Most of you have read about some of these childhood toy memories, but home from the hospital, on the mend, I wished to post it again. Not just my new readers, but for a dear friend, who, though of a different toy generation, remembers well the joys of hope and imagination.
When I got home from the hospital there was a couple of packages waiting for me, sent from a secret squirrel friend posted far away, yet arriving in time for my return. The return address made me smile, the contents even more so. The Far Side. Pinky and the Brain! Cool!!
I admit, I'm just a big kid, no matter how many years have gone by, and when I see vintage toy stuff, especially vintage toy gun stuff, I have to stop and look at it.
I, for one, know what to do with a G.I. Joe Action Soldier Figure.
I had to say. The girl toys just well. . . . BITE . Whining babies, assorted full breasted little dolls with silicone lips mostly dressed like hookers and an assortment of pink kitchen appliances. I even saw, heaven help me, padded bras for little girls. No, please no.
Why can't you get the kids a good old Sonic Blaster anymore? Nothing like a toy that perforates the eardrums the old fashioned way. Blame it on the cold war or The Man from Uncle, but in the later part of the sixties, when I was small, we had some of the best boys. Dangerous life threatening toys that put the BOOM in baby boomer. The sonic blaster was one of the best, a pump-action gun that fired a big column of air towards distant enemies of the state. Sit in a room full of 40 and 50 somethings and say "Sonic Blaster" and I guarantee at least 3 guys will smile and go "FOOOOMMM! We took out spies, treacherous piles of leaves and that stack of trash that was hiding hippies or a rabid squirrel.
The Sonic Blaster is still gone but some things never change, even though now it's a Conservation Club or LEO range where the noise is made.
My Dad went through a phase later in life, bless him, where he would buy us all stuff he saw on TV. The Pocket Fisherman, The Cap Snaffler, and my Mom's personal ("you bought me WHAT for my birthday") favorite, "The Smokeless Ashtray".
Mom got on the bandwagon as well, and one of the items I got for my room was the "Singing Bird Clock". It wasn't the Audubon one though, but a cheap imitation. Every hour the clock would erupt into a very realistic and loud, song of some exotic bird. So you could tell by the sound what time it was. Thank God it had a light sensor on it so you weren't woken from a sound sleep by the Warbling Wino or the Red Headed Double-Breasted Blanket Grabber at 3 am.
But there was one gift I just didn't know WHAT to do with. It was the "Car Duster". It looked like a small fluffy mop on a long stick. For "dusting" your car. I lived on 100 acres in the middle of the heartland - DUST was not my problem. So I couldn't resist. I took my trusty 4 x 4 out and got it as absolutely, positively muddy as could be humanly done without bodily injury. I had to occasionally get out and scrap a small peephole out of the front windshield so I could see forward to get home. Than, after it all had sufficiently dried, I posed, holding said "Car Duster" in hand in front of the vehicle for a photo for Dad. Mom said he laughed til he had tears in his eyes but he didn't buy us anything from the TV any more.
We never learn. . . some of the lessons are funny. Some are painful. But all come down to the basic human want to find something unique. To own it, and even better yet, to share it with someone you love without them thinking it's stupid or cheap or corny.
When my Mom was near to leaving us, I remember my Dad sitting there with her in the hospital, the sadness lapping at the edges of their life. She had survived a deep risk-taking lifetime, moments of grief intertwined with times of joy so intense she could no longer remember, only to have cancer come for her when her life was still full.
I remember my Dad sitting with her, as she asked for a cigarette, and I hear the whispered words "smokeless ashtray" and my Mom erupted into such peals of laughter that for the moment we all forget where we are and how little time she has left.
Even the silly can provide a memory that stays.
But some of the finds and memories are classic. I was lucky in that my parents grew up in rugged Western mountains with traditional values. Guns for the law abiding were just part of their world. It started with the Daisy, and then when I was old enough to handle and respect a gun for what it is, I learned all about recoil and bolt action from Dad's 8 mm Mauser and took out many a green Seven-Up can at the gravel quarry with Mom with the .22.
We had toy guns though from the time we could walk. As well as some other neat toys, the advantage of having an older brother and frugal parents - hand me down play stuff. Old toys weren't discarded, but they were simply kept to be passed on to siblings, nieces and nephews.
One of these was the Tudor Electric Football Game in your house? Picture the concept. You put eleven players into position. You flip the switch and the whole field begins vibrating and the players start jostling around on the L.A. earthquake-prone gridiron for position. Quick -stop the game so you can place the felt ball on the little base of your favorite player and turn that switch on again. Your player has an opening! He's going for it! The crowds on their feet - what the hell? He's changing direction. He's running the wrong way! SON OF A BITCH!
Fortunately, since this happened almost every time, the little rule book allowed you to call the play as "dead" rather than have your favorite running back reenact Jim Marshall's 1964 run against San Francisco which my Dad complained about for the next 20 years. Though despite it really not really being as great as advertised, we still had fun with it, if for the potential risk of electric shock, if anything.
Another toy I liked - weathered from use but working, albeit with the risk of second degree burns, was the Creepy Crawlers Thing Maker.
Our folks had to get us toy guns, otherwise we'd make a gun out of a Popsicle, Legos or even a banana if that's all we could get our hands on to defend ourselves against outlaws and rustlers out in the back yard of the West. Some parents say toy guns make a child warlike. But lacking a gun toy, I more than once grabbed a plastic action figure around the knees like the butt of a pistol, pointed him head first, and said "BANG!" My folks, thank goodness, never bought in to that "nurture, vs nature" nonsense and let me choose. I played with the toys I wanted to.
My favorite gun of choice when playing soldier as a youngster was Topper's Johnny Seven O.M.A which was handed down from an older brother, still in working order. Johnny Seven had all of the essentials - gun, helmet and combat phones. The thing that made this line special however, was the gun. This baby was a yard long and chock full of the things that boys/men (and the occasional redheaded girl) love to this day - gizmo's galore! The O.M.A offered seven weapons in one. It launched a grenade, fired an anti-tank rocket, shot an armor-piercing shell, chucked an anti-bunker missileshot, 10 bullets as a rifle made a rat-a-tat-tat sound as a tommy gun AND had a pistol that detached and functioned as a cap gun. The stock was also detachable and the O.M.A. had a built in bipod, which was handy since the thing weighed about 5 pounds. Maybe I should have found another one of these rather than laying out $1600 for an AR15 with accessories.
My favorite sidepiece though couldn't be found on any shelf at the toy store. It was the Weller soldering gun kept in the neighbor's garage. It was black and sturdily futuristic looking with two lights that would glow when you pulled the trigger and a tip that would make this Outer Limits kind of humming sound and got really hot, hot enough to melt plastic and burn paper. It was a decided step up from the Wham-O Air Blaster. Though it really did a number on Barbie's arm when we tried to give her a tattoo with it to impress G.I. Joe.
Green plastic army men were a perennial favorite. My older brothers had to order them from the back of comic books when they first came out. Originally introduced in the 1950's by Marx, they would order them from brightly colored ads in the back of the comic books. When I started collecting mine from the rack at the grocers they had hardly changed in design. I bet any one of us, whether we are 60 or 50 or 38 and holding could remember "crawling guy", "throwing the grenade guy"," minesweeper guy", and "bazooka guy", all in the classic cardinal green army style.
I enjoyed getting mine at the store but I envied my older brothers who got theirs, hundreds of plastic soldiers delivered in a real footlocker (genuine U.S. made cardboard). Our dad's generation had to be content with conducting warfare with hobby shop metal soldiers which were purchased in limited numbers due to the price. We, the product of the consumer friendly late 60's and 70's, could buy whole legions of little men to command. There were so many you didn't have to worry about losing one or two to the dog (he's got me Frank! Arghhhhh) or leaving one behind enemy lines when Mom called supper. You always had more. You knew that although there would be a skirmish that involved firecrackers and some Private inevitably losing his head, you had backups. Reliable, dependable.
Unlike most toys now, they were simple. Two to three inches tall, no moving parts, nothing painted or stuck on,but they didn't do real well in heat (Sargent Miller meets Colonel Soldering Gun didn't do so well). But they did hold up well, pretty bullet proof other than that. Girl toys were OK, but for the cost of some silly Barbie dress I could get a bag of hundreds of soldiers to deploy after school got out for the day. And play we would.
Now it seems you have to push the kids out the door to get them to play outside. Not us, with a coat, some soldiers, and a couple of dogs, we watched carefully for that first break in the snow. We knew the signs that told us spring was almost here, that first slice of spring sun bursting from the sky, opening cold fissures in the landscape. Snow had been fun, but we were tired of the many days of snow, stampeding flurries of twenty below that swirled around the family home with all the spontaneous elegance of a brawl, keeping even the hardiest kid indoors. We couldn't wait to get out in the sun, with the landscape to ourselves. Out where entire wars were fought and domains were challenged, melting snowballs flying from the last remnants of snowy forts, ancient strategies drawn out with mittens on a battle plain of white and green as we gathered our troops around us.
Yet, there's a playground which I pass on my way home, small, built at the edge of one of the subdivisions on the south edge of town. I rarely see children in it. Perhaps the kids have all grown up and moved. Perhaps they're indoors. Kids want to play electronic games, videos, TV, all of which capture their attention within the confines of a home. I'm lucky that my friends children are always up for outdoor play, chasing Barkley, having a snowball fight.
Certainly, as children, we had our indoor activity. There were times when the cold and the rain kept even the range cattle looking for cover and for those days there were trains and books; fun learning about tools with Dad in his wood shop. Dad would set up Lionel trains in the garage and the joy of small plastic action figures would continue, Cowboys and Indians attacking the train, sometimes with some Army soldiers serving in the ranks. The outdoors made us strong, made us self sufficient and capable. Yet it preserved in us, enough laughter to help us get through the really difficult times. All of us made a career out of serving our country in the military and/or law enforcement and we're probably the better for it.
Back home recently and digging in Dad's yard to tend tend his vegetable garden for him, I unearthed a tiny plastic soldier, and that tiny battered warrior, recreated a flood of memory of childhood days when my younger brother and I played for world dominion out in the back yard. The touch of its small battered form brought back the scent of the earth in our back yard, the shade of the apple tree that sheltered us, the warmth of the sun.Was this little figurine simply a forgotten toy or was he buried in some forgotten childhood military honor? Like anything long lost, he spoke to me of why we remember things and why they are important. I wrapped his green plastic form carefully in a tissue and brought him home, bringing him back past the eyes of TSA, one last covert mission to bring him home, where yes, games are still played.
We were simply kids, behaving like kids, skipping rocks in the pond, marveling in the construction of a deer stand or the rub of a pair of antlers against a tree, dragging our tired selves home with an old sheet of plywood we found that we could make a raft out of sometime. When we'd get home, dog tired and dirty, sometimes Mom would let us roast marshmallows in the living room fireplace after supper, on her good carpet, so we could continue the adventure until sleep on the blanket there, stomach full of hot globs of sweet security.
Being an adult has its advantages, but just once I'd like to go back there, to play with the Daisy and fall asleep on a blanket in front of the fire; warm, safe and loved, naive to the evil and ignorance of man.
Perhaps one of these days soon, I can.