Battered, Beloved, Old Toys

img_1701My mother has a collection of toys some of which are more than fifty years old, not collector edition type toys, just old junky stuff like cheap plastic fire trucks, broken race cars, a metal tractor, a few green plastic army men, and a few leftover circus animals from a forty-year-old Fisher-Price Circus. The prize item is an articulated Tonto who is missing his right hand. He is forty-two-years old, and thankfully not anatomically correct since his pants are long-gone. Eight of the ordinal dozen ever-popular monkeys from a Barrel of Monkeys still survive along with partial can of battered pick up sticks. Except for the Barrel of Monkeys that belonged to my younger sisters, most were scavenged from my kid’s toys that were being tossed. Every grandchild and great-grandchild who has visited in the last forty-four years goes straight for this rag-tag collection and scatters them over Mother’s living room floor, no matter that most are in some stage of dilapidation. My nephew, age eleven, is pictured here playing earlier this week. Clearly, neither Mother, nor any of her descendants suffers from the sin of false pride.

The Thrill of the Catalog

Hot dog! The arrival of Sears and Roebuck Catalog always started a battle. In the fifties and sixties, it had everything: clothes, toys, appliances, tools, furniture, and almost anything else you could dream up.

As soon as I could wrest it out of someone’s hands, I’d go first to the kid stuff. Every toy imaginable was available. I’d flip straight past the dolls in search of skates, pogo sticks, and cowboy outfits. I just knew my life would be perfect if I could just get a cowboy getup….and oh, yes, a BB gun. My parents made it clear I would not be getting a BB gun, but as long as I could admire them in the catalog, it was always a possibility! Periodically, I’d meander away and a sister or brother would grab it and run. Occasionally, Mother would tell us to look together, and pages would invariably be torn in the ensuing tussle, ensuring big trouble and banishment. We learned to discipline ourselves to battle as quietly as possible to maintain possession.

Once I had sated my toy yearnings a bit, I’d move on to the swimming pool and swing set section. Though I’d admired the amazing models in the book, Mother was quick to burst my bubble about the Olympic-sized pools and towering swing sets the lucky kids frolicked on. “That pool is tiny. It would barely come up past your knees. It’s not even big enough for all you kids to get in at once!”

That burned me up! I could clearly see a dozen kids standing neck deep, swimming laps, or diving off their dad’s shoulders in that pool. Besides, Who cared if there was room for everybody. That pool would be mine!

Moving on from the pool, I admired the refrigerators with their wide-open doors, loaded with watermelons, pies, hams, turkeys, fruit, and molded jello salads. The freezer section was stuffed tight with ice cream and Popsicles. I coveted those refrigerators packed with endless culinary delights, so unlike our clunker with a few aging onions, a bowl of leftover pinto beans, a jar of fresh cow’s milk and a bowl of yard-eggs.

When the competition for the catalog abated a bit, I’d smuggle it to a quiet corner to try to get a little sex education in the ladies and mens underwear section. I never learned much, but I remained ever hopeful, snapping the pages shut should I hear approaching footsteps. When I discovered hernia trusses and maternity girdles, that was the biggest mystery of all. They were forever linked in my memory. To this day, I still hope to discover them in a shameless tryst.

Robert Gordon, Wayne, Robbing Nanny, and Look Out Pope!

R G Holdaway Family with Johnny Bell early 1930'sL to R Johnny Bell(cousin) Mary Elizabeth Perkins (Lizzie) with Kathleen Annie Lee Holdaway, Roscoe Gordon Holdaway, John Arthur Holdaway about 1930  (note how well-dressed the children are and Roscoes’s mended overalls.  I have one of these chairs in my writing room today.  Kathleen helped Roscoe replace the bottom in 1932.  That story will be in her memoirs, soon to be published.)

Mother is eighty-seven.  She swears if she ever meets up with her cousin, Robert Gordon, she intends tell him what a hellion he was, even if he is the Pope and has a beard down to his knees.  Well, I am pretty sure our Pope wasn’t previously known as Robert Gordon and doesn’t have a beard down to his knees, but if he was, and does, please tip him off.   A whacked-out little eight-seven year old lady down in Louisiana might knock his block off if she gets a chance.  From the many stories I’ve heard over the years, I know Robert Gordon had a little brother, Wayne, who was also horrible, but nowhere nearly as mean as Robert Gordon.

Robert Gordon’s initial transgression that put him on Mother’s dirt list was not his fault.  He was her Grandma’s favorite.  Her grandma paid no attention whatsoever to Mother, or most of her other grandchildren, openly doting on Robert Gordon with warm waves of affection washing over his brother Wayne.  No matter that her cousins had lived next door to her grandma from the day of their birth.  Mother, hereinafter known as Kathleen, was still steamed to see them with the run of the place, their toys littering Grandma’s yard, and watch them cuddled in Grandma’s lap, when she was never noticed.

Kathleen’s prized possession was a little wagon that her father had acquired second-hand and painstakingly repaired by the broken tongue. The very next tme Robert Gordon visited, he ferreted out her precious wagon, sneaked the hatchet from the kindling pile, and smashed the tongue to smithereens so effectively that the wagon was a total loss.  The destructive act wasn’t discovered till after his departure.  The family later remembered hearing banging when Robert Gordon had claimed time to go to the toilet.  From that day forward, Kathleen hated him.image

Kathleen had but a handful of toys, mostly homemade or hand-me-down, so of course she cherished every one.  She had learned, to her great sorrow, that Robert Gordon and Wayne would steal, given the chance.  Before they left after a visit, her older brother, who usually only lived to torment her, held the boys upside down by ther and shook them, while she retrieved her toys raining to the ground.

One one visit, Robert Gordon who was younger than she, but bigger, entertained himself by hiding and jumping on Kathleen’s back as she rounded corners, pushing her to the ground and enjoying the ride to the ground as she fell face-first into the dirt and muck of the yard.  John helped her plot, so she was ready on his next visit.  As she pranced alluringly around the corner, he jumped.  She threw herself backwards,  the back head bashing satsfyigly into his face and nose.  Blood and snot poured from his nose and split lip as he ran bawling for his mama.  It was difficult to convince anybody she had started it when he’d jumped on her back, though he tried.

The most memorable, and adult-infuriating trick Robert Gordon and Wayne ever pulled of was The Great Goat-Milk Robbery.  Though they were as poor as any farmers during The Great Depression, her parents were excellent providers.  They had but one cow, but they kept a goat or two as a secondary source of milk.  Cows don’t produce milk just before and immediately after calving.  Milk production drops drastically during periods of low feed availability such drought.  At any rate all live stock is preciouos and to be treated well.  The Evil Robert Gordon and Wayne were beyond the Pale.  They slipped away from the visiting adults and robbed poor Nanny Goat of her milk in a way that no Christian ever should.  The repulsed neighbors were watching horrified while one boy held the goat and the other nursed, just like he was a kid goat.  Kathleen’s daddy and mama and the horrid boy’s parents got there just as Nanny was being rescued and flogged by an outraged neighbor.  Robert Gordon and Wayne’s parents left in disgrace and Kathleen’s family had another long, enjoyable talk about how hideos they Devil-ridden were. Poor Nanny didn’t give milk for three days.

This is the same chair from vintage picture above, one of my most treasured belongings.

Bear on chair

Applesauce on the Rooftop

Baby on roofThere were unspoken and implied rules.  My personal favorites were the implied ones, open to interpretation. These were based on old adages such as, “If everyone else jumped off the top of the house would you?”  The obvious answer was, I’d probably have been the first to jump, then swear I was pushed when some other dumb butt jumped and got hurt, implicating me as the ringleader. Continue reading