I’ve lived in my house for just over two years now, but in a way it just became mine. You see, my roommate moved out a couple of weeks ago. So, now, only my stuff is in the house. It’s not that I had anything against her stuff, but it is awfully nice to have my house all to myself. And I’ll just keep ignoring the very large, empty spots in certain rooms.
Right after she moved out, I happened to pick up Henry and the Clubhouse by Beverly Cleary. It seems like Ramona gets all the love, but I really adore Henry. He tries so hard and sometimes things (or Ramona!) just get in his way. In this book, he decides to build a doghouse. But when a neighbor tears down a garage, Henry realizes there’s enough wood to make a fine clubhouse (Recycle and reuse!!). His friends Robert and Murph help with hauling wood–and Murph even insists on drawing up a plan. It turns into a most impressive clubhouse, with a sign that says “No Girls Allowed” and a large taxidermy owl. Beezus tries to help–offering to make curtains or find a door mat. But the boys insist that such niceties aren’t needed. They even come up with a “secret” password for the boys.
Folks, this is one of the most impressive clubhouses ever built by fictional boys. There are shingles. Windows. Siding Check out this description of it’s completion:
At last the clubhouse was finished. The siding was snug and tight. The hinges worked perfectly, the asphalt shingles were nailed down so securetly the roof could not possibly leak. Yes, the boys agreed, it was a good solid house. It was just about as solid as a real house. They thumped the walls appreciatively and stamped their feet on the floor. And the best part of it was, it was big enough for three boys to sleep in if they didn’t move around much, and who could move around in a sleeping bag?
I may be a grown-up, with a prefectly fine “real house” of my own, but part of me still wants a little club house like that. What is about club houses? Is it just the charm of a tiny space? We have a playhouse at the museum, and our curator has often said it’s her favorite building. And of course, the kids all love it–something just for them–but why are we adults still in love with the idea of a play house?
Two of my favorite books from chidhood also feature clubhouses or playhouses or whatever you want to call them. Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn is about a boy who’s family doesn’t like his tendency to build things. So he heads out to a meadow and builds his own tiny house. Soon enough, other kids who have hobbies that don’t have full parental approval also head out to the meadow–and Andrew Henry builds houses for them too. Each is different–and each house is absolutely charming. One girl gets a house that looks like a castle: “Jane had her dress-up clotes with her. She hoped her mother wouldn’t miss them too much. She explained that they made her feel like Lady Jane instead of just plain Jane.” Of course, eventually, the families miss the kids and the kids head back home. The marvelous houses aren’t mentioned again (Andrew Henry is given a spot in the basement to build), but I like to think the kids kept escaping to their little kid colony to be themselves.
Another favorite was Laurie and the Yellow Curtains by Sara Asherson. I think it is no coincidence that there are yellow curtain in my laundry room! Laurie helps Mr. Bill the Fix-It Man and with each project (a dog house, a bird house, a chicken coop) she asks him to paint the door yellow and hang yellow curtains in the window. He keeps insisting that birds and dogs and chickens don’t need pretty houses. Then, Laurie and her mother go on a trip. And when she comes back, well, I suppose you can guess what has happened in her absence! “For there in the apple tree was a house. A tree house with a little ladder. A tree house with a yellow door and yellow curtains! . . . “For everyone knows that a little girl needs a pretty house to play in.”
All of the kids in these stories had plenty of unstructured time to build a house (or follow around a handy-man!) and just play. I never want to be one of those people that bemoans what kids today are missing, but I do wonder how many kids today have that intense desire to have a tiny little space all their own. A space for them to let their imagination run wild. Or as Jane put it, a place where she “feels like Lady Jane instead of plain Jane.” Are little houses like these now a part of history? Somehow, the playground sets that feature little houses on stilts just aren’t the same.