing the house, putting up molding, wainscoting, spackling and tiling the ceilings. His magnum opus was the cyclone fence around the property. Who knows where he found the pipe for the posts and frame that held the fencing? I can only remember the material sitting in our garage until he began.
He dug each hole with a post hole digger and set the pipe in cement, and then bent the frame to follow the contour of the ground. When ready, he attached the fencing. He had this ratchet device which would pull the cyclone taught. He would enlist my help to pull on the cyclone to see if we could get it tighter, while he turned the handle on his tool.
This form of dynamic tension would give him a fence I could bounce my basketball off. That was the final test before he was satisfied enough to paint it, and not just the posts but the wire, green. Fortress Lidle was now ready to withstand the raiders. No cherry bomb could destroy it.
DeGaulle told Malraux that old age was a shipwreck. It is one of the few certainties I believe. As Dad aged, his creations gave way. The tiles began falling from the ceiling, the molding looked old and tired, the electrical fixtures failed, but the fence kept standing and it was still there in 1995 when the house was sold. Had I known Michael then, I might have asked if he knew a museum for cyclone fences.