Christmas looms closer, and the shopping malls are filled with people pushing carts filled to overflowing with all manner of merchandise. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, but many of their faces are grim and unhappy. They seem to have forgotten “the good tidings of great joy” and are concentrating instead on fulfilling the desires of children and grandchildren.
I confess that I am intimidated by the vast selections in the toy stores, and wouldn’t know how to play with most of these things if I owned them. We didn’t have this problem when I was a kid.
We pored over the Sears and Roebuck catalog for many weeks preceding Christmas, where most of the toys pictured were the old standbys of my generation—dolls, wagons, sleds and bicycles. Christmas was the only time we could hope for a bought toy. The rest of the year, we relied on homemade toys and our vivid imaginations.
I’ll never forget the merry-go-round that Daddy made us one year. I read the other day that these things were called a “spinning jenny” but to us it was a plain old merry-go-round. When he cut down a walnut tree in the back yard, he left the stump about a foot and half off the ground. Placing a two x 12 plank across the stump, he secured it with a railroad spike in the center.
It looked like a seesaw, but with a kid on each end and one in the center to propel it, it was a thrill-making flying machine. The only problem was, if the kid in the center providing the leg power couldn’t run fast enough to get out of the way, the end of the plank would whap them in the back and throw them halfway across the yard.
I have scraped myself off the side of the tool house many times. But it was great fun, and having the breath knocked out of us didn’t halt the game.
Daddy made many of our everyday toys. He carved whistles out of elder wood that would pierce your ears (poor Mom!) and popguns that would burn a blister. The ammunition for these guns was well-chewed paper wads, jammed into the barrel and propelled by a tight-fitting ramrod.
Wooden sewing spools were saved to make spinning tops, with a stick inserted in the hole and the bottom half whittled into a V-shape. The insides of an old alarm clock provided lots of whirligigs, and springs to fashion other toys.
Like most older people, Mom saved all the buttons from each worn-out garment and stored them in a round tin box. We spent hours playing in the button box, picking out curious buttons and matching similar ones. We made “hummers” out of some of the large flat ones, with a piece of twine threaded through the buttonholes.
Spinning the button round and round, we soon picked up enough speed by moving our hands back and forth that the button literally hummed. The boys loved to spin these contraptions close to the back of our heads. You haven’t lived unless you have had your hair wound up in one of these.
Nothing was wasted. The empty round containers that held our morning oatmeal was coveted, and used in countless ways by us kids. You could run a wire through the box, add some round lids for wheels, and make a tanker truck.
We made dollhouses from square boxes, and papered the walls with samples from the wallpaper catalog. A large cardboard carton provided hours of play as a castle, a boat or a cave.
That is why Christmas toys were so special. There was no thrill like the doll I got under the tree, and I can still smell that unique odor of a new doll yet today. We bonded immediately, that doll and I, although all it could do was open and shut its eyes and say “Mama” when bent over.
My daughter and I looked at the dolls last week that were on display. There were dolls that cooed, burped, giggled, blew bubbles, talked, walked and went potty. There were dolls with a vocabulary that gave me an inferiority complex, and dolls whose hair grew and changed colors.
I didn’t check out the glittering and glamorous Barbie dolls, with their sophisticated lifestyles and extensive wardrobes. I was looking for an old-fashioned baby doll that didn’t do anything except beg to be loved. I think it exists only in my memory of long-ago Christmases.
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