Whether you marked the beginning of the holiday season by the arrival of Santa at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade or simply by the onslaught of adverts on television, you knew you had something to look forward to. Toys. The arrival of the Sears Wish Book was a big day at my house. The weather might be getting colder and it was getting darker earlier each afternoon, but you could turn the pages of that toy catalogue and dream. Make a list.
These days the arrival of the Amazon toy catalogue may provide similar excitement. Plus, it has activities and stickers. What will they think of next?
Last night I came across this question on Twitter, posed by Mental Floss:
What is one toy from your childhood you'd pay a fortune for now?
My response was immediate: Vac-u-form and Creepy Crawlers.
I didn’t actually own the Vacuform. It belonged to my big sisters. I could watch them use it, though, and I did. I suspect my fascination with it was the reason behind my mother eventually buying me Creepy Crawlers.
Neither of these toys could be sold today in their original form because they are potentially unsafe. Both involved units very much like hot plates that could give you legitimate burns if you weren’t careful. A lot about things in my childhood were potentially unsafe. Traveling in the back of the Ford Country Squire station wagon with no seat belts, for instance. Playing with my friends in the new housing community that was going up nearby, wandering in and out of unfinished townhouses.
The truth is that I would not pay a fortune to get these toys back. They probably aren’t even my favorites. But they are symbolic, in a way, of a time in my life when there was a lot more leeway about what kids could do. So I name them to remember that time. To recall that particular smell of hot metal and melting plastic. The enormous basements of my childhood homes. The joy of retreating to the playroom.
The most enjoyment I experienced in childhood was in pretend play. That’s not something you can pay any amount to get back. True, some of that involved Barbie dolls, but most of it occurred in backyards or friends’ basements, on playgrounds and in neighborhood parks. We were pioneers in Colonial times. Brave children resisting the Nazis. The girlfriends of The Monkees. We were performers and movie stars. We were ponies.
We climbed on an enormous abandoned tree stump and blast off into Outer Space. As we painstakingly peeled the bark off of sticks they became any number of essential props to support our games. Grass, leaves, seed pods, flower petals, pebbles, and dirt became soup or cakes.
We hid behind bushes and plotted our next moves.
This is the toy that no fortune will buy me. I remember returning to my elementary school playground on a sunny afternoon after I had begun seventh grade. Soon I would be a teenager. In the last year or so I had been running towards adolescence as though it would be the Next Big Thing. The best toy ever. That day as I looked at the playground I was already feeling nostalgia for childhood lost.
I realized that there was no going back.
Throughout my childhood years there plenty of toys I enjoyed. And it’s fun to remember them as talismans of an earlier time. But the hours and hours of just making it up as we went along are a thing apart. As magical as time travel but also as human as the squabbles, skinned knees, tears, and power struggles of children learning how to get along with one another through play.
What about you? Is there a toy from your childhood that you’d pay a fortune for now? Or - - money aside - - that you really loved and wish you had it back? Would you play with it? Share it with children you know? Put it on a shelf to admire and remember?
Let’s start a list.
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