A Few Of The Old Fashioned Toys From My Christmas Mornings Many Years Ago:
I remember it like it was many years ago. You thought I was going to say 'like it was yesterday,' didn't you? No. That would have been a cop-out in quality writing to you, and I would not want to have that on my conscience.
It was Christmas, 1961. Simple. No glitter. Except our live Christmas tree that my dad had found in the woods on our property. The glitter was a box of factory-made aluminum icicles and our lights came from a now-vintage, forgotten memory, The Yellow Front, a store in Hamilton, Alabama, where I grew up (and live now) that stocked all types of toys, decorations, groceries, clothing, home wares, it was the Walmart of its day. In 1961, my dad could actually afford, with his sharecropping money, to buy us the needed Christmas tree decorations that made us feel like we were living 'uptown.' Important. Accepted members of Hamilton society. I even took a bath on Christmas Eve to commemorate the aluminum icicles and Christmas tree lights.
I don't think I will elaborate about the details leading up to our first big Christmas. That might be a bit aloof, and if you ever met me, you would know that aloof is not how I am known by my friends. I think I will just tell you how I felt on 'that' Christmas morning, 1961, to actually have "a" gift. I know the feeling all too well of not having anything under the tree on Christmas morning, but I learned something from this painful scene. If you don't expect anything, and don't get anything, it doesn't hurt all that much.
I don't know what other boys and girls in Hamilton, or the country, for that matter, were opening on Christmas morning, 1961. I never took time to find out. The one and only thing I was focused-on was my solitary gift. My brand-new Etch-A-Sketchthat 'Santa' had brought me. This is what my mom told me as I asked innocently, "Where did this come from, mama?" My dad laughed. My sister and her husband laughed. I think I might have cried some. But I don't remember.
Etch-A-Sketch called on me, and all children who received this 'marvel of toy engineering,' to do things. Actually move our hands. Use our eyes. To help create numerous sketches of dogs, cats, people, homes, and mountains. In 1961, children didn't know what a personal computer, laptop, iPad, iPhone or sometimes a regular telephone was. When we received a gift on Christmas, we were genuinely happy. To our bones. And told our parents how happy we were to have received a gift. In my case, Etch-A-Sketch, that I thought was the design of some secret, high-up government department who dealt in complex machinery. I was all thumbs (no pun intended) when it came to mastering the Etch-A-Sketch. I didn't do like some spoiled kids I knew and throw my gift on the floor and stomp way with my lips stuck out. No. I, for some reason, never gave up. I kept at it. And at almost-dusk on that very Christmas day, I managed to create something that to me, looked very much like a cat. Some in my family said it was a dragon. I held onto the fact as I fell asleep that night that I had actually sketched a cat. It's name was "Leonard."
On Christmas Day(s) on from 1961, even now in 2011, I can fondly recall the pure, unadulterated thrill of getting maybe a truck or car from the Mattel Toy Companythat also sponsored some Saturday afternoon kid's show on our black and white Philco television that I was, sometimes allowed to watch when I wasn't busy with homework, chores, and just being a wide-eyed boy in the swiftly-changing country we were living in. I loved Mattel toys. The replicas of Winchester rifles, gun and holster sets, those made a lot of us boys in 1961 a real, true-blue, God-fearing, bunch of flag-waving cowboys.
Mr. Potato Head, a weird and wacky toy, to be honest, came into my life a few years later and to my amazement, I actually had an easy time of being very appreciate of this toy. It was big fun taking him apart. Putting him back together again. Making my own designs with his eyes, nose, and mouth. I never received a Mrs. Potato Head and thank God for that. I grew up mostly being a simple boy who was at ease with things the way they were. And should be. I freaked out at the first sign of change. And the words, 'new,' and 'improved,' why? I don't know. They were only words, but when they applied to new toys, I was frightful. Cautious. Afraid that I would be left behind by my few friends who loved new toys. And could operate them with the smoothness of Folger's black coffee on a bitterly-cold Alabama morning. I cherished my Mr. Potato Head. For years. As years went by, I lost him somewhere in one of the many moves our family made so my dad could make more money at better jobs. As a simple man of 57, I still miss my Mr. Potato Head today.
Previously, I mentioned Mattel Toys. I want to briefly, talk about how they really 'stuck it to me,' by misleading me in their Saturday morning ads they had strategically placed in my Bugs Bunny and Friends Cartoon Show. I am not singling-out Mattel Toys. Other toy giants saw a good thing in advertising in cartoon shows, so they ran their ads along with Mattel. But one Mattel ad in particular, caused me to have fire coal in my stomach. Their ad talked about an electric NFL football game. I wanted one. Then. Couldn't go another day without one. And my mom, bless her saintly heart, bought me one at the Dime Store in Hamilton. That was the store's real name. We didn't have a conventional 'Five and Dime' store. Just a dime store. I loved this NFL game. I played mostly against myself. And sometimes myself beat 'me,' as the small, realistic NFL football men danced, gyrated and ran amuck when I threw the black, hand-held electronic switch. It was great fun. My one-time childhood buddy, Rick Stidham, taught me how to 'pass' the soft, cushioned thing shaped like a football. I was getting pretty good at this game. Then Mattel 'pulled the rug from underneath my feet,' by introducing their new toy: Mattel's Hand-Held Football Game! My days of enjoying my Mattel NFL game with the green, steel playing field and working scoreboards, were over. Everyone had a Mattel Hand-Held Football Game. I was no exception. I learned to love this gizmo. But I sensed inside with the introduction of this 'new wave' of toys, that the special, genuine happiness shown by kids on Christmas mornings from then on would be special, but not as special as when we had our first Etch-A-Sketch.
Now I finish this sad, heart-wrenching story by a final look back at a few more classic, vintage toys that I still remember. And pray to God that some sensible-minded toy engineer somewhere in some toy company, will think to bring back some original toys like we grew up with.
Toys such as:
Radio Flyer Wagons- what fun I had with mine. I hauled dirt, wood sticks, and my young nieces when they were acting right when they visited our home. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with original toys for kids. And, I hope I do not make all of our computer-geniuses angry at this statement, "but there is nothing wrong with children moving around, using their hands, feet, and yes, minds, to enjoy their toys.
Slinky - what an ingenious toy! I, and all kids who had a slinky, spent countless hours 'walking' this toy down stairs, through our hands, down inclines. What a great way to spend some quiet time. This toy, like all the vintage toys in this piece, do not harm the ozone, pollute our air or water and do not plant evil seeds of destruction in our children's minds. Please, someone, anyone, bring back the original Slinky, and do away with the scaled-down version I had the misfortune of viewing in a store somewhere in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Checkers - now this is a game for kids. And adults. Simple. But complex. The only moving parts are the checkers in colors of red and black. This toy, of sorts, is very-valuable. In my unsolicited opinion. Checkers teaches something you, I, and most people are in dire need of: Patience. Plus, checkers teaches us two other valuable things: A. to slow down and B. think about what we are doing. Thank God for checkers.
Schwinn bikes- this innovation, the upgraded bicycle in its racy colors, chrome and sometimes colorful plastic tassels coming from the red plastic handles on the handlebars, helped kids like me to have a great boost of self-esteem. You would normally, at first glance, think that a common bicycle is not capable of doing that for children. Well, in my case, I was not a very-confident kid. I won't lie. I feared things like the bicycle. But the natural wisdom that my dad was blessed with, saved me from a life of having no confidence. He bought a new bicycle, I think it was a Schwinn, at our local Western Auto store. (Remember those?) And if he had bought me a car at that age, I couldn't have been more happy. I washed and kept my new red bike with chrome fenders polished almost weekly. I loved that bike. Even with the two, near-fatal wrecks I had with it on a highway that ran near our home--I still loved my bike. And slowly, with much practice of my riding skills, my self-confidence began to grow. I will always be grateful to my dad, and my new red bicycle for teaching me what self-confidence means.
Now on Christmas mornings, sometimes evenings, I watch as my three grand kids open their huge piles of presents at the speed of light and ask this question after opening one present of many, "What else do I have, paw paw?" Such innocence. Such honesty. And expectation.
Part of me wishes my grandchildren had grew up with 'one' Etch-A-Sketch or 'one' Mattel truck. While another part of me is grateful that my grand kids, as much as they get on Christmas, will be little and young but once.
Just let them enjoy their numerous gifts. And leave the recalling of Christmases past to old geezers like me.