Granna's Secret Doll Cupboard

LILLIE missed her grandmother. "Granna" often came to visit Lillie and her little brother Jacob in Boston, but they had never seen her house in faraway Colorado.

Nestled in the foothills outside of Denver, Granna's large, old country house had plenty of room for the small treasures and curious furniture collected over the 100 years since the family had built the house in 1891. Lillie had often heard her mother try to persuade her grandmother to sell the house and move east, but the older lady only laughed. All her friends and all the charities she volunteered for needed her. And then there was her work. She wrote stories about Colorado. So how could she leave the

Rocky Mountains? What, in heaven's name, would she have to write about?

So Granna would not leave her fascinating house where her father had brought her mother as a bride, where she had been born, and where Lillie's mother had been brought up.

One summer, just as the fifth grade ended for Lillie and the third grade for Jacob, Granna invited the children to spend part of the summer with her. It happened that their parents would be very busy with their new business, and their mother felt they would be happier in the big house in Denver.

So Lillie and Jacob went to Colorado to stay with their grandmother. They spent days exploring the house while she worked on her stories, cleaned, gardened, or baked delicious breads and cookies. When Granna had to be away, her friend, Mrs. Iafrati, looked after them. It was an exciting time, full of adventure and daily discoveries.

The house had many rooms, and each room was filled with old photographs, paintings, books, lace doilies, and Victorian chairs and chests. Granna gave the children permission to inspect every nook and cranny. There were cupboards and closets to explore, mysterious locked boxes and keys to open them with, and more treasures inside.

Sometimes the children found jewelry, sometimes letters, sometimes odd little objects - an "uluak" (an Eskimo "woman's knife"), an ancient jade animal that came from China, and a box of old carved wooden buttons. In one box was a beautiful tapestry ribbon from France that once had adorned the neck of the 19th-century English actress Lillie Langtry (after whom Lillie had been named).

One day as Lillie and Jacob were exploring, they found a door that they had missed before. It led up to a room called a cupola, a round room at the top of the house with lots of windows. There was a comfortable couch covered in sky-blue brocade, a few chairs, and a large, low table. In one corner, standing against the only wall in the room, was an antique breakfront. The top part was a cupboard with stained-glass doors. The bottom was a chest of drawers.

There was something special about the old chest. Lillie thought so, and Jacob agreed. The stained glass made it impossible to tell what was inside. But the children knew it would be something amazing, especially since they couldn't find the key.

"Granna," said Lillie at supper that night. "We found a cupboard and chest thing in that round room on top of the house."

"Yes, indeed," said Granna.

"But it was locked," said Jacob.

"Well, it is a very special cupboard," said Granna.

"Why? What makes it special?" asked Lillie.

"That's the doll cupboard," replied Granna.

"Doll cupboard? Do you have dolls?" asked Lillie, who had begun to feel she was too old for dolls because Melissa and Jane, her two best friends, thought dolls were for little kids. Still, Lillie liked dolls more than she would admit.

"Oh, yes," replied Granna. "I have dolls. I have a great many dolls. But the best of them are locked in the cupboard."

"Why locked?" Jacob asked.

"Because, to me, they are treasures. But, tomorrow I will give you the key and you can take them down and have a look for yourselves."

The next day, Lillie and Jacob took the key their grandmother gave them and went up the stairs to the cupola. Lillie reached up and inserted the funny old hollow key in the lock. The lock wouldn't budge. She jiggled it, and finally it turned. The hinges were stiff with age and the door creaked open slowly. Lillie pushed back both the doors to gaze in wonder at the collection.

"Jacob, look at that," said Lillie.

"Lillie, why would a grandmother keep dolls?" Jacob asked.

"I don't know," said Lillie, puzzled too. Didn't grown-ups get too old for toys? But, anyway, these dolls were so wonderful - better than any toy store she and Jacob had ever been in. They came in all colors, nationalities, and ages.

As Lillie and Jacob took them down one by one, each doll seemed special in different ways. This one was Chinese, that one native American, another Russian, another Mexican, and another Scandinavian. The children placed them on the table to admire them.

"Go ahead and play with them all you like," said Granna, who had been watching from the door. She came in the room and sat down on the sofa and pulled a doll onto her lap. It was a doll that had been hers when she was a child, and it was dressed in a long white gown and matching bonnet. The doll's name was Allison, and Granna told Lillie and Jacob how she had awakened on Christmas morning when she was 11 to find Allison under the tree.

"In those days, a little girl was not too old for dolls until she was 14 or so. I loved Allison so much. And then somehow, over the years, I lost her. One day, when your own mother was about your age, Jacob, she found Allison in this cupboard. My mother had wrapped her in tissue and put her away for me. I was so glad to see the doll, and she brought back so many happy memories that I decided to build a collection for your mother - and now for both of you. You see the nutcracker, Jacob? I bought him when you were a small baby, just for you to find here someday.

`TOM Sawyer over there is one of my favorites. I'm going to read that book to you both before you go home. There is King Arthur. And the Navajo dolls I bought when I was traveling in Arizona. And this little fellow - I thought you might like to know what you looked like as a baby, Jacob, because his expression reminded me of yours. All these dolls are for the two of you. And every one of them has a special story I will tell you, one by one."

Then Granna rose to go. "But for now, you make up your own stories about them," she said as she handed Allison to Lillie. "I know your stories will be quite as splendid as any I will tell you."

The children spent all afternoon playing with the dolls. They found even more dolls in the drawers of the chest. Tin soldiers, carved wooden angels, fairy-tale dolls, a beautiful Japanese lady in a kimono, an old-fashioned American lady in a pioneer dress, an English lady in a bustle. There were so many dolls. Some came from long ago, and others were new. In one drawer was an astonishing variety of sock dolls and rag dolls.

It was a very happy day, and there were many more to follow - days of stories about where each of the dolls had come from. And Granna kept her promise to read "Tom Sawyer" aloud. She also read "Alice in Wonderland," "King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table," fairy stories, and other books - and all the stories had their own dolls.

When the summer ended, Granna told the children to choose one doll each to take home. She said they could choose another doll every time they came for a visit. Then the doll cupboard would stay special to them for a long time. Jacob chose King Arthur immediately. Lillie took a long time to decide. Finally, she picked up Allison.

Granna smiled. She knew Lillie wanted to take home more than just a doll, but the memories of the whole summer, too. And there was something else. Allison was part of Granna's history - an important part of her life when she was Lillie's own age. To hold Allison was to think of Granna as a little girl and to love the doll she had loved - the doll she still loved. It made Lillie feel closer to Granna somehow, and Allison would make Colorado seem much closer to Boston. `Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, usually on Tuesdays.

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