From the moment they arrived from Denmark in 1963, I loved my troll dolls. Dam dolls they were called sometimes, with a nervous giggle. Ugly as sin, made of tumeric-colored molded rubber, with great cottony ebullient flights of hair.
McCall’s magazine jumped on the Dam Doll bandwagon, and every month printed instructions for making accessories for them. The first I remember was the bedroom set. You made the bed out of a kitchen match box and wooden clothespins. Then you made a coverlet by embroidering a small piece of cotton with a pattern of hearts and flowers, very Swiss, following the blue dotted lines transferred by iron from a special insert in the magazine. Edge it with bias tape. I found this satisfying. I still have the coverlet I made.
Another month the project was building a castle home for the trolls out of the cardboard canister from Quaker Oatmeal. Even though my trolls had a home—the plastic flip-front cave marketed as an accessory—my love of architecture made the turret project irresistible.
This memory comes flooding over me because of the sticky heat of summer I find myself waking to this morning. It brings back how I used to move my project-work to the basement from my bedroom when summer’s heat arrived. On the ping-pong table, if the brothers could spare it, on a card table otherwise, I would spread out craft supplies and build something.
The troll turret involved putting a floor in made from a cardboard circle supported by popsicle stick joists, that indispensable craft supply. But first you wallpapered the interiors with giftwrap. When the interior was finished you decorated the outside with poster paints. I believe little shutters of popsicle stick segments were also involved.
That’s where the plans stopped, but not me. I had at my disposal tail-ends of newsprint rolls, brought by my father from the newspaper plant, and I unfurled these on the ping-pong table for the grounds around the castle. I laid down broad lawns of green poster paint, painted in paths of brown and gray. Not yet satisfied with the result, I began adding decorative hedges — wads of green crepe paper glued in rows. I believe I even designed a labyrinth. I’d seen one on a family excursion to the utopian colony at New Harmony.
I enjoyed making things to play with much more than I enjoyed actually playing with them. In the basement, accompanied by the purr of the dehumidifier but still sticky with Indiana summer damp, I would abandon one creation after another. Designing troll homes might give way to making highway interchanges out of brightly colored strips of paper—more industrial waste brought to me by my father—for no purpose other than that tracing out all the possible ways to get to different places delighted me.
Occasionally my mother would enforce a moratorium, requiring razing of past projects before any new construction. If enough time had passed since the glue-and-paint stage, I didn’t mind this. In fact, I was glad to erase the evidence. Those abandoned construction sites hinted at a trait I already recognized and didn’t like in myself. I was much more interested in starting things than in seeing them through.
p.s. Read about how I came to own a Troll Pony here…