After the War, William's family was evicted from their house to make room for returning veterans. They pulled their suitcases from the closet, and walked around the corner to his sister's crowded house on 22nd St.
But soon, the house began to empty. When William was 16, his remaining sisters married, his grandmother died, and six months later, his father died.
Since that year, William has worked to fill his home again. He met my grandmother when he was 15, and married her three years later. By the time he was 32, his three-bedroom house was pulsing with six children, one mother-in-law, and a dog.
But life will always take people away. Of William's four sisters, only one remains. Of my grandmother's seven siblings-William's second family-there are only three.
William has hours of stories of each person. Of dances, nights on corners, Mummers, and cheesesteaks. We are standing on his deck, watching the sun melt behind the skeletal trees.
It gets hard when they start to go, doll baby.
We squint into the wavering citrus cloud. It is cold again, and dusty Christmas decorations are being pulled from attics and garages across the country.
Although he has experienced a life most would consider tragic, he is one of the happiest, proudest men I have known. He weaves his life's stories to make the heartbreaking hopeful; the struggles, eccentricities; and the ordinary, completely wondrous.
With age, I have come to see the hardships for what they are, like discovering the mall Santa Claus is really a lonely drunk.
Inside, the dollhouse sits in a dimming room. Deepening shadows creep over its tiny, empty chambers. No one has ever slept in its beds or crowded its tables. The room itself, though, like all those in my grandparents' house, has had years bursting with loved ones crowded together.
Still, the time will come when their house is empty, too. The rooms will slowly be taken over by shadows and deafening silence. Our family will not sleep in the beds, or crowd the tables.
But I will take its ghosts. And they will live on in me. And I will hold my world within my world within my world.