Marian Pettygrove loved dolls. Antique dolls. Porcelain dolls. Cloth dolls.
Whenever she bought one, she'd make an entry into a log detailing when and where it was made, how she acquired it.
Before her death at 91 in January, she placed small tags on them, each tag in effect a tiny will indicating which relative or friend should inherit that particular doll.
In retrospect, it is a shame she didn't do the same with her dollhouse.
"All of a sudden, I am looking for a home for it," said George Pettygrove, her husband of 68 years.
Their story is so generationally familiar. They met in college.
"It was like 'Some Enchanted Evening,' " George said, citing lyrics from the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from "South Pacific."
" 'You may see a stranger,' " he said. "I saw her 'across a crowded room' and fell in love with her that night."
They married during World War II, while he was still in the military. They eventually moved to Modesto, where both became career educators. They raised their three children here and grew old together here.
"A storybook romance," George said.
Storybook, indeed, with the dollhouse becoming part of the tale. It is a replica of a Victorian house that stood along Highway 198 near Visalia until burning to the ground in April 1983. They took a photo of the original before the fire, buying their dollhouse kit that same year for $300.
"It was nothing but plywood cut up into pieces," he said. "Just holes (where the windows would go)."
George assembled the main body of the home, on a 33-by-33-inch rotating base. Marian took over from there, and over the years added lights that still work, laid hardwood floors piece by tiny piece, roof tiles, gingerbread and exterior trim.
It became one of Marian's passions and hobbies, standing in a corner of their living room for nearly three decades, forever a work in progress. She perpetually hunted for miniature furniture and other household items, all with turn-of-the-century authenticity.
Surprises here and there
Because George and Marian were educators, they were able to travel during the summers.
"We'd be on the East Coast somewhere and she'd see something and say, 'This would be great for the dollhouse,' " he said.
A photo of George's father graces one side of the flickering fireplace's mantle; another of his mom and aunt hangs opposite. She found a tiny shaving cup and brush. Toys are scattered on the floor of the boys' bedroom. The girls' bedroom is impeccably neat.
To this day, George finds little surprises whenever he looks at the house.
"I just discovered something I'd never see before," he said one day last week. "A set of croquet mallets. Every time I look at it, I see something I'd never seen before."
An art major at the University of California at Berkeley, Marian did a hand painting of flowers that hangs in the dining room.
"Oils, using a little brush with only one or two hairs on it," George said.
Need a home for the home
Some might consider it painstaking detail work. She would have it no other way, he said.
She added a tiny mouse, a cat and a mousetrap in one room.
"The mouse is missing," daughter Merri Goodman points out. "No one has touched (the house). We don't know where that darned mouse is. It's missing, and for the life of me, I can't find it."
That mouse-tery pales in comparison to George's dilemma, though: What to do with a $300 dollhouse that they ultimately spent about $3,000 to furnish?
His own children are now in their 60s, and Goodman said their homes simply don't have the space for it.
Giving it to one of the regional crisis centers that house children isn't an option, George said. "It's not really a child's toy," he said. "Children can look at it, but not play with it."
McHenry Museum steps up
Nor can it go to someone who will abuse it, George said. "I don't want to see it cut up and thrown away," he said. "It would be nice to know it was somewhere where it is treasured."
Wayne Mathes of the McHenry Museum saw the dollhouse this week.
"It is outstanding," Mathes said. "We told George Pettygrove and Merri Goodman that the McHenry Museum would be happy to add it to its collections."
Goodman also has been in contact with the historical society in Exeter, because the dollhouse is a replica of a Victorian from that area. Wherever it goes, parting with such a sentimental piece will be emotional and difficult a decision George never thought he'd have to make.
Oh, if only Marian had placed a tag on it, as she did her dolls.
Such a tag seems to be the missing piece of her masterpiece, and the piece needed to give George peace of mind.
eff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.