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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

BUILDING WITH LOVE By Ellen Donker

Updated: Apr 29




Now that the weather is warmer, I’m turning my attention to my back yard. I’m trimming the zebra grass that hopefully provided critters with shelter during the winter, edging the garden beds and cutting daffodils for indoor enjoyment. I also have my eye on a playhouse that stands in the back corner of the yard. It needs some attention.


Years ago when my triplets were about 4 years old, I showed my father a magazine that featured playhouses that I thought were adorable. I could just picture my kids having fun in their own little backyard house. I guess my father could too, because before I knew it he was asking me which of the three houses I wanted him to build. He intended to order the plans.


I hadn’t been hinting that he build a playhouse. But I wasn’t going to turn him down, either. My father always liked to have a project going. This one would keep him busy for a while. Although he had owned a business that kept him behind a desk for many years, my father was a maker at heart.

Growing up, our first house had a pool. Even though my father was busy during the week establishing his business, he built what we called a screen house. I don’t know where he got the confidence to do so, because he didn’t have any experience with construction. But I believe the structure stands to this day. Over time, he built a dog house, radiator covers for my house, a miniature version of his house in Florida, plexiglass Loony Toons characters that doubled as garden hose stands, and a kit car replica of a 1929 Mercedes Benz that he built on the chassis of a Volkswagen bug. My father rarely repeated designs. When he finished a project he moved on to a new challenge.


Once he received the plans for the playhouse, he started ordering materials. We had many exciting deliveries come up our driveway from Home Depot that kept Grandpa busy visiting us from his house in Wayne. At the time, he was regaining his strength after having endured chemotherapy and radiation treatments for colon cancer. I know he worked many days not feeling his best.


Our kids were fascinated as they watched their grandpa frame the little house, install the windows and door, fashion a tiny front porch with custom railings, hang flower boxes and two big letter Ds on the dormers and, finally, paint it yellow with a green door.

Because the floor was plywood, I covered it in black and white sticky tiles, then painted the walls purple, sewed some valances in a cat-themed fabric, added a tiny ball fringe to the border, and outfitted the space with a table and chairs from Ikea. The kids loved playing in this special house, zipping in and out of the miniature door. I even slept in it with them a few times. Our sleeping bags fit the house’s width perfectly.


As the kids got older and no longer played in the house, it became the repository for our gardening tools and bicycles. Without a concrete foundation, the floor eventually rotted and the tiles came loose. Some of the railing spindles fell off, and the roof started growing moss. Still, unlike my house, the roof has no leaks and the windows operate flawlessly.


Recently, I asked a contractor for an estimate to fix up the playhouse. He remarked on the many custom touches my father had added to make the house special. My father passed away in 2016, but looking at it from my kitchen window reminds me of the love he gave to his grandchildren, wanting nothing more than to make them happy. They’re 24 now. I know they felt special, because who else had a grandfather who built them a playhouse?


I still have to decide whether to proceed with the renovations, a hard decision when I have plenty of home projects to tackle. But I can do some of the work myself (and enlist my daughter to help). A new paint job could spruce up the house. It’s been a long time since I planted those window boxes. I’ll choose flowers that are yellow, my father’s favorite color. I think he would approve.

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