Out of the blue, my usually uncommunicative brother sent my sisters and I this text:
“Do you guys remember amp bump???”
Amp bump? I could almost feel my brain physically shifting into a time warp. Amp bump. Oh my God, Amp-bump!
Different from the 1950’s stamped metal doll house and plastic furniture of my earliest years (which rusted when I left it in the back yard and got dents in it that left raw edges which could slice your fingers), in the 1960’s my mother purchased a doll house – a Bavarian/Tyrolian themed doll house which she called “a Swiss chalet” – for my younger sisters, who we called “The Babies”. Even though The Babies were a number of years past being babies, I don’t think they had actually reached the age yet when they would become offended by the reference, and the nickname stuck to them for a good long time.
The Swiss chalet house was a simple, tidy house of maple, painted white with red and green flower accents and shutters, curtains and a little balcony. The furniture within was also Bavarian style in blue and red, with painted wardrobes and chests to place at the feet of the four poster beds, flower motifs on the little chairs and table and checkered bedding. There was a tiny toaster with teeny slices of toast that you could make pop up and down. The pieces of doll house food were realistic and had the scent of marzipan – I can still remember the smell of the doll food. It came with a family of dolls dressed as if ready to tend goats with Heidi. It was no secret our mother had actually bought the doll house for herself, not only as a reference to her Swiss roots, but more so to satisfy her own unfulfilled 1930’s childhood dream of a doll house. She shared many stories of playing with her best friend Lucy, whose father had built a spectacular doll house which she so coveted in her own impoverished life. Her glowing memories and descriptions were so vivid that she planted a fantastical image in my mind that most likely was greatly exaggerated. When my mother bought “the Swiss chalet” doll house, she let us have free range playing with it. Still, I remember the way she would look at the house and furniture pieces and could tell it meant much to her on many levels.
My siblings and I, staggered in ages over a span of eight years, would come together in different configurations as we wedged our bodies close together in front of the open side of the house to play. Many scenarios would be orchestrated. We even developed our own short hand and sound effects. Thus amp-bump was born.
A little doll-person comes to visit the doll-people of the chalet:
(visitor makes the sound of a creaky door opening) – “Aaaaaaaammp”
(visitor makes the sound of door closing shut) – “Bump!”
Every time a doll-character would enter or exit the doll house, the person holding the doll would make the sound effect: “Aaaaaaaaaaammmmp BUMP!” As the doll-people were in and out of the doll house at a constant rate, eventually it became abbreviated to a quick “knock-knock, Amp-bump”, which was said rapidly and without emphasis on any syllable. Amp-bump. Amp-bump. Amp-bump. The sound of coming in the door, or leaving. If you left angrily and slammed the door, you could even say AMP-BUMP. We moved across the country. The Babies (“We’re not babies anymore!” said with indignation) had reached the age where they were not playing with the doll house. My mother carefully packed up the furniture, but somehow in the final moments the doll house itself did not make it onto the moving van. In haste, one of the last things my mother did as she was saying good-bye to relatives was to bring the Swiss chalet to my aunt and uncle’s house and ask if she could store it there until we could get it at a later time. I remember my aunt saying “Sure, it will be there for you”, and carefully placing it in the basement with a towel over it. That was the last we ever saw of it. My aunt, uncle and cousins have no recollection of the doll house, although my mother always suspected it was given away to one of the relatives on the other side of their family.
When I had my own children, my mother would gently unwrap the few pieces of chalet furniture that she had saved and let my daughters and niece play with them while she exclaimed with a wistful sigh, “I wish I still had the Swiss chalet”. I searched everywhere to try and locate the exact replacement. The pieces were so nicely made that I was sure it must have come from F.A.O Schwarz back in the 1960’s. I looked at flea markets, tag sales, antique shops and eBay, hoping to someday surprise her, imagining the look on her face when she received it and lovingly placed the remaining furniture inside. But I never did manage to find one for her. And then one day she passed away.
After her passing, I went through her address book in order to notify anyone who might want to know. I found the name of someone named Lucy who I surmised was her old friend. So I wrote her to tell her about my mother, mentioning how our entire lives we had heard stories about their friendship and her doll house. Lucy wrote me back. In her letter, she included some photos of the doll house her father had made for her, the one she and my mom spent hours immersed in and which was now in possession of her grandchildren. It was every bit as amazing and detailed as my mother had described it. I could imagine her longing and envy as a young girl.
I stopped writing this just now to look on the internet for the Swiss chalet once more, in hopes of finding a representative photo to post here. Wouldn’t you know it, I discovered a number of photographs, sadly, much too late. There is nothing spectacular about the house. My own daughter’s doll houses were elaborate dwellings made from kits, with many rooms, realistic furniture, wall paper, flooring, roof shingles, siding and carpeting, and even electricity – much, much grander than the simple three room Swiss chalet of our youth. And yet, all that size, those details, are clearly not necessary catalysts to bring forth what can come from a child’s imagination.
As a matter of fact, in my hazy recollection, the house was much bigger and painted blue. But the more I looked at the photos, like a creaky door opening (“aaaaaaamp”), the clearer those memories suddenly became. The hours of imagination, fantasy and camaraderie I had with my siblings filled the spaces of those few simple rooms to make complex adventures and keep us connected in a small heart space of time and history that is uniquely our own.