And I’ve Been Able to Keep a Lot More Than You’d Imagine
By Jeff Salter
I had to double-check the 4F1H schedule for this week, because I was 99% sure this topic had been proposed by ME. Nope, it was suggested by Tonette, the Friday Fox. Why did I automatically assume the topic had sprung from my noggin? Glad you asked. Back when I was still working full-time as a public library administrator, I had regular displays – mostly of my own military gear collections – which I’d put on exhibit for a month at one Library facility or another (in our multi-branch system). The very last display I put together (before retirement) was in December of 2005, and featured antique toys. [A suitable theme for the weeks leading up to Christmas, don’t you think?]
After an exhaustive search of my photo files, I cannot locate any photos, however — which saddens me. This 2005 display included many antique toys from my colleagues and friends, as well as several from my mother and mother-in-law — many of them dated back to the early 1900s. But at least a third of that entire display consisted of my own childhood toys.
How Did So Many of My Toys Survive?
Read back over the Tuesday and Wednesday posts this week and you’ll see a discussion about the keen sense of LOSS when a child has grown, gone away to college (or wherever) and returned home to find their TREASURES gone (or damaged). In my own case, I’m pretty sure it was during my freshman college year, two states distant, when my Dad cleaned out the attic and hauled nearly everything to Goodwill. I no longer remember everything that vanished in that operation, but among those treasures were three vintage wooden and metal (toy) rifles… which I’d played with for years.
By some miracle – which I’m still partly unclear about – a lot of my other toys survived that purge. Possibly I’d placed them in the sizeable wooden footlocker with other things like high school reports and themes, my own poems and stories, and important papers like score sheets for college entrance exams. Not sure. But wherever I’d stashed my other toys, they were still safe and sound when I discovered the loss of those toy rifles and other treasures.
Passing Along to My Son
Another somber chapter to this whole subject was when our toddler son was beginning to play with toys, I turned over to him some of those treasures I’d enjoyed for years and lovingly protected for a decade or so. Sadly, for two different reasons, I suppose, many of them broke in his hands. Reason # 1: they were old and brittle… and had been stored in extreme attic heat of southeast Louisiana summers. Reason # 2: he was too young to be careful and (obviously) too young to have any recognition or appreciation that Toy X had been a particular favorite of his father’s.
But I quickly learned my lesson and reclaimed those toys which had survived his too-early custody. [I held no grudge against my son, of course. In my haste to share with him the enjoyment of my treasures, I had introduced them while he was still too young (and too uncoordinated). He was at the age (pre-school, as I recall, or maybe kindergarten) when toys stomp around roughly or occasionally fly through the air.]
But I learned a lesson. I boxed up those treasures of mine and let him play with the new, sturdy Fischer-Price gizmos (his grandparents bought him) which easily stood up to the abuse of a child that age.
My Earliest Toys
Discussed here are some of the treasures I still possess — which I retrieved from storage for these new photos.
* Received (while in kindergarten) for birthday or Christmas of 1955 — a metal fire truck. Originally it had two metal ladders (each about five inches long); also, a metal compartment with a rubber bladder inside, & a teeny fire hose. [Those accessories have long vanished].
* Also from the Macon years, a large plastic horse. Originally it had a bridle & complete saddle (with stirrups). For years, my mom and I looked for a RIDER for this horse, but none could be found in the proper scale. Years later, when my son was acquiring new toys, one of the companies introduced an 11-inch-tall character named Johnny West, who had a horse almost the exact size of my black stallion. Kind of ironic that my horse spent my entire childhood seeking a rider, and when my son came along, there were (correctly-sized) riders in every store with a toy department. [My son got Mr. West and his arch-enemy, Black Bart, along with other figures, as I recall.]
* I no longer recall WHY I wanted this, but my mom acceded to my desire for an actual “cow bell” (used as a toy). I’m sure the rest of the family HATED this loud, clangy toy, BTW. This was also around my kindergarten year… and possibly was influenced by a TV character on the Howdy-Dowdy Show.
Soldiers and Battles
* As a kid, I spent a lot of time playing out scenarios featuring soldiers and battles. I still have many of my original plastic soldiers. My “squad” of WW2 soldiers numbered only about a dozen or so… and they were from at least three different sets. Several are Tim-Mee brand; others are un-marked. They vary in size from about 54mm to 65mm.
* Along with the soldiers, I had a hard rubber tank & half-track, both modeled after WW2 vehicles. The tank – a Sherman, I think – is by Auburn. I bought them (with my own, earned money) at Morgan & Lindsey, a local “dime store,” for 25 cents each. One thing which always bothered me was that the soldiers and vehicles were in such vastly different scales. For those soldiers (averaging about 60mm), the toy vehicles should have been about three times their current size.
* My interest in military figures was not limited to WW2, of course. I also had two or three knights & horses. Knights were rubber; horses were hard plastic. Originally, they possessed things like swords and spears… and possibly shields. But along the way, those accessories were lost.
* Continuing my interest in military figures, I was swept up in the commercial fervor of the initial year of the American Civil War centennial, 1961-65. I never acquired a set of those soldiers, but did possess a couple of individuals — can’t recall if they were blue or gray. Along the way, I traded some firecrackers to a neighbor [who’d just received a brand new CW set] and thereby acquired a plastic cannon, this one missing its breech piece & spring (which would have allowed tiny plastic projectiles to be “fired”).
Cowboy Stuff — Western Influence
Westerns – both in movies and on TV – were quite the thing when I was a kid.
* In addition to that enormous black stallion mentioned above, I evidently had an interest in horses generally. The smallest of these were in the same scale as my knights and my cowboys and Indians (mentioned below). The grey is hard plastic (by Bergen); others were rubber. About three times their size are white plastic horses [no maker indicated] which originally had Native American riders — long since missing.
* Definitely among my all-time favorite toys was the used “Stallion 38” model “six-shooter” by Nichols — which I got in trade from my brother, after the trigger/hammer spring had broken. The cylinder holds six cartridges & actually revolves. Inside these “bullets” were “caps” (thin paper packets with a tiny blob of gunpowder). Pull the trigger & BANG (just noise & a bit of smoke, but of course no projectile came out!)
* Made popular during the New Orleans set TV series, Yancy Derringer, these little single shot cap guns were (briefly) all the rage. I had two of these derringers — one was a “Dyna-Mite” model by Nichols. The one pictured is marked only with an “H”.
* When you’re pretending to be Roy Rogers or the town sheriff, you often need to lock up assorted outlaws. To that end, I acquired a set of sturdy jail-house keys, which I put to good use… cleaning up our little neighborhood.
Skill and Competition
Among the games and activities we played at home and school recess were those which required learning a skill, practicing endlessly, and competing with others (in a variety of games).
* During my middle elementary years, it was important to be able to properly spin wooden tops, with metal tips (which some kids actually SHARPENED). The current generation of kids might be baffled by a piece of carved wood activated with wound string and a flick of the wrist. As I recall, a good top could be purchased for under a dollar.
* Another toy requiring skill and dedicated practice was the wooden yo-yo — and I had several. My favorite was the butterfly model. Pictured here is the “Tournament” model by Duncan. I think you could get nearly any model for about a dollar, with the fancy ones maybe another fifty cents. The manufacturer – and/or certain larger toy stores – would occasionally sponsor competitions. Interestingly, some of the best competitors were grown men! It kinda took the “amateur” fun out of things to have adult males winning yo-yo prizes.
Another of my favorite groups of toys was vehicles of various sizes and types. I’ve already noted the large fire truck, one of my earliest toys. But I also had a metal VW, a plastic Model T (by Plasticraft), and a TootsieToy racing car. In the smallest scale, under an inch long, were the metal cars Mom bought at a downtown New Orleans “dime store” (for five cents apiece) as a reward for me behaving during numerous trips to an eye specialist and a radiation specialist — for two different medical issues… both in the late 1950s.
No toy collection would be complete without a cigar box to held souvenirs, knick-knacks, oddities, & other assorted “treasures.” The oldest one I still possess dates to around 1960, I guess.
You’ll notice a mid-1950s concept of a Spaceman in one of the photos. I had about four different individuals in this set and they were popular because of all the low-budget Sci-Fic films of that era.
What about YOU? What were your favorite childhood toys? Do you still have any of them?
[JLS # 401]