I’ve been immersed in thousands upon thousands – no exaggeration – of photos dating back to the turn of the century – meaning the 1900’s for all you Millennials. There are multiple reasons for this curation:
1) finding photos for #tbt
2) collecting pictures of my dad for a book I hope to write
3) samples for this blog post. Subject: Not-So-Famous Childhood Toys
The Baby Boomer Generation of which I am a member is quite large and many of the toys of that era are not only recognizable, but are still popular today. I thought it would more interesting to focus on personal favorites that to most are a bit obscure, so this post will NOT be about Slinkys, Mr. PotatoHead, Jacks, Marbles, Hula Hoops, Frisbees, Playdoh or the Easy Bake Oven.
I’ve assembled my most beloved playthings into 5 aggregates:
2)Arts and Crafts
5) My Brother’s Toys (wait and see)
Horses – What is the attraction little girls have for these magnificent creatures? Is it, as Adam Ant sang:
Is it Cos they’re round
Or they’re six feet off the ground
Is it because they’re on top
Or the clippety clop?
I guess my love was a combination of all the above, plus the equine’s inherent power, grace and beauty. More interesting, I always preferred horses and in general, any stuffed animal to dolls. In fact I can only recall having one doll who quickly faded into obscurity:
My heart was totally captivated by “My Horses:”
The anonymous real pony I rode fairly frequently was corralled at Nelly Bly, an amusement park along the Gravesend Bay in Bensonhurst Brooklyn. My family did not have much money – my dad worked long hours in a Manhattan photofinishing company while my mom was a stay-at-home homemaker. Still, I never as a child felt deprived except for one instance as you will discover in another section of this post. As an adult, however I realize how very rich and full of wonderful experiences my childhood actually was – and that might be a future blog topic.
Back to my horses, My posse consisted of Ruby (seen at the top of this post) and Pinky, two plush stuffed toys that for years held the position of honor on my bed, providing hours of imaginary play and comfort when I was ill (had many bouts of tonsilitis). Ruby was also my Champion in an ongoing traditional battle between older brother (Billy) and younger sister (me). Billy had somehow come upon a sure-fire way to drive me crazy by constantly calling me “Boodge.” The name at the time was non-sensical and had no meaning – I was shocked to discover that now it has a sexual connotation in The Urban Dictionary. Believe me, my brother did not know the current definition.
I was unable, as my dad suggested, to “shut my ears” and not let the name-calling bother me. One day, enough was enough, and taking my ever-present companion Ruby I hauled off a roundhouse swing and smacked by brother in the face. I should mention that although Ruby’s body was soft and plush, his head was made of hard plastic. My brother never called me Boodge again. Unfortunately he did have other methods of torture as you will read about later.
2) Arts and Crafts – The brilliance of most of these materials was that there was no mess – living in a tiny apartment I did not have my own room or playroom (I wonder whether this was a partial reason for my adult obsessive-compulsive need for lots of storage space and clean surfaces). The one set that did require some care to avoid a mess was my Sparkle Paints. I couldn’t find a photo of this richly hued painting set – the liquid glitter came in small pots along with number paint by number pictures. The paint was very thick so the finished product almost stood up by itself. My grandmother loved these paintings and I was so proud to see them framed and hung in the hallway of her home.
3) Music – As I mentioned we didn’t have alot of discretionary cash so I did not have an authentic piano although I so wanted to take piano lessons like some of my friends. My parents kept the love of music fires burning (to the point that as an adult, I did buy a piano which I still have today, needing a good tuning) by giving me miniature musical instruments. These were not plastic fakes but actually functioning instruments – even the harp:
I often went to a friend’s house to listen as she took her piano lesson and then returned to my Emenee organ and play the same songs by ear. I did finally learn correct fingering by taking lessons when my daughter began playing, and I am hoping to get back to playing in the near future.
4) Magic – These toys were not really magician’s tricks – they didn’t do much of anything other than provide some strange entertainment. Wheelo’s action was provided by pumping the iron apparatus and then watching the wheel travel up and down by means of a magnet:
Jacob’s Ladder was more or less a portable venetian blind – whose ribbons could be made to “switch” sides back and forth:
Magic 8 Ball – still exists today and I actually have the one from my childhood. Did you know that the die inside is an icosahedral (20-sided). Here are all the potential answers to your yes or no question – there are 10 yes, 5 no and 5 tell you later responses (pretty positive plaything):
Yes – It is certain, Without a doubt, It is decidedly so, Yes, definitely, You may rely on it, As I see it, yes, Most likely, Outlook good, Signs point to yes, Yes
No- Don’t count on it, My reply is no, My sources say no, Outlook not so good, Very doubtful
Later – Reply hazy try again, Ask again later, Better not tell you now, Cannot predict now, Concentrate and ask again
5) My Brother’s Toys – This final section is a bit painful as it brings back memories of a time when girl and boy toys were very segregated. Note that I was not without a plethora of playthings and activities- it was just that the grass seemed greener on my brother’s side of the toy chest. These were strictly off-limits to me, making them even more desirable, but all was not dire- read on.
Erector Set – First seen at the Toy Fair of 1913 (no I was not born yet) this construction set was made of metal bars, nuts, bolts, pulleys, gears, wheels and even electric motors in later models. The largest and most sought after by collectors was a 1931 set that was touted in advertising of the day as:
THE CLIMAX OF ERECTOR GLORY
I can hear Beevis and Butthead giggling their heads off. Even the cover:
Lionel Trains – I don’t know what the model’s gauge was – my mom in a moment of not-thinking-of-the-future-value gave the trains away. The set had mountains and tunnels and an electric station where vibrations made the little people “walk,” and all sorts of neat gadgetry. It was torture to watch and not be able to touch:
Once again I was able to exact revenge. I am not sure whether my mother actually bought into this, but I feigned illness a number of times and, while camped out on the living room couch got to play with the trains to my heart’s content while my brother was at school.
Also, when my parent’s saw how great my grades were in the sciences – I did get my own microscope and chemistry supplies – i think my first self-made slide was a strand of my hair – Eureka!
There you have it – and Magic 8 Ball – are there more fascinating stories to come in future posts?
It is decidedly so