Cubbyhouses and teasets


When I was about ten years old I used to play in a huge cubby in the back yard of our home. My brother, who was a couple of years younger than me, and I, used to set up the interior with rooms mimicking a real home. We created spaces for a kitchen, a lounge room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. In true playful fashion, as only a pretend home allows, we changed the floor plan at will, and I sometimes frustrated my brother with requests to shift the kitchen from one end of the huge space to the other and replace it with the lounge room, and so on. We partitioned the rooms with fabric as curtained walls, possibly on stretchy wires, the sort used, once upon a time, for lightweight curtains.

I had three dolls: Sophia, Pollyanna and Mary Anne. With my brother, we played at being mothers and fathers. I’d rock my babies to sleep in wooden cots and makeshift beds. Of course, the babies (dolls) all came back into the main house afterwards, to be safe from the cold, damp winter nights, or from the excessive summer heat. I recall the heat generated by the roof. From memory, I think the roof was actually old lino flung over wooden supports! It made the cubby into an oven and reduced the time we could play in it during the long, hot summers in the central wheatbelt.

My 12th birthday
The cubby is in the background. I am on the left, reaching across the picture. My mother and her sister are behind my brother who is in the foreground with a friend behind him.

The great things about our cubby was the size. It was big enough for a car to have fitted in – because it had been a car crate. Long gone are the day since cars were delivered in crates such as this one. I don’t ever recall seeing a car in one, but I am told, on good authority, that our divine space, made from planks of wood, with a window and door cut into the side, and with a pitched roof added, was indeed the means of transporting a new vehicle to either the owner or the business from which a new owner could purchase it.

When I Googled ‘car crates’, I only found one image that remotely resembled what I played in. It concurs with the practice of transporting cars by Ford, according to an article aptly named Crate Expectations by Nigel Mathews, who claims ‘the combination of wooden shipping crates and automobiles date back to at least 1908’, and that ‘The practice of shipping cars in wooden crates continued until the mid-1960s.’ It may, therefore, have carried the Model T Ford my grandparents owned, and if not, clearly someone else in the district had purchased a car, otherwise it would not have arrived on our farm, sixteen miles from the nearest town, to be converted into a cubby house that gave many years of pleasure.

In the cubby I had a box of clothes, acquired from my mother’s unused wardrobe, for dress ups. Two images below show a school mate and myself enjoying some of the paraphernalia my mother tossed my way. Here we are playing at being brides, I guess.

DressupsFigure 2:  Me on the left and a girlfriend on the right, enjoying dress-ups. The garden bed is visible behind each of us and to the far right.

Outside the cubby, in an effort to resemble a true home, I had my own garden rockery. Occasionally I’d plant some flowers or rely on hardy succulents surviving lack of water. These leftovers from my mother’s garden occasionally burst into a vivid display like in her garden beds. Sadly though, I never acquired the green thumb my mother had and a few tough cacti and a plant with the inglorious common name of ‘pig face’ were the only survivors in the hardened soil.

What has this to do with a vintage tin?

Inside I had a child-sized kitchenette. Smaller than actually appropriate for the size of the cubby house kitchen, it nevertheless was more than adequate for our make-believe purposes. On this kitchenette I placed my tiny cups and saucers, plates and cutlery, all of which intermingled with overlarge offerings from the main house. My tiny kitchenette was thick with coats of chipped, pastel green (or was it red?) paint. It had tiny cup hooks, a shelf and cupboards below. I suspect it was the same one my mother used in her childhood.

The tiny dormice on the cups, saucers and plates seem stuck in time and certainly in my mother’s memory banks. They provided hours of childhood play for her many years before I used them. She ‘oohed’ and ‘ahd’ when I discovered the tin in the spare bedroom where I sleep when I visit her.

I have little memory of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and sense that I only ever had the plates and saucers in my time.

A single setting of the tiniest cup and saucer brought my own ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, as I recalled a set of gold painted china that was my very own.

I see myself in my cubby, at our child-sized wooden table and chairs, some with dolls seated on, serving tea and cake. The cake or biscuits were real, the tea, rather watery.  Afterwards, with fingers duly held out in grand fashion and many a giggle, the cups, plates and saucers were washed in a large green enamel bowl, then dried and hung on their hooks or placed back on their shelves.

It was, in fact, a perfect playground, teaching my brother and myself how to keep house.

I found the tea set wrapped in soft cloth, but it is now time the contents find a space where they are shown off in my own home. I will pass these onto my granddaughter in due course. Right now, they belong with other pieces of memorabilia until memory is played out and the time is right to relinquish them, maybe for play, or maybe ‘kept safe’ for their historical value.

Eileen Susan is a writer based in Perth's Darling Ranges, Western Australia. Her love for writing began as a child with compositions at school. Writing remains a passion, though it varies in nature, from short stories, to poetry, family biographies and memoir. Reading across a range of genres contributes to her love of life long learning. Studies at university broadened her horizons and love of the world of literature. She also enjoys photography and dabbles in art and other crafty hobbies, such as sewing. She is often found indulging in a good cup of coffee and gazing over the hills from her patio.

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