Last night Mom called me and was telling me about a book she was reading about the history of various classic American toys, and we got to talking about what on earth kids these days will remember of their childhoods. (The boyfriend remembered playing Nintendo for hours on end, which explains a lot. Mom wouldn‘t let us have video games because she was worried they‘d turn us into little ADD spazzes. She was probably right.)
Anyway, for your amusement, my favorite toys…
1. Tracy and her family. They were a motley crew of stuffed dogs. Tracy was a generic Pound Puppy given to me for my first birthday and originally called Hounddoggy. When I was two I re-named her after my grandparents’ real dog named Tracy and carried her around everywhere until I was like eight or so. She actually got a skin transplant--courtesy of Mom--one night when I was sleeping because she was that worn out. In my imagination, she was somehow entirely dog and entirely chain-smoking, beer-drinking, card-playing, foul-mouthed former assembly-line worker. Around kindergarten, she acquired a daughter, Buffy (a small Pound Puppy that belonged to me) and a son, Spot (another small Pound Puppy that belonged to my brother). Buffy was eternally thirteen years old and wore lip gloss and was eternally fighting with Spot, who was eternally eleven. They were later joined by Tracy’s husband Woof Woof (he worked in a factory and had a lunch box, but not much to say), Tracy and Woof Woof’s other children Hounddoggy (a gray-and-white puppy), two identical puppies called Brian (the first died after I left him on the playground on the first day of third grade), and puppies named Curly and Silky and various other things (thirteen in all before I grew out of this), Tracy’s sisters Lassie and Roxie (named after my neighbor’s dog, who she resembled), and Woof Woof’s brothers Rusty (a reddish Pound Puppy belonging to my brother) and Hefty (a black Pound Puppy belonging to me, named after the brand of garbage bag).
What interests me most about this now--and this is too detailed to go into here--is that every single one of these dogs had a distinct personality, all of them were extremely ambivalent about all the other dogs, and none of them trusted any of the other dogs completely. Also, despite the fact that I created all these characters, I found that once they were created, I was powerless to make them do anything that they damn well didn‘t want to do. I also found that while I never purposely created one of them as a villain per se, I definitely didn’t like any one of them all of the time and some of them (Rusty, Curly) I didn’t like at all. It was probably the closest to being Godlike I will ever be.
2. Legos. My brother and I had approximately 51435839521 Lego blocks, which was still never enough/the right kind to build whatever it was we were building. Childrearing advice: there is no such thing as too many Legos.
3. Barbie. I never much cared for Barbie in the traditional sense. But she’s a good toy in that (and I don’t think I’m alone here in this experience) she let me exercise the more Quentin Tarantinoesque aspects of my imagination in what kiddie psychologists call a safe, controlled space.
4. Cabbage Patch Dolls. I had three of these that I remember: Cindy, Jennifer, and Theresa. Cindy was a homemade version with brown eyes and straight blond pigtails that my mom surprised me with one day, which was something highly out-of-character for her to do. Jennifer was a real Cabbage Patch Kid with brown pigtails and a pacifier that I got for my fifth birthday. Theresa was a black astronaut Cabbage Patch Kid that cost $40 at K-Mart and I had to save up my $2/month allowance for almost two years before I could afford her. I named Cindy myself; Jennifer and Theresa were the names that came on the birth certificates that came with the dolls, and even though you could “legally” change the name on the adoption certificate you mailed in, I thought Jennifer and Theresa were nice enough names and saw no good reason to change them even though they weren’t the names I would have picked.
5. My Little Pony. I had a bunch of these. They had names and little arguments between themselves, but I’m at a loss to remember what they were called or were always bickering about. Sometimes they got used as cavalry horses for He-Man and Skeletor.
6. Pop-oids. I have no idea what the official name of this building toy was. That was just what we called it. Mom got it used at a garage sale, it was technologically unadvanced, and the pieces said that it was made in Japan, so I’m guessing it dated to the late 60s at the latest. Basically, think of the bendy part of a bendable drinking straw, only bigger. There were a bunch of those tubes, and then some hard plastic connector ports that they could be hooked into (in addition to hooking the tubes end-to-end). In addition to making aliens and space stations and giant bugs and stuff like that, Pop-oids featured prominently in a game my brother and I played called “Old Man.” We’d make canes out of Pop-oids, shuffle slowly into the middle of the backyard, and then fall over dead. That was the entirety of the game.
7. The record player and tape deck. I know these are not technically toys, but we wore out a 45 of “Runaround Sue” playing it over and over at 33 rpm and pretty much destroyed Dad’s copy of Whipped Cream and Other Delights by playing it with a curved index card taped to a sharpened pencil (it makes a sort of tinny speaker). We played “Radio Station” a lot…somewhere in Mom’s basement there are tapes of eight-year-old me delivering the non-news about the drought that summer and my six-year-old brother saying things like “And now for the smooth sounds of Bobby Brown…” in his best suave DJ voice and then playing “Colonel Bogey March” by the Boston Pops.
Anyway, what were your favorite toys?