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I am no longer bound by limitations of any kind. I give no power to adversity or negativity. —Daily Word, September 3, 2010

The Cages We Make

HILLTOP FARM — Oct. 6, 2010. I am back in Hilltop for the time being. Henry is still up on the Ridge, and

LITTLE WOMEN cover, illus. Clara M. Burd, 1920s
LITTLE WOMEN cover, illus. Clara M. Burd, 1920s

since we have been, as they say, joined at the hip (Why the hip? Why not the phalanges or tibias? tibiae?), I wondered if I would feel like half a person, but he only laughed and teased that I would have plenty of giggles playing Barbies with my girlfriends and forget about him entirely, just because I am 14 and he is 22, but I don’t exactly PLAY with Barbies, I just buy them new outfits about once a year and air them out and set them around their miniature Barbie estate that Daddy made when he was recovering from his car accident, which (the estate–mansion, swimming pool, stables, summer house, gazebo, tennis courts) is on a long shelf above the east window of my bedroom, so they (Barbies) are ornamental, NOT to be PLAYED with, and besides, they happen at the moment to be the Little Women, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, plus their seventeen best friends (I stuck some moss around the swimming pool to make it look like a pond but it just looks like a fuzzy swimming pool). So.

canned produyce

Mama will start canning...

I am relaxing on Sister Alma Rose’s porch. “Relaxing” here is different from “relaxing” on the Ridge, since among the Ancients there is hardly anything to relax FROM, because one thing just seems to flow into the next and you don’t ever have to worry about being late, which I’m now convinced is the cause of 97 percent of all stress and which is why as far as I know there is only one clock on the Ridge, a grandfather clock that doesn’t work.

homemade bread

...and baking

Pablo is going to come by after school and we are going to ride bikes or hike along the creek and have a picnic of whatever I can round up, which last time I looked in the pantry seemed to be four mustard packets and a jar of tarragon, because Daddy and Mama and the little boys have been on the Ridge too and are not coming back until tomorrow, and then Mama will start baking and canning and the house will be full of good smells and good food. 

Cotton gingham bolts

Cotton gingham for doll clothes, dollhouses, and stuffed toys

Near the top of my list of Things I Want to Do while I am home was “visit Mr. Tim the Toy Man,” which Sister Alma Rose was also eager to do, which, she says, shows that I am coming along well in “intuitiveness.” Neither of us has seen Mr. Tim for a few years, but I have been longing to do so. His Toy Shop is one of the pleasantest places imaginable, smelling of fresh-sawn wood and new cotton cloth, lemon oil and coffee, and, if the windows are open, clover and the damp, fertile soil just west of the old farmhouse, which is at the very edge of town.

Main Street USA
Main Street (photo by Zach Vesoulis)


Mister Tim and Mrs. Ana, who are actually Tim Light and Anastasia (Ana) Kircher Light, are among dozens of Hilltop citizens who have come here because it’s a place where entrepreneurs are welcomed with open arms and artisans can actually make a good living. Both Tim and Ana were certified public accountants in Cincinnati for more than twenty years. Their great heartbreak was being unable to have children plus making heaps of money with no time to enjoy it. They are both from big families and have a great herd of nieces and nephews, which is how they got started making toys.

Three sheets to the wind

China Doll

One of Mr. Tim and Mrs. Ana's china dolls

Mr. Tim is wound a little tight, which is evident in his eagerness to please — the children for whom he makes toys, their parents, his wife, the neighbors, and especially Sister Alma Rose, you’d think she was the Queen of Sheba, he does everything but throw himself at her feet, and I don’t think it’s because she is a large, weathered, hardy brown woman whereas he always looks like he’s just been dusted with flour and he is about my height, which is five feet four inches. (He is terrified of Mrs. Ana, and she is not even five feet tall.) The reason he is so exceedingly solicitous of Sister Alma Rose is, in my opinion, because she is so kind. Sister Alma Rose sniffs at that and says it’s because Mr. Tim is Lutheran.

grandfather clock
…a grandfather clock that doesn’t work


They retired from being CPAs and moved to Hilltop after Mr. Tim’s second heart attack, but Mrs. Ana says that he has stopped being a nervous wreck during tax season and has started being a nervous wreck during Christmas season, when he has lots of orders for toys and never turns anyone down. What he and Ana do, you see, is make toys to order. A child or someone who wants a gift for a child can describe exactly what he or she wants, Mr. Tim quotes a price that is always absurdly low, and then he orders the materials and basically invents the toy. No one ever comes in and says, “I want a train just like Stevie O’Malley’s,” so there are no two toys alike coming out of Mr. Tim’s workshop. Mrs. Ana helps Mr. Tim with the painting and decorating and does all the needlework, but she is more realistic than he is and begs him every year to set a deadline for Christmas and Hanukkah orders, and of course he promises that he will do exactly that and even prominently displays a sign that says NO HOLIDAY ORDERS ACCEPTED AFTER NOVEMBER 1. THANK YOU, but all you have to do is go in and snuffle a little bit and he takes your order.

Beautiful stone and stucco farmhouse

The Lights' farmhouse after restoration

There are always beautiful toys on shelves and hanging from hooks all over the shop, but the whole point of going to Mr. Tim is to get your DREAM toy, and if your idea of the perfect toy shifts a little bit between the time you order it and the time it’s ready, and you show the tiniest amount of disappointment, Mr. Tim will change it or start over… which is why there are so many toys on shelves and hanging from hooks.

Country road

Walking into town

It was only a ten-minute walk from Hilltop Farm to the Toy Shop. It felt wonderful to be walking into town with Sister Alma Rose, as we had done together so many times, talking or just enjoying warm sunlight on a cool day, enjoying the prospect of tea with good friends or maybe a small adventure. I was almost sorry when we reached the Lights’ porch, where a pretty handmade sign indicated that the shop was OPEN, as was the glorious carved-oak front door.

But something was off. It was too quiet. No sound of sawing or sanding, no sewing machine clattering, no voices chatting about dolls or trains or airplanes that really fly. We pulled open the fancy Victorian screen door, which slammed most satisfyingly behind us. In the few seconds it took for our eyes to adjust to the relative darkness, we didn’t see anyone. Then a flash of white caught my eye, and the glint of light on glass. Mr. Tim was leaning against the big counter by one of the west windows, paler than ever, his face the same color as the white bib apron he wore, his blue-jeaned legs splayed like a broken doll’s. He took a large, long swallow from the bottle he was holding — no label (Was he a bootlegger?) –arranged his face in what I think was supposed to be a smile, and tried to get up but succeeded only in flipping over so that he was now face-down on the pine plank floor.

Plain brown bottle

Privately distilled?

“Mr. Tim!” I moaned. “You’re snockered!”

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “Free!

  1. I forgot to say that Mr. Tim has always been a teetotaler. Seeing him blotto on the floor was not reminiscent of the scenes of my childhood, in which he had always been upright, his back ramrod straight, his eyes scanning my face anxiously to make sure that the doll or dollhouse or kite was precisely what I had requested, which it always was, only better.


  2. I also fogot to say that I skittered around Mr. Tim and into the kitchen looking for coffee while Sister Alma Rose occupied herself looking for Mrs. Ana. I was scooping coffee into the basket when she found her. I heard her exclaim, “Sweet Jesus,” which, coming from Sister Alma Rose, is a prayer, not an oath. I hurried to pour water into the coffee maker and push the BREW button and ran back into the front room, where Mrs. Ana was out cold. There was a large lump purpling on her left temple and Sister Alma Rose was telephoning for an ambulance, muttering a nearly inaudible prayer and motioning me away from Mrs. Ana. I had poured a cup of coffee, took a restorative sip, put an ice cube in it, and was force-feeding it to Mr. Tim when the ambulance came and whisked both of them away. Dr. Deirdre had followed the ambulance in her VW bug. I slipped into the back seat, Sister Alma Rose squeezed her ample self into the front, and five minutes later we were sitting on the cold marble benches in the hospital lobby being grilled by Police Sergeant McCaslin. He wasn’t very good at grilling. There is never any crime in Hilltop. I devoutly hoped that there hadn’t been today.


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