The attic was Tulie's favorite part of the house. Getting to it was like going into a secret, magical place because the door was inside Mom's closet, hidden way behind the hanging clothes. Then a steep stairway, just wide enough for one person, led up to the four funny rooms tucked helter-skelter in a sort of maze under the gables and the two turrets that topped the old Victorian house. The attic had real floors but the walls were unfinished and you could see the beams. Old newspapers had been tacked up between them years and years ago. Tulie thought that was better than wallpaper any day because she could read the stories and look at the pictures of things that happened a long time ago. There were some stories about World War II and Tulie knew her great grandfather had been a soldier then.
One of the attic rooms, the one with most nooks and crannies, was Tulie's special favorite. She had made it cozy. There was an old rose-covered rug on the floor and Gran had sewn some curtains out of a worn-out quilt. Tulie had pasted up pretty pictures from a pile of old calendars she had found tied up in a bundle and forgotten long, long ago. The favorite thing about her attic room was that it had a window seat. She liked to curl up in it when she had a good book to read or just to daydream. Theirs was not only the oldest house on the street but it was also the tallest. She could look out over the roofs and treetops of Garfield. Sometimes Tulie imagined that she was Wendy and Peter Pan would come to the window and sprinkle her with magic dust. Then off they would fly together and all the kids in town would look up in the sky and see them.
“Gran, I brought you a cup of tea,” Tulie said as she went into the storeroom that was tucked into the far corner of the attic. It was where the oldest stuff was piled. Tulie already knew what was in the two big steamer trunks in that room. There were lots of old clothes that she liked to dress up in. Funny mini-dresses and some old furs and one skirt Tulie loved the most. It had belonged to Gran when she was a teen-ager but it was hard even for Tulie to imagine her grandmother in the full skirt trimmed with a furry white French poodle wearing a sparkling dog collar! Tulie had never bothered to look inside the dust-covered cardboard boxes stacked in the corner way behind the old dress form, a rusty Schwinn bike and a very old wicker baby carriage that was missing one wheel.
“Oh Tulie, I'm glad you're here. I want to show you something,” Gran said, taking a sip of tea and setting the mug down on the table next to her. Gran was sitting on one of the trunks and she had a shoebox open next to her. She scooted over to make room and patted the place where she wanted Tulie to sit. “Just look what I found, Tulie. Why, I'd almost forgotten about these,” she said as she rummaged in the box.
“What is it, Gran?”
“My old collection of paper dolls. We used to call them cut-outs when I was a little girl. I didn't know they were up here. I thought they must have been thrown away years and years ago. My, how I used to love them. Look how pretty they are,” she said, holding up two of the paper figures. “Let's dress them up, shall we?”
“I had some paper dolls a long time ago, but they weren't much fun once I cut them out,” recalled Tulie. “They didn't do anything. Maybe paper dolls are for real little girls, not somebody who is going to be a teen-ager in two years,” she scoffed.” I'm kind of old for paper dolls, don't you think?”
“Well, honey, I think I'm a little too old for paper dolls myself!” laughed Gran as she picked out some paper dresses and began to place them on the figures, carefully folding the tabs over the shoulders and propping the dolls up against the side of the shoebox. “I played with these paper cut-outs when I was your age, young lady. I guess the paper dolls when I was a girl were more interesting than the paper dolls today. They had such fashionable clothes then and it was fun to play with them and imagine they were elegant ladies leading the kind of life I thought I was going to lead when I grew up. Maybe you just don't have enough imagination,” challenged Gran as she continued to rummage in the shoebox.
Tulie looked more closely. These paper dolls didn't look anything like the ones she ever had. They were beautiful. Gran had dressed one of the paper dolls in a pink gown that looked very much like one Tulie sometimes imagined herself wearing when she was being Royal. The other doll wore a cowgirl's outfit. “What's in that little envelope?” Tulie asked Gran.
“Oh, that's where I used to keep all the tiny things so I wouldn't lose them. Hats and purses and jewelry. Look inside and see if there's anything that would go with these outfits,” Gran suggested.
Tulie found the perfect cowgirl hat and slid it onto the paper doll's head. Then she considered a big flowered hat to go with the pink gown until she discovered a tiara that was just right. She looked at the dolls more closely. One was a pretty blonde lady and the other one had brown hair. “Who are they supposed to be? Are they real people?”
“Oh yes. They were big movie stars. Most of my cut-outs were movie stars, but you've never heard of them, I bet. Jane Powell and Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds.”
Tulie shook her head.
Gran chuckled. “Just showing my age, I guess.” She dug deeper into the shoebox. “Some are even older. They belonged to my cousin, Lois. She was eight years older than I, and I inherited her paper doll collection when she grew up. Here, look at this,” she said, holding up another doll with long red hair. “Rita Hayworth. Oh my, she was something! A big star!”
“You mean a star like Madonna or the Olson twins?”
“Why yes, I guess so. It's a shame they don't make cut-outs like this any more, isn't it? Would you like to play with them, Tulie?”
Tulie shrugged. “Not really.”
“Well, you take them downstairs anyway and think about it. Brenda likes fashion, doesn't she? Maybe you can show them to her sometime.”
Brenda Jackson was Tulie's best friend. She lived two houses down the street in the prettiest little house in this part of town. Brenda's dad taught Shop Class at the high school and he was always busy making shutters or flowerboxes and building fancy picket fences and arches. Brenda's Mom worked part time at Burger King but spent most of her time gardening so their yard was what Gran called “the neighborhood showplace.” Despite the fact that her family's house was so nice, Brenda spent most of her time at Tulie's.
They had been best friends since the first grade even though they weren't really very much alike. For starters, they didn't look alike. Brenda was African-American whereas Tulie was Irish and Scottish and German and English, all mixed together. Tulie was skinny, Gran called her a stringbean. Brenda wasn't skinny and Brenda's mother wasn't happy about that. Brenda was a cheerleader and Tulie could not even imagine herself being a cheerleader. Tulie liked to read and Brenda liked TV much better than books. The biggest difference between the two girls was in the imagination department. Tulie thought Brenda might be imagination challenged since she, herself, usually had to do most of the thinking and all of the imagining. When they were younger, Brenda always went along with any of Tulie's games. Lately though, it was hard to convince her to be Princess Tulip's lady-in-waiting or Doctor Tulip's miraculously-cured-patient or a back-up singer to rock star Tulie or the first-woman-Vice President for first-woman-President Tulip Mae O'Brien.
One game that Brenda was willing to play any time was the one where Tulie was a world famous fashion designer and Brenda was Naomi Campbell, the supermodel. They would spend hours in the backyard, Tulie lying in the hammock under the big maple tree, her eyes closed, her hands linked behind her head, just thinking of outfit after outfit. As fast as she could dream them up in her imagination, Brenda-Naomi would model them. With one hand on her hip, she would strut up and down the gravel path between Gran's flower bed of bright zinnias, tossing her imaginary waist-length hair extensions as she spun around.
Tulie liked imagining wedding dresses the most, and ball gowns, too. Sometimes Brenda requested something special like a coat made out of feathers and Tulie's imagination would whip it up to order. No problem. This was the one game where Tulie thought Brenda's imagination might sometimes, but not often, be almost as good as hers.