My father walked in the door after work one day and, out of nowhere, asked, “How would you like to have a playhouse?” This was a stunning proposition, both in terms of its magnitude and timing—it was neither Christmas nor my birthday. Nevertheless, at 8 years old, I could hardly believe my good fortune and pounced on the offer before someone determined it was all a mistake.
In the spring, playhouse construction commenced at a residential building site located on a street my mom dubbed “Whiskey Row.” She coined the nickname because the big guns of the community— the bankers, lawyers and businessmen— hosted cocktail hour in their stately homes situated along this lane. Thus, every few days, during the tail end of third grade, my mother and I scooted across town to survey progress on my trophy.
A June date was finally set for delivering the playhouse to my yard. I was on tenterhooks all morning until I spied the flatbed truck coming down our street. The rig, manned by one driver and two beefcakes, painstakingly backed into our rear lawn. Meanwhile, curious neighborhood kids gathered, lured by the wonderment of the scene. I stood by with a swirl of emotions— pride, eagerness and awe. The workmen rolled the playhouse off the truck bed and positioned it onto cinder blocks, fiddled around to level everything, then departed. I was left with my treasure.
The playhouse exterior was painted white, with forest green shutters and geranium- filled window boxes. Old Glory waved on the front porch. The roughhewn inside consisted of exposed studs, ceiling joists and minimalist décor—a couple of folding chairs, one dictionary stand, a former-appliance- box-now-desk, and curtains my mother had sewn. There was one more thing—the playhouse came with lock and key.
The key, which never left my person, was a declaration of imperial authority. The playhouse was my domain and served whatever purpose I dreamed up that day—perhaps a house or school, though more often a hideout for a derring-do gang. It housed girl sleepovers with giggles and tittle-tattle— and afterward provided a retreat from pajama-party burnout.
After a few years, my family relocated. The playhouse came with us. Then, during my teens, there was another move. But I had grown up and we were heading a thousand miles away, so the playhouse stayed put. I never saw it again.
Although the fate of my childhood jewel remains a mystery, I did unearth how it was acquired. A woman came to my dad, a small-town surgeon, complaining of abdominal pain. The culprit was her gallbladder; it would have to come out. This family had limited means, but the woman’s husband was a carpenter, who was currently building a house on Whiskey Row. So a deal was struck: one cholecystectomy in exchange for a playhouse.
For a free-spirited girl there was never a more splendid gift than that playhouse. Yet, over time, I realized that I received something far greater than a hothouse for dreams. I witnessed firsthand an exemplar of compassion and wisdom in the form of an old-school doc who provided healing for an ailing woman and dignity for a penniless craftsman.
I have two grandsons. I am searching for property—a place with acreage for little boys to run and where I can erect a playhouse to serve as a gang hideout. And when we sit in that tiny house, I will tell them about their great-grandfather, a man who taught me the importance of grace, kindness and respect for others.
Nancy Currid lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and hopes that the prospect of a playhouse will entice her children and grandchildren to move to the South. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.