Our daughter, Catherine, gave her mother and me an unusual gift this past Christmas. It is called Story Worth. Each week, Mary Lou and I get a question selected by Catherine in our email inbox. We are supposed to write the answer, attach a picture if we like, and send it back to an embedded link. At the end of the year, the 52 answers we provided will be bound into a book.
So far, we have been asked to describe our first big trip, our grandparents, and our favorite toys. We have also been asked if we ever got into trouble at school, but neither of us has answered that question yet. Below is my answer to the question about my childhood toys.
Growing up in Cottonwood during the early 1960s was pretty much a boy’s dream. There was not much traffic and there was not that much trouble you could get into. Besides, every parent in town watched over everyone else’s kids.
I remember playing marbles with the neighborhood kids for hours on end. I kept mine in an open Maxwell House coffee can, which I still have. Besides the regular marbles, we especially treasured “Log Rollers” “Cat Eyes” and “Crystals”. The crystals were obtained by cutting open an empty paint spray can. Those glass marbles were almost always crystal clear. We were not supposed to play for “keeps”, but we always did.
Every boy had a BB gun. I still remember the first bird I ever killed in the back yard. Occasionally, we would play chicken with our guns. You would shoot each other in the chest at a closer and closer range until the sting was too much to bear. I did not say we were particularly smart kids, but we did learn quickly and moved on to less painful games.
By far the most time was spent with a football, baseball or basketball. We wore out the grass below the basketball goal. The clothesline was perfect for kicking the extra point after each touchdown. My brother and I would practice hitting baseballs with our father and grandfather at the peanut mill. We hit between the peanut warehouses so we did not have to chase the balls so far.
As a smaller kid, my favorite was probably the sandbox. I do not know where my Dad got that sand, but it was clean and bright white. At Christmas, Santa would always bring us tons of firecrackers. We would build castles in the sandbox and then blow them up. At one point, we decided to blow up an old kitchen canister set my sister had been given. We put an M-80 under the cannister. We never found any recognizable pieces to that old tin and kept that secret for decades.
We usually got a Tonka truck each Christmas and would build roads and bridges all over that sandbox. Once a year, we helped our Dad put rock salt in the sandbox which was supposed to keep ringworms away, or so I recall.
The final toy I remember was my bicycle. You could easily go all over town, to the creeks just past the city limits, to the store or your friends’ houses. It was your ticket to the world and our parents let us explore it for hours on end. “Just be home for supper,” was what my parents would say before we departed.
It was a great place for a kid. With our friends we never lacked for something to do. Endless football games, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. We carved our own spears with the pocket knife we usually got each year and whittled them to be frighteningly sharp, as was proved when one pierced my brother’s eyelid and wedged between his eyeball and socket. Thankfully, no damage was done.
We dug underground forts and covered them with scraps of tin and pine branches. We hung out underground when we were not up in our tree house.
There was no internet or video games, and only three channels on the television, all black and white. I listened to the Braves and pulled for one of my earliest heroes, Hank Aaron, each night while listening to my little transistor radio.
There was not much to do back then, according to my grandchildren, but we did not know that. Instead, we came home dirty and hungry every night, worn out from just being a kid. We had plenty of toys, but the entire town was our playground. Good times shared with good friends.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org