My friend Ellen had a dollhouse that had been constructed for her by a family member. Made of thin pine boards. The carpets of the tiny rooms, I realize now, were mere green felt. But what a thing it was, an elaborate maze of stairways and small spaces. Even the dolls that lived there were tiny, more tin soldier-like than anything else.
There was a small doorway deep inside the dollhouse. It was hard to reach. Occasionally, we’d take a small object from the house and stick it into the dark room beyond. It was a room we never saw; this dollhouse, like most dollhouses I’ve seen, only opened on one side. Since you couldn’t see well enough to play in it, the dark room had never been furnished. Which should have made it easy for us to feel along the floor with our fingertips and take back the object we’d just put there. But we never managed to find anything. Everything that entered that room, disappeared. At the time, it was a strange curiosity. But as I got older, and no longer played with the dollhouse when I came over, whenever I thought too much about it, I’d get chills.
My father was always taking my sister and me to his office on the weekends. We’d sit and draw with pens on printer paper, or pretend to answer phones. Once, he received a fax while we were there. I was amazed at this machine that could, I thought, take an object from somewhere, and transmit it to another location. I dreamt of the possibilities, but not being a particularly adventurous child in anything but imagination, I never tried to use the machine for my own devices.
Today I know how a fax machine works…more or less. But I have to confess, it still fills me with wonder. How could someone understand how to construct such a thing?
It’s like when I see my boyfriend building or sewing something. Sometimes there are directions to follow, but other times – he improvises. The other day, while putting together some metal shelves, we realized we didn’t have the requisite rubber hammer. The boyfriend shrugged, got a small block of wood, and used it to soften the blows of our regular hammer. When I asked where he’d learned that trick, he said he’d just figured it out – it was pretty obvious. I thought of the first humans, starting fires, inventing the wheel. It’s like when he asks me how I knew where to find a delivery man with such good rates, or how I was able to sell our furniture so quickly. And I tell him, sincerely, it’s obvious. We have the internet, after all. It’s like when another armoire gets disassembled and taken away by the delivery man, and though we didn’t remember loving it, memories tied to it come flooding back to us, and for the first time in a long time, the boyfriend takes a beer from the fridge, and we sit together staring at the now-empty space, reminiscing about that armoire like it was an old friend.
When I was thinking about writing this, the title Time of Wonder came to me, from a picture book by Robert McCloskey that I remember. I’ve always loved that title. But unlike the characters in the book, for me a time of wonder isn’t on a beach in Maine. Though it is when I’m in the ocean up to my shoulders, quietly bobbing with the waves, floating over them and through them at times, feeling the rhythm of the ocean around me and inside of me. It is also Christmas and the days leading up to it. Holiday lights twinkling in the cold blackness, the promise of surprises and family, warmth and snow all at once. A time of wonder is when I write, when time stops being time and is forgotten. A time of wonder was when we’d be in the backyard of my neighbor’s house and we’d stop and stare out at this thin, blue-green object on the horizon, convinced it was the Statue of Liberty, yet always questioning deep inside us, if it really was. We were in north New Jersey, on a high hill, but we were still at least an hour’s drive from Liberty Island. Wonder was standing on the high deck of my long-gone late childhood home, feeling the wind coming from the forest below, looking out at the uninhabited island on the lake and thinking there might be a secret castle among the pines.