To Have and to Hold

untitledI have doll’s houses on my mind today. I’ve been looking at them in town, wondering whether to buy one for little Jessica – or would it be better to buy Duplo, or Lego and let her build her own? We just want to do the best for our children or grandchildren, don’t we? We want them to have toys with the most ‘play-value’.

There’s a short story about a Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield, that I love. Written in 1922 and set in rural New Zealand, it’s a tale about the cruelty of class distinctions. I’ve read it several times in groups and it never fails to enchant and always gets people talking. There’s something about the heartlessness of the adults and the way the children are sucked in to that that speaks to our sense of injustice.  But it also makes us think hard about our own attitudes to the differences between social classes. Like many stories, we look for ourselves in the telling and wince as we see shades of our beings right there between the lines.

Today, I’m not thinking about that theme though – it’s the joy of having a doll’s house that captured me in this story when I very first read it and does so each time. The picture painted in words is just delicious:

The hook at the side was stuck fast. Pat prised it open with his penknife, and the whole house-front swung back, and – there you were, gazing at one and the same moment into the drawing-room and dining-room, the kitchen and two bedrooms. That is the way for a house to open! Why don’t all houses open like that? How much more exciting than peering through the slit of a door into a mean little hall with a hat-stand and two umbrellas! That is – isn’t it? – what you long to know about a house when you put your hand on the knocker. Perhaps it is the way God opens houses at dead of night when He is taking a quiet turn with an angel…..

Don’t you just want to hug yourself with delight at this? I could almost hear myself squeal. We had one – at our home in Mill Lane – my sisters and I sharing ownership. It opened just like this one and, joy of all joys, it was wall-papered with brick patterned paper on the outside! We loved it. They always had hooks, didn’t they? You could just unfasten that hook, let that front swing back and, just as it says “there you were, gazing…”. All of us seem to love that very idea of being able to see all, at the same time. Of having control of every room – of being able to position the chairs – just so – with the little peg dolls, lolling back with their sticky-out legs at awkward angles, sitting on them.  Trying to tuck those limbs under tables, or popping them onto beds which were ridiculously out of proportion but none of it mattered, because they were our people in our house and we were putting them where we thought they should be. I could tell stories with those people – they had great and happy lives in that house with me in control.

It’s that swinging back image that continues to thrill me most of all. The very idea of being able to see so much. It does sort of give us an insight into how it might be for God and I love that Mansfield puts that image in there of Him tiptoeing around the quiet streets after dark, accompanied by and angel, checking up on us all……

“I’ll just slip this hook off, Gabe, and have a peep in here. She was a bit upset earlier today, so I’ll just pop my head in and see….oh that’s ok, she’s sleeping soundly. All is well again here. Hang on; what’s that going on downstairs? Oh I see her youngest is up raiding the fridge again! Does that boy never stop eating?”

I see God shaking His head at such wayward greed, but never intervening – we make our own choices after all – and then quietly closing the front of the house up again before He and Gabriel continue on their way. Of course it’s a ridiculous image but it’s also a comforting one to know that I am watched and looked over. Although, I guess the actual thought of having the front of my house opened up to the elements in the dead of night is not particularly comforting – given we’re in West Yorkshire and it’s always so blooming cold here!

There were always lots of lovely, little things in doll’s houses – miniature clocks or coat-stands, for instance – that warranted being inspected in close delight. I have in mind just now a tiny box of oranges that Nicola, my daughter (11 years old at the time) once bought from a little specialist doll’s house shop in Marple Bridge. She didn’t even have a doll’s house – she was simply entranced by the loveliness of this piece. In the story, Kezia, one of the little girls who becomes a joint owner of the doll’s house is entranced by one object especially….

But what Kezia like more than anything, what she liked frightfully, was the lamp. It stood in the middle of the dining-room table, an exquisite little amber lamp with a white globe. It was even filled all ready for lighting, though, of course, you couldn’t light it. But there was something inside that looked like oil, and that moved when you shook it.

Goodness! You really want to see that lamp, don’t you? So did another little girl in the story. A girl from the wrong side of town. She hears about the lamp and something inside her is touched – but she dare not even dream of being able to see it. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it, by saying how it happens that she does see it, but there is this beautiful moment when she snuggles up to her sister …

But now she had forgotten the cross lady. She put out a finger and stroked her sister’s quill; she smiled her rare smile.

‘I seen the little lamp,’ she said, softly.

Then both were silent once more.

It’s within us all, it seems, this desire to peer at something exquisite and sweet – a likeness of something real – yet something small enough that we might take in our hand, hold and turn about and simply find joy in. What part of us is this speaking to? I wonder could it be that connection we have with our own Creator? He that fashioned us in His own likeness – and cares about every little bit of us (even, we are told, the very hairs on our heads) I often think of the delight He must have in looking at what He has made and seeing what we get up to. Of course, I think He wouldn’t always be happy with what He sees – we get up to awful mischief and make a mess of things repeatedly. However, like most parents of wayward children, He must surely find lots to smile about as well as plenty that amuses Him!

It’s made me think – all children should have access to doll’s houses and the most exquisite little pieces to cherish and coo over. Something beautiful to have and to hold……and make us smile.