Your Toy Stories
I always wanted to play an accordion. So one Christmas I received a small accordion. I have a picture of me and the accordion (I am wearing an accordion pleated dress) by the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, I never did learn to play it.
I got a gun for Christmas that shot red rubber balls. It was quite unique because it shot the balls around corners. Mirrors adjusted so that you could see your target. Unfortunately, it was commandeered by my older brother who made it his weapon of choice in all of our battles. I couldn't walk freely through the house without being ambushed. It was great!
One sunny day in 1987 I tried to use my sister's wood burner to etch the name of my favorite ballplayer into my Louisville Slugger. Upon smelling burning pine in the house, my astute father quickly put the kibosh on my plan. Yet so strong was my desire to have a Jose Canseco bat, I took a magnifying glass out of the drawer, went outside, and slowly burned the name into the wood much to the chagrin of my father. I thought that bat would be used for hitting more than a baseball that day. For multiple reasons, please do NOT try this at home.
My memory of Christmas 1960 was playing with Lincoln Logs. The reason it was memorable is because both of my younger brothers, Rick and Mike, and myself all had the mumps! Somewhere there is a picture of all three of us with swollen necks. Our mother, Florence, must have had her hands full with three kids under the age of 10 all feeling pretty miserable. Kudos Mom!
Mattel's Thing Maker
My favorite all-time toy was Mattel's Thing-Maker. You poured liquid Plasti-goop of just about any color, including glow-in-the-dark, into a heavy mold of just about any shape: skeletons, spiders, pie-faces, bugs! The possibilities were essentially limitless, limited by only one's allowance to buy "parts"! I loved making glow-in-the-dark things, with which we terrorized each other by hurling in battles carried out behind bedroom forts in the dark. My sister, much more enterprising than myself, made objects "on consignment", which she then sold at profit in her junior high school. She raked in quite a profit in her teen years, and we all thought for sure she would become a millionaire by the time she was 20 (all in the days before E-bay). I was much too enamored of my creations ever to part with them for something as paltry as money. Much to my consternation, the Thing-Maker was taken off the market because it was deemed "unsafe". Of course, we burned ourselves many times on the hot molds after they came off the special oven in which the Plasti-goop hardened--but that was really part of the fun! Alas, our modern society believes it is better to keep kids safe than allow them to have fun!
My dad broke his TV while moving and it dropped. Those days there was no cable or satellite TV. I took my only Slinky and straightened out the wire and put it into the antenna sockets, he then got all channels and I was his hero, even though his team lost, I won.
Made-up Model Kits
The Revell Company produced replicas of antique automobiles 1910s to 1920s. They had many pieces to assemble and you painted the cars. Also, after WWII the Revell Company produced replicas of the WWII battleships — which had moving turrets — these ships were also painted and decals were applied. In the Bronx, we played "Skully" where bottle caps were filled with wax and with chalk we drew a board style game on the sidewalks. We also played with marbles and a paddle with a rubber string at the end of which was a small ball. We also played with pick-up sticks.
My sister and I played together constantly. We played "jacks," a game with a small ball and six metal jacks that were to be picked up during each bounce of the ball. We also made paper dolls using the Sears catalog. What fun!
"Space 1999" Spaceship
Back when I was a wee lad, there was a science fiction TV show called "Space 1999" (which premiered in 1975), starring a bunch of now-camp actors including Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. I was very young at the time and have few memories of the show but remember the plot involved futuristic, moon-like spaceships being knocked out of orbit, with the characters trying to find their way home — very "Lost in Space." Anyhow, I remember begging for the "Space 1999" spaceship which looked like a really long, gray car with girders and pipes all over it and I'm sure had working doors and whatnot — knowing my fixation with movement, it probably shot things out too. I remember being thrilled when I got the spaceship and continued to play with it for years, using it as a mobile base for all my action figures and toys. I'm sure my mother finally gave it away at a church white-elephant table at some point but I'd give my eye-teeth to have one again so I could mount it on my wall and bring back all those dreamy childhood afternoons. Hey kid — if you've got my spaceship, I want it back!
Tom and Margo L.
During the early 1940's, Tom's family was living on S. Military Road at the head of Grove Street, across the street from Penn's Grocery store. The Milwaukee Road railroad tracks were in their backyard, a few hundred feet to the east were the Northwestern tracks and to the west, 1 1/2 blocks, was the Soo Line. Seeing all these real trains, Tom wished Santa would bring him his own Lionel electric train. Tom had a wind-up Marx Train that would not stay on the tracks nor could he wind it up by himself. This train went into the War Metal Drive. During the war toys like Lionel trains were not being made as Lionel was making compasses for the Navy. This did not stop a 5 year old from writing Santa for an electric train.
I had a special yo-yo. It was black and made by Duncan. A Duncan representative came to our school one day and anyone could have an image carved on their yo-yo. A horse was carved on mine and I went straight home and happily filled the carving with white ink. It was very, very special! I was also given a cap with the inscription "I can yo-yo, can you?" Today, I still love yo-yo's and at every opportunity, I try to teach my grandchildren to "walk the dog" and go "around the world."
During the depression years of the 1930s most people could not afford toys. We usually received one toy for Christmas. To provide toys for the poor children the Madison Fire Department would collect used toys and repairs them. They then displayed them in the basement of the Lincoln school on Gorham Street where we could come and check out one toy for two weeks. We would play with the toy for two weeks and then take it back and check out another. I still remember a large airplane that I could sit on and push myself around. I think the story of the good works of the Madison Firemen has been lost but I remember.
Linda Martin D.
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 x 1 inch stick about 18 inches 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 haircuts. She is the only toy I have kept from my early childhood and despite being an "adult" I still sleep with her every night.
My Little Pony
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.