It started in my bedroom, under the creaky, scarred wooden desk.
I was 6 years old, years away from using the desk for homework — in ancient history, that torture arrived with fourth grade and no sooner — but found I could build my Barbie a mansion in the cove where my legs would later go. With shoe boxes, masking tape and scraps of wood, I built and rebuilt two-story town houses for Twist ’N Turn Barbie and G.I. Joe, who were married in numerous elaborate ceremonies.
Just an FYI, Ken never arrived at my house, but the soldier looked to be a more substantial husband than the pretty beach boy with plastic hair. I’ve come to appreciate a man who can protect his family.
Somewhere in my first-grade brain dawned the realization that I was boss of how this architectural marvel would be decorated. I began making custom wallpaper as fast as the crayons could go. I stole scraps of fabric from Nana’s sewing table and brought in fairylike lawn violets to grace Barbie and Joe’s dining room, which boasted a table cut from a pint half-and-half carton.
I once tried a birthday cake candle for ambience. That did not, um, work out well around all that paper.
The great outdoors was yet another canvas to picture my ideal house. The Cockburn girls and I endlessly raked leaves in their yard into blueprints, each room outlined in thick walls of brown, rust and gold. I was the last to agree to destroy the “house” with our kicking feet, and only after we had formed entire floor plans complete with doorways and porches. Sun room, anyone?
Even today, when I have a few hours to devote to changing things up in my own home, I love playing house. Hanging this picture just so, getting a new arrangement of candles set out, moving one lamp here and another there. “Just to see how it looks,” I tell Camo Man, who is trying to enjoy Sunday football. “What do you think, Honey? Honey?”
And now we are playing house like never before.
I married into a recreational vehicle, you may recall. A “toy hauler,” specifically — meaning your “quad” can ride along in close company with your kitchen as you go down the road.
If you don’t know any of those terms, I feel ya.
In the beginning, once I got that sucker de-bachelored, I loved the little thing. I oiled cupboards, put up new wallpaper, organized like an Excel spreadsheet. We bought precious miniature storage solutions, added bright rugs and fastened up some of Hunter Boy’s woodcut art.
It was Barbie’s town house times 1,000.
As soon as we got things nice, we began looking around at the competition. That was a mistake. Suddenly we were aware of size, which matters. We realized no teensy spice racks would make the kitchen big enough to really cook in. The bathroom, while spacious enough, has poorly designed storage. Our bed is almost too comfortable — meaning only my husband really wants to get up on hunting mornings — but how many years will we care to climb a ladder for some shuteye?
It didn’t help when a Camo Sister and her man bought a brand-new RV. As we heard of options they chose from, we started dreaming. We could, for example, enjoy more privacy than a pull-across curtain. What if we could have a slide-out kitchen? With ... dream big ... a prep island?
Now we can’t stop. I’ve begun looking at RVs online and during drive-bys, my neck craning backward at every sales lot we pass. We count slide outs (again, you’ll need a glossary for some of this) as we pass travel trailers, whistling in appreciation at three or four.
Like groupies, Camo Man and I accost RV owners wherever we see them. At a fundraising carwash this summer, we abandoned our assignments to explore a toy hauler the length of the parking lot. We marveled at the overhead loft, a lovely and separate garage for the riding toys, the number of cupboards.
From there it was but a short leap to real shopping. Unfortunately for us, Camo Man’s oldest son just happens to sell RVs. A natural-born salesman, this young man could talk Bill Gates into buying an Apple product.
Sales Son wears a mantle of confidence, adorned by the kind of smile you see in toothpaste commercials. His black hair gleams, his eyes sparkle and he surely is irresistible to the female population — blue-haired ladies in particular.
One Saturday we drove to see the boy in his environment. Mistake No. 2.
I won’t say every RV ever made was on that Tri-Cities lot, but there was plenty of selection. Sales Son did his job well, starting us off looking at some of the older models. Hey there, RV manufacturers? Purple carpet was NEVER a good idea, I don’t care what year it was.
We did the expected turning-up-of-the-nose over issues these RVs suffered from. Overdone window treatments, weird storage plans, the lingering stench of smokers.
Slo-o-o-wly, Sales Son headed us toward more palatable choices. In one corner was a nice bumper-pull RV with updated décor and ambient lighting. A real table and chairs, plus underneath storage. Here was the lightly used toy hauler with all the amenities we like, plus something resembling a bona fide kitchen.
“There’s one more I want you to see,” Sales Boy told us. “It’s my favorite one.”
We dodged around bumpers and slide outs, ending up at a brand-new Coleman travel trailer. Its freshness nearly glowed as we stepped up. Ooh, pretty was everywhere in 35 feet of twin slide outs and faux stone. The warm wood drawers, well-designed bedroom, extra storage underneath. And what did we have at the end of the living room?
We had a fireplace. Next to overstuffed, swivel, leather armchairs. A fireplace.
I fell, showing myself for the sucker I am. Fell hard.
We didn’t buy it. That day. Since then, we’ve continued to look, continued to discuss. And every time, I eventually look dreamily into Camo Man’s face. “It had a fireplace,” I whisper. “I love it.”
It’s the life-size Barbie house I’ve been waiting for. Not very practical for elk camp, of course. I would simmer over dirty boots and hunting gear everywhere, fussing over the new carpet. Shotgun shells scattered on the kitchen counter would make me wince. I know this. Besides, you never buy an RV new, that’s crazy talk. Shiny Sales Son talk.
Still. I want it. I want to play house with my sweet little fireplace. Sales Son knew just what he was doing.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or firstname.lastname@example.org.