A Kitchen Set Surprise

27, December 2016

In 2009, Shelley Lebbing contacted me to see whether we would be interested in some items for donation. Included in her gift were four pieces of a toddler-sized pink kitchen, complete with a few cooking utensils and numerous grocery pieces. Here’s Shelley's account of receiving her Rite-Hite kitchen in the 1960s:

Color photo of Shelley Lebbing with her new pink Rite Hite stoveA four-year-old Shelley Lebbing poses with her new kitchen set, both in and out of boxes, in 1962. Image courtesy of Shelley Lebbing.

The kitchen set was a surprise. I received three of the pieces (refrigerator, stove, and sink) for Christmas in 1962, when I was four years old. My parents gave me the kitchen cabinet for my fifth birthday in February 1963. I asked my sister if she knew if I asked for the kitchen set for Christmas, and she didn’t believe so. Our tree was set up in our basement, and I remember not being allowed to go downstairs. When I’d ask about the noises coming from the basement, I’d be told it was Santa dropping off presents. We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve after my Uncle Lawrence, Aunt Ruth, and their sons Don and Gary arrived. The refrigerator was already assembled, but the sink and stove were still in their boxes. What I remember most about Christmas in 1962 is my dad and Uncle Lawrence sitting on the basement floor, struggling to assemble either the stove or sink together. Eventually they realized they had the wrong instructions. We all had a good laugh. Whenever we start talking about the attic playroom, the discussion generally goes back to Christmas 1962 and dad and Uncle Lawrence trying to put my stove and sink together.  

Color photo of Shelley Lebbing's dad and uncle assembling her new kitchen setShelley Lebbing's dad and uncle attempt to assemble her new kitchen set in 1962. Image courtesy of Shelley Lebbing.

My parents had turned half of our attic into a playroom for my sister, who was nine years older than me, around 1955. The playroom included my sister’s dollhouse, doll clothes and wardrobe, cradle, rocking chair, matching doll bed and high chair, and a toddler table and chairs. In 1961, I received a Chatty Cathy doll and doll crib (also donated to the Missouri History Museum), which made their way to the attic playroom. So that might be the reason my parents decided to give me the kitchen set for Christmas in 1962. My kitchen replaced the much smaller kitchen set that my sister had played with.

Color photo of pink Rite Hite kitchen stoveThis pink Rite-Hite kitchen stove was one of Shelley Lebbing's Christmas gifts in 1962. Missouri History Museum.

The playroom was the perfect place to play house when it was raining or cold outside. We’d even create make-believe rooms, and sometimes we completely remodeled the playroom, which involved moving everything to a different spot. Over the years the kitchen set was played with by me, cousins, neighbors, and friends for hours. For a number of years no one really used the kitchen set or played in the attic. At one point, my mom even suggested getting rid of everything. My dad said it wasn’t hurting anything and that eventually the grandkids could play with it. He was right—throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, my sister’s children played in the attic. Then in the 1990s my children played in the attic with everything that I had played with. They probably spent more time playing in the attic because they went to my mom’s after school. 

After my mother passed away in 2008, my sister and I each took the items from the attic playroom that were ours. My sister held onto a few items and gave others to her great-grandchildren. I decided to contact the Missouri History Museum to see if they would be interested in the kitchen set.

Thank you, Shelley. We’re forever grateful that you did. See Shelley’s pink Rite-Hite stove for yourself in our TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s exhibit, open through January 22!

—Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity, and Shelley Lebbing, donor and friend of the Missouri History Museum

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