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The childhood toys I remember best are those that allowed me to use my imagination, to see them not merely as plastic consumer objects but as integral parts of a make-believe world. I am thinking of course of any number of little human figures that walked and talked and sometimes waged war on my family’s living room carpet. I’m also thinking of the wooden Lincoln Logs that allowed me to build cities and forts and corrals for my toy plastic horses.
Perhaps my favorite toy ever was a pressed-wood automobile service station, with a drive in garage, gas pumps, and a working elevator to raise cars to a second floor parking area. By “working elevator,” I mean a hand crank and a string that pulled the elevator up and down. That seemed very high-tech back in the 1960s.
A few of my toys were battery-powered, but not many, and not my favorites. We powered our toys ourselves, and made the noises too. The trucks went “brrrrrrruum” and the soldiers went “b-dang, b-dang, b-dang!” until one of them toppled over and shouted “I’m shot!”
If I had seen a good war movie prior to my fantasy play, the toy soldier might take on a more elaborate script, shouting “I’m shot, Eddie. I’m not sure I’m going to make it. Get the medic!”
One year my elderly neighbor, Mr. Cook, came home from his shop with a large box of wooden blocks he had troubled himself to make out of scraps meant for the discard pile. They were hard wood, and he had sanded each edge to make them safe, and more important to me, stackable. I was maybe five at the time, with no real sense of how much time this might have taken him or how extraordinary it was for him to go out of his way to make them for me, a kid he barely knew. Those blocks kept me occupied for years. I would build fortresses with inner buildings and outer walls and populate each nook and cranny with one of my green and grey soldiers, or as we called them then “army men.” I was lucky enough to have a basement corner all to myself, so my creations could stay up for weeks and the story of conquest and survival could go on and on.
Those blocks? I still have them. My daughter played with them when she was young, and now that she is an adult, we pull them out when friends with young children come over. Talk about durable.
What are your specific toy memories from long ago? Were those toys handmade, factory-made, wooden or plastic? Were they interactive? Were they new or hand-me-downs?
My examples are decidedly male of course, so I’m curious to hear from the feminine side. Did girls play with blocks and cars? Did they covet their brothers’ forts and army men? Or were they happier on their side of the toy story?
What was your favorite toy?