Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.
[Jean Anouilh]

Daddy spent hours in his basement workshop every night after supper. My sister, Louise, and I weren’t allowed down there since the power saw and coal furnace posed dangers to rowdy children. For us, it was a place of mystery. We’d absorb heat from the grate in the living room while we listened to the radio, and the odd sounds that came up through the heat duct. He’d come up at our bedtime to share giggles and a bowl of popcorn with us.

That Christmas, we asked Santa for a doll press for Daddy. What a wonderful tool that would be—he could make us new dolls. We’d misunderstood when we heard him telling Mama that he surely could use a drill press. He didn’t get a drill press that year, and we didn’t get new dolls. We got something much better.

Under the tree on Christmas morning sat the most spectacular doll house I’ve ever seen. On a six-foot long base sat a ranch-style house with real windows, electric lights and a garage door that really opened. The roof had tiny green shingles, and lifted off so we could see into the rooms. Next to the garage was a utility room, then the kitchen, dining, and living rooms. At the far end of the house were three bedrooms and a bath. We were enthralled.

Through the years of our childhood, we added furniture that we bought at the dime store. We put a convertible in the garage, and Mama made accessories for it like tiny magazines and curtains. Our house sat in a corner of our dining room, and filled many hours of play time. Every Christmas, we’d put a tiny tree in its front window, cover it with cotton-batting snow, attach a sleigh and reindeer to the roof, and sit it under our Christmas tree.

When we were grown, Mama told us the rest of the story about our doll house. Money had been short that year so Daddy worried about what to give us for Christmas. He found a floor plan for a house in the newspaper, enlarged it, and built it from scraps of wood in his workshop. It didn’t cost him any money, but we remembered all of the hours he spent in the basement every night after working all day at the factory.

Our doll house sits in my sister’s living room now. Collectors have offered her considerable sums of money for it, but we know its true worth. It is priceless.