What was your favorite childhood toy? When did you get it? Why?
Our birthdays were relatively modest. You went to a local store, maybe Woolworth’s, and picked out a stuffed animal. One year, for me, it was an Airedale terrier. We played at a farm on weekdays and on weekends, we had the fort my dad built in the back yard. There were bikes and bushes and a field behind the house, between Woodlawn Drive and Babyland, the children’s area of Woodlawn Cemetary. A reservoir was around the corner and a river was a good hike down the way.
Toys, throughout the year, didn’t seem too important.
Christmas was another story. For whatever reason, this particular season made my parents pull out all the stops. We would get the JC Penney and Sears catalog in the mail, heads together, pouring over them and creating gift lists right up to the last minute, when my mother would declare a decision must be made and a letter sent to the North Pole.
I’ve just started researching the gifts we received, wondering if my dim memories make them better than they were or if it truly was the glittering world I recall. My brother and I have many memories of bountiful gifts surrounding our silver-spray tree, lighted by a primary-colored spinning light wheel. Even when my mom made a change to a “decorator” fake tree with coordinated bulbs, the effusive display of toys remained.
I’ve got some photos, below, of some of my favorites. It’s funny to find a thing that has faded, almost past recall, and see its reality. One item like this is the dishwasher.
My dad took me with him to the “Big Toy Box at Sears” when I was eight. We walked all the way through, creating a painstaking inventory of each isle. What were my favorite toys? Why? Did I have a reason for the dollhouse over the Barbies? He took my responses very seriously, because on Christmas morning, December 1968, every item I favored was under the tree: the giant stuffed Snoopy, the vinyl dollhouse with tiny satin chaise lounge and faux velvet-seated dining chairs, and the dishwasher.
In case you’re wondering, I did not even think of the dishwasher as an extension of feminist chores, even though, at that time, I was still hand drying while my mom washed. To me, it was the ability to hook it up to the faucet, whipping water around a plastic dome of tiny plastic plates and cups, that held appeal. Maybe more girls would enjoy appliances if they were presented with the scientific principals, rather than the gender-biased roles assigned to them?
To this day, the joy of my parents on Christmas morning makes me nostalgic, like very little else in my childhood. It was a moment of wonder, of endless possibility, and of family united. You’d think that I would think of this later in the year. It seems that in December, I’m too busy and caught up in the must-do and must-happen and must-see.
Maybe I have this pull because around this time, the Christmas catalog would arrive and the anticipation would begin. Did the toys make everything right? Not by a long shot. But there was a moment, with smiles all around, when creature comforts seemed enough.
[Request for indulgence: to my friends who do not celebrate Christmas – – it’s not about the holiday. It’s about that time, that perfect magical time, when family is all that it can be. I hope you can find this in your space.]