While growing up in Hustler, Wisconsin, in the 1950s as well as today, you are often responsible for inventing your own fun and sometimes your own toys. One of the most fun toys we had as kids was a crab-apple thrower. This is made from a 1'x1" stick about 18" long or any stick that can hold a nail on the end, one which you would tie a certain length of cotton string. On the end of the string you need to tie a "U" shaped nail. This is what holds the crab apple ammunition. Attach the apple to the nail and then whip the stick in the air and it sends your apple flying into space. Of course this toy was only good during crab apple season. We never tried it with any other fruit so the season was limited. It was amazing how high the crabs would fly though the air. Mostly we would have contests as to how far you could send your fruit. Hitting a target was a real challenge or accidentally hitting anything was rare so the only dangerous element was whipping the stick. It was helpful to have an older brother around who would fix your nail connections but to keep your thrower in prime condition was a challenge. And everyone in the neighborhood could afford one. So if you are wondering what toys can be made from crap apples, now you know.
When I was eight, I was given a Lionel train for Christmas 1940. All year it was my favorite thing and I thought I might get other accessories the next Christmas. I was playing with the train again in December when my father told me to stop the noise so that he could hear our radio. An announcement was being made that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. During the war years accessories were hard to find due to metal drives. I will never forget December 7, 1941 or my Lionel train.
Since I can remember, my brother Matt and I were interested in trivia based games. One of our favorites was Trivial Pursuit. We would play that game for hours every week and sometimes for days on end! Some of my favorite Trivial Pursuit memories come from when we played against grandma. She knew that we played the game a lot, but she was always impressed when we answered obscure questions like: “What Swedish astronomer invented the centigrade thermometer in 1742?” We quickly answered, “Anders Celsius!” Grandma thought she had the smartest grandkids in the world, but actually we just read the answers on the back of the card when she held it up to read the question.
As a child, tigers were my favorite animal. When I was six my grandmother gave me a stuffed, white Siberian tiger for Christmas. I named it Star and carried it with me everywhere. Throughout the years Star has lost her tail a number of times and endured several hair cuts. She is the only toy I have kept from my early childhood and despite being an “adult” I still sleep with her every night.
Although it is not very manly to admit, I played with “My Little Pony” toys when I was in elementary school. I would like to say that my sister made me play with them, but it was actually one of my favorite toys. My favorite “My Little Pony” was purple and was not even a pony but technically a Pegasus, since it had wings. Every time we would play with the ponies, I would cry if I couldn’t be the purple Pegasus. As amusing as this story is to recall, I would have forgotten about it completely if not for one of my college graduation presents from my sister…the purple Pegasus!
My favorite toy was a stuffed elephant that my grandmother’s cousin made for me. She also made one for my sister; hers was brown and fuzzy & mine was made of grey corduroy. We both called these elephants Ellie and both of us were too stubborn to come up with a new name. As we shared a bedroom, the two Ellie’s always went to bed with us and, of course, no one won the argument of the claim to the name. My sister was here this summer from California and my Ellie holds the door open to the bedroom that she was using. One of her first words when entering the room was, “Oh, there’s my Ellie.” – apparently now she not only claims the name but the animal also! Does sisterly competition set the tone for favorite toys?
As a child I was fascinated by the seemingly never-ending missions I could invent for my G.I. Joe action figures. On one particularly imaginative afternoon I envisioned the ultimate mission for my favorite G.I. Joe: Sergeant Slaughter. Tying a string of yarn with a sturdy noose around his neck, Sgt. Slaughter made his descent into the toilet bowl. “Look out! It’s a hurricane!” As he disappeared into the depths, I pulled the line, but that was Sgt. Slaughter’s final mission. Next time I’ll send Deep Six.
I remember one Christmas when my brother Aaron and I got the coolest gift…a Smurf shaped radio. I say that we both got it, but really I think it was his present and I just “borrowed” it every day. The radio featured the head of Handy Smurf (how we knew it was Handy, I’m not sure, all the Smurfs look alike) and was very blue and plastic. It picked up only two radio stations, one AM and one FM. I still even remember the first song that played on the radio once the batteries were in place: “Red, Red Wine” by UB40. Every time I hear that song on the radio, I think of my brother and that silly Smurf radio.
When I was six, my favorite toy was a popular stuffed monkey named Zippy. I was confined to the house due to an illness and my mother purchased him so that I could have an imaginary companion. Soon we were fast buddies. He even slept at the foot of my bed at night. I once asked why he had no clothes and so my grandmother sewed a matching set of rocket ship pajamas for each of us. She gave them to me at Christmas, but I mistakenly opened Zippy’s package first. I was a little upset because I thought she had gotten my size wrong, and I noticed there was a hole in the seat where, later, Zippy’s tail would go. Actually, his pair fit him perfectly, and mine, in the very next package, fit me as well!
My name is Dale, and yes, my mother wanted a son. As a result, much of my childhood was filled with toys either appropriate to a boy or with an intellectual edge. I was content with them – but oh, I did really want a doll. For a birthday, perhaps my tenth, I received a truly excellent gift. It was called "The Visible Man," and consisted of a clear plastic male body into which was fitted a jointed skeleton and tidy set of internal organs. I was delighted! After a while, the skin and organs were put aside. The skeleton became my cherished – if skinless – doll. At some point he suffered an accident and broke most of his left collarbone. Did I mind? Not at all! Named "Nullus Claviculus" he provided me with fine companionship for a long time.