In Which I Remember How We Captured the Castle


For the most part, I enjoy being an adult. Not the bill-paying, waking-up-early-for-work, everlasting-dish-washing, grocery-shopping, calling-maintenance-because-the-heating-system-broke-during-Pennsylvania's-polar-vortex moments, of course, but the freedom to make my own decisions, drive my own car, work at a job that feels like I am making a difference in the world, rent a hotel room and have my own money to spend on all the sewing supplies I want.  (Well, okay, within budget.)  But there are elements of my childhood that I miss with a fervency that surprises me sometimes.  One of those wishful feelings seemed especially keen tonight.

I miss the Disney princess castle dollhouse that my sister and I used to play with.

It's a funny thing to long for, but it often comes to mind.  It was one of those dollhouses that opened like a book, swinging out on two sides of a door-like hinge, with a clasp mechanism (quickly broken off after a short lifetime of rough handling) that was meant to lock all the tiny dolls and their accessories safe inside.  We often left it open after the clasp broke, just so the ongoing game wouldn't be interrupted.  

What set it apart from other dollhouses was its shape - and, to be honest, the brand name.  Made by Disney, and (I think) purchased in a bona fide Disney store, it had been a Christmas gift from my aunt in faraway Florida who had the most marvelous of all jobs: a safari bus driver at Walt Disney World.  The dollhouse (which we always just called "the castle") was a miniature, not-quite-to-scale replica of the famed Cinderella castle in the Magic Kingdom.  It housed a collection of plastic, not-quite-to-scale miniature princesses and princes. And one Beast, because everyone knows the human version of the so-called Prince Adam is pretty lame. Belle, Jasmine, the Beast and Aladdin were under my jurisdiction; my sister Carolyn, younger by two years, had charge of Aurora and Cinderella, Princes Phillip and Charming.  (Note: the creative flow of a blog post is somewhat stagnated by the pause to Google whether Prince Phillip is supposed to be spelled with one L or two.)  If memory serves, we usually shared Snow White and her boring nameless prince (posthumously called Daniel by the Disney canon).  The castle had no real furniture beyond a few built-in shelves and tables, but each princess had a special plastic accessory as a kinetic aid to storytelling. I have vague recollections of a spinning wheel and wishing well, but the others weren't particularly memorable.

The memorable part was in the games we'd play.  The house where we lived in those days had a cold, gray, unfinished basement, a place we were required to keep neat on paper, but in reality was usually a haven and treasure trove of un-put-away toys.  Looking back now, it probably drove my mother crazy (the older I get, the deeper I understand her abhorrence for clutter) but it was our magical retreat in the evenings when it became too dark to play outside.  We'd lie on our stomachs on the unyielding cement floor, sometimes on a couple of old pieces of carpet if the surface was too cold, and work on our "story."  All the princesses and princes lived in the castle together, you see, in what I suppose was some sort of hippie commune, in which nobody actually worked for a living and everybody had ridiculous hobbies that got on each other's nerves.  There was witty repartee and there were performances in varying degrees of talent, and I can't remember a single night of sitting there staring at each other and saying, "I don't know what to do next."

Because in those days we always knew what to do next, even if it was a rehashing of the events of last night - this time funnier and with more slapstick and more bad singing! At nine and eleven, we had no concept of writer's block or feelings of insufficiency in storytelling. If one of us brought up a plot point that was boring, the other would let her know about it in no uncertain terms.  If a line that should have been executed brilliantly fell flat on its face, we simply didn't laugh.  And the story moved on.

That, really, is what I miss - the incredibly free, devil-may-care attitude of telling a story without really caring what happened next, without worrying about inadequacy or redundancy.  The creative spark wasn't a spark; it was a flame. A crackling, in-your-face, laughing-on-the-concrete-floor, being-shushed-because-younger-siblings-are-sleeping kind of flame.  Bedtime didn't shut it out; even after we had been sent to top bunks in the bedroom we shared with two younger sisters, we'd whisper stories after the lights were out and we were, supposedly, asleep. (An enchanted castle also figured strongly in a different long, rambling tale Carolyn invented over a course of several evenings, come to think of it - except that one was heavily plagiarized from favorite E. Nesbit books, with no shame from either of us.)  

After a while, of course, we were too old to play with the castle, and it became a toy brought out only when smaller neighbor children came over.  It survived the move to a new, bigger house, only to be relegated to another unfinished basement.  Most of the pieces have been lost or disintegrated over the years.  Most of the stories have been forgotten. My sister and I grew up.  

But my sister still writes, and I still... well, I still want to write.  I don't want to give up on the stories that once spilled from me effortlessly. I don't want to let the relentless march of adulthood rob me of the itch to tell a story in a good way, a right way, a way that leaves a mark on the reader or the listener or the little girl playing with plastic dolls in a farmhouse basement.  

Cinderella's body was the first to break, by the way.  Just snapped off at her impossibly tiny waistline, so that she was half bodice-and-arms-and-head and half poofy, solid ballgown skirt.  We superglued her back together a few times, but nevertheless she persisted in breaking herself apart again and again. Finally we gave up and she became a headless half-body, talking and hopping around the castle just like the others, except completely topless in the most literal sense of the phrase, and convulsing us with laughter.  

These days I feel sometimes as though my job and my apartment and my husband who I love with all my heart and my other hobbies and my nagging feeling that I ought to exercise more are all such good reasons not to write, not to tell stories.  But as a kid I powered through a headless, torso-less princess - took the time to painstakingly put her back together, and finally just accepted her the way she was and used her for the next episode of adventures anyway.  

I suppose, as a smarter, more skilled, more able-bodied and better-educated adult, I'd be a fool not to give it my best and do what I can with what I've got here and now.

At the very least, I still have a brain, and a computer keyboard... and my head and my torso.  

And by the way, everything in life is writable about, if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. 
~Sylvia Plath

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