By the time we moved to Crockett Street, it was our 4th residence, and I had just finished 4th grade.
Dad had built our previous house himself, a beautiful pink brick ranch, but the house cost too much to keep up. It must have disappointed my father to leave behind the house he had put his heart into. I don’t remember his feelings–or my mother’s–about the move, though, because I was caught up in my unhappiness. It felt to me as if every time I started to get comfortable in a new school and new neighborhood, we had to move.
That’s when Dad decided to build a house we could take with us when we moved.
It was a playhouse he erected at the rear boundary of our backyard. The eight-by-ten foot edifice was created out of old boards and roof tiles Dad re-purposed, sided with yellow siding he had scrounged from an empty lot.
Inside the playhouse, Dad built a bench on two sides and above those, up at the ceiling, the rafters formed long wooden pockets. Up there, we stored secret agent supplies like decoder rings and invisibility raincoats and private notes listing the boys we liked, but eventually those things became irretrievable as the wasps set up nests and when Dad periodically removed those, the spiders took over.
Over time we discovered that during the summer the little house was too hot. Within minutes we’d end up hauling the little table and chairs out onto the grass because we couldn’t bear to stay inside. In the winter, the air was as icy inside as it was outside, but the snow and ice couldn’t get in, so we’d sit on the benches in our snow pants and stocking caps and play Candyland. Our fingers froze as we pushed our tokens, but then we’d pull our hands back up into the sleeves of our jackets until it was our turn again.
After a while we lost interest in the playhouse and started walking up to the plaza for something to do.
The house still stood at the back lot line, a fading reminder of my childhood, until we discovered a new use for the little building. When I entered junior high, boys were no longer just names on a list or our stinky younger brothers driving their trucks through muddy dirt piles.
My friends and I loved sleepovers, but with the playhouse we had a place to sleep and entertain friends without being actually inside our own houses. Some of our first get-togethers with boys happened in that playhouse. While it was all innocent fun ;), I’m pretty sure my parents thought I was still playing board games with my girlfriends.
While we lived in that house, Dad bought a piece of lake property on the shallow weedy end of the lake. When we had to move to a new house, Dad strapped the playhouse onto a borrowed flatbed truck and hauled it out to the lake where we dubbed it “The Changing House.”
Inside we stored stretched out bathing suits, Styrofoam floaties, and boat cushions. Daddy long leg spiders set up residence in there, too, wrapping everything in webs so that when we wanted to use something we had to make sure our hands were dry enough to wipe them clean or the webs would adhere to our skin until we jumped in the lake to clean off.
One night when I came in from a moonlit row with friends and needed some mosquito repellant, I caught my twelve-year-old brother in the little house with the fourteen-year-old girl next door. The playhouse was now in the hands of the “new generation.”
I tried to do some online research about the history of playhouses, but I haven’t had a lot of luck so far. One problem is that the term “playhouse” is used so often for a theatre. There are also a lot of websites about making playhouses for children today–and that makes me happy that the playhouse is alive and well.
Playhouses are related to forts and treehouses. Somebody had built a treehouse out by the dump which was behind our house, but it wasn’t my personal space like the playhouse. Long before the playhouse came into my life, forts were important to my childhood, so I hope to write next about forts.
This post is thanks to Sarah Cedeño‘s comment on her own blog when we discussed my father’s bomb shelter.