My Toys

How can anyone look back on their childhood and not recall their playthings? I have now arrived at a point where in searching for images of toys from my youth, the term "vintage" considerably speeds up the find.

Our child's playthings mark moments in time, and have their own sets of remembered signature experiences; each with its own exquisitely individual sensory palette of sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touch.

It is such a gift to have a recollection of a particular cherished play thing and have that memory conjure all the associations it once had, just as fresh as at the time. Some of those associations lay in one's consciousness like buried treasure, special but long forgotten. But, once remembered, you can touch again the heart of your child. That so-called "inner child" that may have been shunted off to the side to make way for the trappings and manners of adulthood.

I'm remembering in my grade school days having a relationship to plastic. And, particularly, an olfactory one. Every so often I would get a new plastic wallet to carry around. There were several to choose from with graphics of your favorite cartoon characters or popular celebrities. They were all plastic and filled with the heavy scent of plasticizers to keep them pliable. Perfume to a kids nose. Or, the smell of the "airplane" glue used to make countless car, airplane and boat models. I don't know if the smell was all that great, or just rather pronounced and memorable. FYI, I didn't partake in that age old practice of glue sniffing, squirting a bunch of glue into a paper bag and deeply inhaling the fumes. Even then I knew it was not good for you. (Just like now with alcoholic beverages, it's more of a taste thing for me; not so much the buzz.)

Also there was something about the small, talismanic object. I had this small flexible plastic figure of a man. Sort of like this:

Could fit in the palm of a boy's hand. He was my alter ego; going everywhere to do battle, explore worlds, right wrongs. One day I lowered him down the small opening in the floor of our empty fireplace, down into the cellar space where ashes were collected. And, he slipped my line and got stranded there. With a flashlight and a string with a loop at the end I managed after some effort to recue him. Where he went since, who knows. Kids toys have a way of vanishing with time.

How could I not forget King Tut. Small, well made, self-contained, mysterious, magical.


Boys have noses. For pure olfactory bliss a tube of Tinker Toys is non-pareil. Still!

Since I had a brother older by nine years I got my share of hand-me downs. The heavy gauge metal pedal car styled after the Chrysler Airflow (circa 1934-1937) and the metal scooter that I would race the bus running on the street where I lived. The image below is a close as I could get. By the time the pedal car came to me the finish was a dark cherry red very similar to that on the scooter. The actual scooter was blue.

But, the best thing was the Schwinn Black Phantom. Electric front light and button horn, wide white walls, and a rear carrier. Also chromed fenders and a big-ass front springer suspension; also chromed of course.)

And, not to be forgotten, the genuine Red Ryder BB Gun. Yes, with every unit guaranteed to hear dear mom, "You're going to shoot someone's eyes with that!"

In the domain of creative/technical play there was the Erector Set, Chemistry set, and the American Bricks Set. The Erector Set was all about geometry, structure and the plain labor of screwing and bolting things together. The Chemistry Set, even then, I couldn't believe that I was let alone to play with who know what the heck was in there. Nowadays, nothing comes close to the pure havoc potential that came in that beautiful metal case.

During my childhood, metal was the usual material for toys. There was a wind-up submarine that I played with during long leisurely Saturday baths. That's right, Saturday. And, not Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Unless there was a particularly grimy play day, bath day was Saturday. (Full disclosure: I like the image below, my actual model submarine was plastic; but it had ejecting torpedoes!)

Also the much loved metal gas filling station, with elevator to lift cars to the roof-top parking.

Perhaps the most gonzo of all my toys was the Coco-Cola fountain. It was this large plastic facsimile of an actual soda fountain fixture. You inserted a standard 8 ounce bottle of Coco-Cola and you could dispense it into small shaped plastic glasses.

The most exotic to me, at the time anyway, was the gyroscope. I got it at the venerable J. L. Hudson Company, Downtown Detroit, Michigan. The Toy Department on the 12th floor was as magical a place as any kid could want. Here is an excellent article with photos of the toy department there. Behold!

That gyroscope was made in France, all metal with bright paint trim. It also came it a paper labelled box with a miniature metal Eiffel tower and a plastic jet plane. The thing about that set was that you hooked up the gyroscope to a long metal rod at the other end of which was the jet plane. When you actuated the gyroscope you placed it onto the nail point on top of the Eiffel Tower and the airplane would circle around for as long as the top continued to spin.

Every kid should have a toy gyroscope. The tricks it can do, not the least of which is the feel of the gyroscopic effect in your hands. However, I wouldn't recommend that Eiffel Tower. The pointy top on that little model was wicked sharp, like the point on a protractor if you know what I mean.

Since my formative years we have gotten all up about child safety. And, that's a good thing.

Now don't get me going to tell you about how my dad would make an annual trek from Detroit to Toledo, just over the Michigan-Ohio border, to give us kids a chance to buy Fourth of July fireworks with our savings. A fireworks store to a young boy is as close to pornography as his innocent young mind can go. Bright paper packages with hundreds of carefully grouped firecrackers with even brighter and fantastical labels. Bottle rockets by the gross. Cherry Bombs and Hammerheads/M80s, the heavy duty standards; each one a small bit of dyn-O-mite. BLAM! For those lighter moments, Lady Fingers. And, snap caps that you threw to he ground for an explosion whenever the circumstances indicated.

And since we are on the subject of pyrotechnics and explosives, toy guns were a staple of my masculine youth. Guns of all types. (Note to parents today: If you want to look into the future, notice what your kids are playing, and playing with.)

Here is a photo of the actual type gun I had in my collection. It was bright chrome with an eleven inch barrel. The "Dirty Harry" you could call it.

The space gun, or ray gun, conjured all kinds of fantasies in my young mind. The more bells and whistles, the better. (Item shown not actual specimen from my collection.)

And, every Springtime, a new squirt gun (those things broke down easily). No super soaker type units then, just single action close range weaponry.

It would be easy for the reader to get that I am as an adult a raging full fledged member of the National Rifle Association. I still retain my ingrained since youth love of gunnery. But I eschew fire arms of all kinds. 

Little known fact: Once I did own a shotgun and it became a kind of albatross for me living in NYC with no permit for that blaster. I didn't want to sell it and have who knows what would be done with it on my karmic record, so I perpetrated some skulduggery. I broke the gun into its two sections and packed it into a shopping bag. In the middle of the harbor on the Staten Island Ferry leaving Manhattan I eased into a spot where no one could see and threw the thing overboard. True story. (I'm mentioning this for any future archaeologist who finds it and wonders how and why.)Here's the full story.

No comments:

Post a Comment