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2010

THE McKINLEY BECOMES

The McKinley Wallhanger has all the advantages of a regular dollhouse, with decorative Victorian elements like the tower and gingerbread trim, bay windows at either end, and a small porch, but takes up little space. For years it hung on the wall over the old loveseat in our living room. When my husband gave me two curio cabinets, it was moved to the wall just to the left of the front door.

For several years, I really enjoyed it, changing its accessories to reflect the seasons. Eventually I replaced some furniture pieces, particularly beds, as my mood changed and I learned more mini techniques. This picture from the 80s shows the first bed; you can see later beds in Beds and Linens, for example.

(My daughter was recently converting slides to digital and came across this old photo from the early days. Unfortunately, I don't have the full house picture.)

Here's another pic accidentally showing the house over somebody who was probably uncomfortably perched on that love seat! This was in the 90s and it was decorated for Christmas. The yellow checked gingham swag is in the kitchen bay window.

Even though I enjoyed it very much, I always felt vaguely unsatisfied with that house. Now I know why; its owner had never become real to me. All I knew about her was that she was single and collected teddy bears, but I didn't have her story.

When we repainted the living room I asked my husband to hang the house in our second guest room, which had become a grandchildren's playroom. Here he is screwing it into the wall, where it still hangs over a toybox that was his when he was a little boy. I started redoing its interior a couple summers ago, painting the wood staircase white, etc., but never finished because I still didn't know who would really occupy it.

I figured until I knew what to do with it, I would just rent it out.

It's now in the possession of Hiram Rabbit, a cousin of the famous big rabbit Harvey in the movies. You know, the one that only James Stewart could see? One day Hiram sat contemplating his life and thought, There's got to be more to life than carrots and cauliflower. But a career in the movies like his famous cousin was not to his taste. However, he always had had a knack for salesmanship, ever since he sold Farmer McGregor vegetables from his own garden, so he began his own custom Easter decor business.

When Hiram learned that my house was available, he decided it was time for another career change and asked if he could become my tenant. Having purchased some of his lovely baskets in the past, I readily agreed. He paid three months rent in advance and signed a one-year lease.

Hiram came to visit not long ago. "I want to expand my business, sell more rabbit-themed items, including furniture, and I'm calling my shop The Rabbit Hutch. Since you are such a collector," he said, "I was wondering if you might want to put some things in my store on consignment."

"Not a bad idea," I told him. "I'll look through what I have and let you know."

"Well, call me if you want to come on over and take a tour. It's pretty much of a mess right now, but it's getting there."

Last week I called Hiram and he invited me to come over the next day. I thought I detected a note of strain in his voice, and sure enough, when I got there, I could tell Hiram was not happy. "What's the matter?" I asked.

"Oh, I stupidly let an acquaintance named Brendan Bear talk me into letting him bring some of his family and friends to stay temporarily while I work on the place. I had no idea they were going to take up so much room. Everywhere I step, there's another bear. And I tell you, if I weren't so big, I would be quite unnerved because some of them are really large. And you know how dangerous some bears can be."

He led me from my car around the house to the back. "Let's go in this way," he said. "It's easier because of all the stuff that's piled by the front door."

There was a sudden loud honk from a goose standing at the back gate. "What the heck is that goose doing here?" Hiram asked, exasperated, as she tried to peck at his big rabbit feet.

"Oh, that looks like one of Miss Minnie's; she lives down the street. It's always getting out of her yard," I told him. "The City Council told her she can't keep livestock in town any more, but when that goose egg hatched out...."

"Well, if that goose knows what's good for her," Hiram huffed, "She'll fly on back to Miss Minnie's before one of those darn bears spots her."

"Shoo, Goosey. Get on back to Miss Minnie's," I told her. She waddled away indignantly as we approached the back door.

"I can hardly even get to the sink for bumping into bears," Hiram grumbled, as we entered the kitchen. "I told Brendan Bear I was not liable if something fell on him or any of his relations!

"As you can see," he said, pointing, "I had taken down the wall cabinets while I decided what to do, Then the blasted bears came along and they're still lying there atop the counter! To heck with it now; maybe I'll just paint them and remove one of the doors for that old-fashioned open storage look and forget any further real remodeling."

"Look at that little bear in the floor," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know if his foot is sticking up because he's playing, or if he's dead and rigor mortis has set in."

It was a bit stormy the day of my visit and the electricity had gone off, so it wasn't easy to make out details, but it sure looked like a family of three bears was sitting in front of the kitchen cabinet.

"What DOES that baby bear have around his foot?" I asked Hiram.

"That darn cub has been playing with the plastic bags again, I'll betcha. Gonna smother himself if he doesn't watch out."

The clouds broke through for a moment and I could see a large wooden bear and a tiny bench with more bears near the window. "You're right," I agreed. "There are several in your kitchen."

"Hmmph," Hiram snorted. "Just wait till you see what's up here," he complained, as we climbed the stairs.

We peeked into a doorway. "They've taken over this entire room! Every time I look in here that darn bright orange bear is doing some kind of weird exercise routine." At that point I stumbled over an interesting yellow wooden bear in the floor.

"Watch your step, Miz Wanna. Some of these bears are pretty darn big and I sure would hate to see you squashed or have a bite taken out of you. Although I think they're pretty tame, really."

Mindful of the large bears dozing around me, I strained to get a look at the various bear items in the blue shelf unit at the back of the room. In the dimness of the stormy afternoon, it was hard to tell which ones were real bears and which were just figurines or stuffed toys.

"Oh, look," I said. "Here's a little one in a tutu and a baby taking a nap on a stool. How cute!"

Hiram only snorted again. "Cute is as cute does. You should see the sticky mess from that honeypot they spilled!"

The bears tended to ignore me, and I them, but when I heard a little complaining grunting sound, I stepped gingerly around a table skirted in a bee and honey print to see where the noise was coming from.

Almost hidden in the corner was a bear in a high chair, fussing apparently because he hadn't yet had his honey.

When we reached the attic, I was surprised to see a very colorful bear sitting, eyes closed, near an old bench. "What about him?" I whispered.

"Aw, that's Patch; he's always coming up here to escape the noise and to nap. Don't blame him; all that snuffling and snorting and scratching against the door posts nearly drives me up here, too."

We tiptoed past the dozing bear and entered a nice little attic room. Finally, I could see some of Hiram's rabbit items.

I was intrigued by the iron furniture pieces waiting for a home. Looks like that little unit on the right belongs in a bathroom. (I couldn't resist walking over to straighten up those towels, though)

"Let's go on down to the master bedroom," Hiram said, leading the way.

"Oh, you've made a good start in here," I said, looking around at all the rabbit-themed items cramming the former bedroom. "You've even got some spring hats, I see."

"Aha!" he said. "I see my nephew Homer escaped down here for a carrot break. He's supposed to be carrying boxes up to the attic for later unloading."

"What's up, Uncle Hiram?" Nephew Homer called from his seat on the sofa, chewing away on his carrot.

"I'm showing my friend Miz Wanna around and trying to help her visualize what our shop's going to look like eventually, Homer." He frowned at the young yellow rabbit. "You haven't forgotten about those boxes have you?"

"Nope! Be right on it soon as I finish my break," Homer said, chomping away and flexing his big rabbit toes. "Look! I got all the plates and cups and stuff in the hutch. There's even a head of cabbage in that box. You might want to get it out for supper."

"Right; good, then," Hiram nodded. "Okay, Miz Wanna, if there's something you want to look at more closely, just go ahead. I need to go back down to the kitchen to check on those bears." And he quickly headed toward the staircase.

"Fine," I called after him. "I'll just make myself at home."

Homer smiled, his big teeth shining. "This here Elvis-Wannabe is Ronnie Rabbit; just in from Nashville," he said. "Ronnie, say hello to Miz Wanna. She owns this place; Uncle Hiram's just renting from her."

"Howdy," Ronnie said, nodding and striking a chord or two. "Just thought I'd hop in and see how the joint's goin'," he said in a Southern drawl. "Wish that dern electricity would come back on so I can hook up my new guitar."

At that point, I heard wee voices coming from my right.

A little white rabbit and an even tinier brown rabbit in a pink outfit were playing on a little settee, giggling happily. I couldn't help smiling, too, at their antics.

I left the room, and the strains of Ronnie's guitar and the happy laughter of the little rabbits followed me down the stairs to what had been the living room. Pushing aside a plastic drop cloth, I surveyed the cluttered room.

In the midst of the rabbit items I saw a small bear bench and some larger furniture pieces with bears painted on them. At this point, Hiram hurried in from the kitchen. "Sorry, Miz Wanna, but I have to go find Brendan. Something's got to be done because I just can't bear these bears everywhere any more!" He smiled wanly at his own feeble joke, but I could tell he was really stressed.

"Of course, Hiram. I need to get on home anyway. Thanks for inviting me over. It's been really interesting, and I'll get back with you another time.

"Thanks, Miz Wanna. I appreciate the chance to rent your house, but as you can tell I have a ways to go before my shop's ready to open." He looked anxiously behind him. "And boy do I need to get those bears out of here!"

I waved goodbye and hurried on home, wondering myself about bears and rabbits coexisting in the same household.

The next day I decided to see what kind of items I had that might be put on consignment in Hiram's shop. When I opened one of the drawers in a rolling cart I could not believe how many rabbits were there, along with some rabbit-themed furniture pieces. Good grief! Well, you know what you always hear about rabbits multiplying .....

This was one of my first miniature rabbits; maybe based on the famous Peter Rabbit with his little blue coat.

He has an admirer, Lucy Rabbit, who has read all about him.

Hmm, that is a neat design on the cover.

I just can't seem to leave things alone, so I tried duplicating the book's design on a tablemat.

Those rabbits are surprisingly easy to do with the rounded end of a paintbrush and a toothpick. Just some dots and a couple of dashes here and there.

Sitting in front of that flowered armchair, this little stool wouldn't be a bad place to rest one's feet, and it ties in nicely with the pastels of the other rabbit items.

Next came Uncle Wiggily Rabbit, ready for his walk through the cabbage patch. He is named after the famous storybook character, he tells me. That little lamb follows him everywhere. I think it used to belong to Bo Beep until she left to try her luck Off-Broadway.

This is Soccer Rob Rabbit, waiting for the next challenger. That glazed look in his eyes suggests either single-mindedness of purpose or else not enough sleep last night.

Matilda just blushes every time ol' Harry tells one of his rabbit jokes.

And these three little guys are definitely too young to be out alone. Where is their mama?

Oh, no, Rosie! what happened to your ear? Did you lose it when you were gathering those green apples for your children's pie? I better give you a hat to cover it!

This stuffed rabbit looks quite comfy in his rocking chair.

And this chair works nicely in a small space. It reminds me of ice cream chairs from my childhood in Oklahoma.

Here's a nice cheery rabbit and sunflower print, perfect as a table topper.

Here's a couple of pieces whose feet reminded me of rabbits. That chair would work in a corner somewhere. You could set a tray of refreshments on that bench, perhaps.

Here's another rabbit print on another bench.

Here's a cauliflower tub. A similar one made from carrots is at Hiram's. I think this would make a great table with a glass top, and maybe something planted under the glass?

At this point, I was beginning to tire, and decided to quit looking for rabbits, as I had other things to do.

Yesterday I returned to Hiram's and was surprised to see that the bears are now gone. "Where did they go?" I inquired curiously.

"Oh, Brendan's renting a smaller house not far from here. Even he's getting tired of all those relatives, but I'm just glad it's him having to worry about them now; not me." He opened the door into the kitchen, which I was surprised to see was quite tidy, although the table was filled with Easter baskets.

"Thank goodness they're out of here," he said, wiping his brow. "I'm coming up on my busiest season of the year, and the last thing I needed was a bunch of bears eating honey and putting their sticky paws on everything. When the store's ready for business it will be open year-round, but I already have this extensive Easter basket business to keep me busy until after the holiday."

I enjoyed looking through the stock of samples he has ready made so that customers can look and place their orders.

Here's a wrapped basket with a chocolate bunny and marshmallow eggs.

This particular chocolate rabbit Hiram orders from New Orleans; it tastes of pecans.

Hiram laughingly calls this one his Pepto Bismol Bowl. It's a big seller with little girls.

Teenagers prefer this little number with its flowing ribbon tails.

This large chocolate rabbit is a favorite with little boys. They also like gummy worms and blue gumballs in their baskets.

My goodness, what a cutie. He would look particularly neat on a small bedside table.

Here are some more examples of Hiram's work.

"And that isn't even the half of it," he explained. "If you don't see what you want, just ask for my samples notebook; and if it's not there, I'll custom make it. The Easter customer is always right; that's my motto," he told me as I gathered up my purse and sweater to head for home. "I'll send you an invitation to the Grand Opening of The Rabbit Hutch," he told me as I got in my car to leave.

"Thanks!" I said, "And I'd sure like to see Brendan Bear's new place, too."

"Well, if I see him, I'll tell him you're interested. Better you than me," Hiram said.

At that point, the loud mechanical strumming of an electric guitar came ringing out of the house behind me. "Oh, good grief! I guess the electricity's come back on! What next!" I heard him say as I drove away.

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