Of course, it had to be some yuppie type that coined that sentiment that he who dies with the most toys wins, perhaps after buying that third jet ski. However, the older I get and the more nostalgic, the more I realize that while there may be some satisfaction in getting an adult toy, that still doesn’t compare to the anticipation of what was seen lying beneath the tinsel-draped branches over a half century’s worth of Christmases ago.
Those treasures often prompted the same yearning devotees of the movie “A Christmas Story” see in Ralphie’s reaction to that Red Ryder BB gun during each year’s airing of the 24-hour marathon on TBS.
For those of you that favor the old movies that run on TCM as much as I do, you’ll recall the final enigmatic utterance of Orson Welles’ character Charles Foster Kane in “Citizen Kane.” It was something that baffled many until it was revealed at the end of a movie. Kane’s final word was “Rosebud,” the name of a cherished childhood gift that once brought him so much joy. Yes, despite all the wealth Kane accumulated in his life, his final memory was of a simple gift that so thrilled him long before there were any adult trappings of success.
And, so in true Rosebud fashion, allow me to take you back so very years ago to the treasures that once could be found under the tree on Christmas morning, long before there were video games and iPads during a time when all phones were rotary and none were considered very smart.
Reflecting back on some of those toys, in those far simpler times, I don’t think parents recognized the potential for injury nearly as much as parents do today. And, that explains those chemistry sets many kiddos of the 1960s received. The sets included vials of dry chemicals, some small beakers and test tubes and litmus paper among some other items designed to turn little Johnny and Sally into the next generation’s most gifted lab coat. Of course, mixing certain chemicals had the potential to create noxious fumes or burn bedroom carpet or perhaps even the skin of those experimenting 10-year-old scientists.
But it was the thrills of curiosity mixed with a bit of the unknown as to what we thought would happen if we mixed the this with the that that made that kind of science a whole lot more fun than anything those teachers were giving us in school.
Another common gift that came with potential grave consequences but sure was fun was the wood-burning set with the plug-in stylus that heated white hot and came with pieces of wood with outlines on them. You may recall we were supposed to trace the outlines to create our works of art. The set came with different stylus tips that could be changed out for more intricate and precise artistic expression. I remember that distinctive aroma once that white-hot tip met wood, and I also remember some pretty nasty burns on little arms and hands when the stylus was carelessly handled.
Other toys didn’t carry any threat of injury, such as the Erector Set, a toy which actually, you may be surprised, dates all the way back to 1913, when production began at the Mysto Manufacturing Company in New Haven, Connecticut. Many should recall the miniature metal beams with the holes in them that could be made into some pretty intricate metal structures, like cranes.
To be honest, I never thought I was smart enough for an Erector Set and left that to my pals who I knew were far more mechanically inclined. Even as a child, such was not my forte.
Anyway, I was more of a Lincoln Logs guy. Aided by the advent of the influx of those black-and-white RCAs into many American homes in the mid-1950s, which skyrocketed sales, many should recall those square-notched miniature logs and the familiar green roof pieces that were used to create log cabins and forts.
When I was making those log cabins and forts on the front room floor in our house in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, before our move to Lima in 1958, little did I know that just 25 miles from where I was building is where the toy was conceived in 1916 by an Oak Park architect and toy inventor. His name was John Lloyd Wright, and if that name sounds somewhat familiar, there’s a reason, since he was the son of arguably the most famous architect in American history, Frank Lloyd Wright.
I’m not sure what you’ll find under that tree on Friday morning, but if you’re of a certain age, I’m guessing while you may be pleased with perhaps some new floor liners for your SUV, it won’t come anywhere close to matching that exhilaration you once felt on a snow-covered Christmas morning when you tore open that colorful wrapping paper and took your first look at the toy you most coveted.
For me, it was those Lincoln Logs I remember so fondly. What was yours?
In these most unusual times, I think it’s important we keep those memories alive in the belief that they will sustain us. Here’s wishing you a nostalgically tinged Merry Christmas.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.