Playing house, for real

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A widow finds her future husband through the most unlikely of places – a hobby-builders supply catalogue.

AUBURN – It wasn’t a matchmaker, a chance meeting in a bar or a blind date arranged through friends that brought Isabella and Skip Wilson together.

It wasn’t even an Internet dating site. Skip Wilson, now 70, wouldn’t touch a computer for anything. No newfangled contraptions for him.

“It was actually a hobby-builders supply catalogue,” said Isabella Wilson, 74, her eyes dancing as she recalled their first exchange through the mail. “They had a pen-pal column. I wrote in and I think I got 22 letters. One man, and the rest of them were women.”

It was 1996, and in a few short years that man, all they way from Michigan, would be taking her hand in marriage during a surprise ceremony at a family reunion here in the Pine Tree State.

When they began writing, Skip Wilson told his future wife he was creating a miniature replica of an old saloon. He wanted some decorating ideas, so she sent him a tiny leather apron and told him to put food out on the bar.

The conversation continued until he decided he wanted to visit. He’d never been to Maine, and was living in a one-bedroom apartment outside Sandusky, Mich.

He had started building miniatures – in this case tiny replicas of historic buildings – as a way to pass the time. He bought kits instead of working from scratch, because he liked to work early and the neighbors weren’t likely to appreciate the sound of a band saw at 6:30 a.m.

It was curiosity that had made him answer the pen-pal ad, and something else. “I was tired of being alone,” Skip Wilson said. “I know that sounds funny, but that’s the truth.”

When he first came to visit, in 1998, he decided he liked it here. A year later he came back to stay.

“I just woke up one morning and said, hey, sell your stuff or pack your bags and get the hell out of there,” Skip Wilson said.

Isabella Wilson laughed.

“I had pen pals as a girl,” she said, but had never expected to meet a man through the mail.

She was widowed when Skip Wilson started writing. He’d never been married, but he became part of the family pretty quickly.

Today, the couple has continued their miniature hobby and even gone so far as to open a museum in the back of The Barn off South Goff Street, called “Nana’s Dream Museum of Miniatures.”

More than 20 dollhouses are on display, although only a few are furnished at this time. Skip and Isabella Wilson are still in the process of filling the houses and creating plastic windows to protect their collection of tiny, often hand-made couches, chairs, television sets, bathroom vanities, kitchen hutches and even minuscule fruits and vegetables, biscuits and marbled bacon.

“She did this,” Skip Wilson said matter-of-factly, looking around the museum room. “It was her idea, her dream. Give her the credit for it, not me.

“I made up my mind and I got it,” Isabella Wilson said, smiling with satisfaction.

Apparently, each has had their wishes granted.

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