The little plastic cowboys and their horses were my prized possessions. I had quite a collection. You could mount the cowboys on the horses and play imaginary games for hours. They were particularly special to me because most of them were gifts from my grandmother. She would go to church to light novenas and I would go with her. On the way home, she would buy some cowboys and horses for me. They provided hours of pleasure and a lifetime of fond memories.
A Big Wheel with a hand brake on the back wheel was my favorite! I liked to cruise the neighborhood with a few of my friends who also had Big Wheels. We were like a mini motorcycle gang. Also, my NERF basketball was a prized possession. I would shoot it into the lampshades in my house. My sister Kathi and I would play endless games of 1-on-1 and H.O.R.S.E.
My first Cabbage Patch doll, "Annie," was the only Christmas present I was so hopeful of getting I could not sleep through the night for. I remember waking up and trying to see under the Christmas tree from my bunk bed. I was a very glamorous, high-profile (yeah right) model for Duncan trucks when I was a young boy, but I used to play with Fisher-Price trucks all the time. My mom can fill you in on why in the world our attic is full of Fisher-Price trucks when I modeled for Duncan!
My two most fondly remembered toys are a doll and teddy bear that I took everywhere when I was little. When I was three or four, I got an orange-eyed teddy bear from Santa. I hugged that bear so much that it flattened out over time. I couldnít go to bed without that bear and if I didnít have it at bedtime, Iíd search the whole house to find it. My special doll was probably the first doll I ever had. When I was six, my mother was sick in the hospital and my babysitter sewed a heart onto the soft doll to comfort me. That left such a big impression on me, not only because it was such a sweet gesture, but because it made the doll unique. I showed all my friends how special that doll was. I still have both the bear and the doll and plan to give them to my infant daughter Kylie so she can make her own special memories with them.
My favorite toy as a child was my Lionel electric train. It is still in working condition and my kids play with it. Second place is my sled. My kids still use it as well.
As a kid, it was mostly about things with wheels. Hot Wheels were great; I had a ton of those. My dad got me a slot car track for Christmas one year with glow-in-the-dark barriers and I spent a lot of time working on the cars, trying to make them faster. Legos were a favorite toy as well. My sister and I shared a huge tub of them that my mom kept under the bed. I always wanted the wheels, she always wanted the trees! Back in the early '70s, Lego sets didn't come with all the details they do today, so a piece of fence or one of the windows was what we fought over. BMX bikes were the thing when I was about 10. I can't tell you how many miles I put on that bike every summer, but it was a lot. My friend Dan and I would build ramps to do jumps, but mostly just rode all over.
Photo by Alan Smith/Action Sports Photography, Inc.
A baseball and glove represent a favorite part of my childhood. Every summer from the time I was four to about eight or nine, I spent time on my grandparentsí dairy farm in the New Auburn area. Regardless of how hard he had worked on the farm my grandpa, a retired semi-pro baseball player, would grab his old glove and play catch with me. Playing catch created a special bond between me and my grandpa. I am reminded of my great times up north by a replica farm my grandpa built for me. It brings back memories of a special man and place that were a large part of my upbringing in Wisconsin.
When I was 5 or 6, I got an electric football game for Christmas. It was a total surprise. It wasnít on my Christmas list, but it became my favorite toy. I was the first kid on my block to get one and I had a lot of kids come over to play with it. We used to set up teams and play entire seasons. I remember waking up early every Saturday morning to play with the game. It caused a lot of discomfort in my family because of the way it rattled like crazy. It was fun to watch the plastic players run as the metal field vibrated.
My favorite toy was a hand puppet with a rubber clown head and a red cloth body that could be zipped closed. My parents probably bought it for me at a garage sale when I was three or four. They probably did not expect me to haul it everywhere full of my favorite little things like a marble and a comb. I even brought the puppet with me when I attended the ballet with my parents when I was around five. Finding myself bored, I pulled out the comb and, to my parentsí horror, began thumbing it to make music.
One of my favorite toys was a little red pedal fire engine I received as a Christmas gift when I was about three or four. It had a bell in the front that youíd ring by pulling a cord. It also had a wooden ladder that hung on the side that I recall didnít last too long before it was broken. I used to ride that fire engine down the sidewalk and on the shared driveway at my home on Rutledge Street in Madison. I remember mounding some leaves on the grass and pretending they formed the walls of a garage for the engine. It really was a timeless toy that hasnít changed too much over the decades.
When I was around 6 to 10 years old, I loved to play marbles. The great thing about marbles is that it was both a game and a collecting hobby. I started out with some marbles that were given to me, then I built my collection by winning them in competitions with my friends at the park and on the school playground at recess. I wanted to get as many different colors, sizes, and types I could get Ė cats eyes, steelies, etc. When I found out a friend had some marbles I didnít have, Iíd say, "Iíll play you for "em." If you left the house with 15 marbles, you wanted to come back with 30. My parents never had to buy me a marble. I think playing marbles is what made me so competitive.
One of my favorite toys growing up had to be a Wiffle ball set. I think I was 8 years old when I received a set as a birthday gift from my Godmother, Janey Braunsky. My brother, Craig, who is 3 years older, and I would often play a game in front of our barn before we went to work on our chores. I was always the Baltimore Orioles and he was the New York Mets. We'd play seven-inning games. One particular game found us playing out Game 7 of the World Series. It was the bottom of the seventh inning (our final one) and I was pitching, holding on to a one-run lead with two outs. Craig had men on second and third, so a base hit would pretty much give him the win. He hits the ball and I end up making a diving, one-handed catch that he cannot clearly see due to the line of sight. He did not believe me. We argued about it for awhile and then went on to our chores. To this day he still does not believe I made the catch.