Friday, December 12, 2008

Toyland, toyland: The National Toy Hall of Fame

With all the doomy-gloomy topics to choose from, I almost forgot about the Toy Hall of Fame, which last month added the baby doll, the skateboard, and - how wonderful in this era of 3 year old's asking for expensive video games -  the stick, to the list of toys that can say that they have been officially proclaimed as classics.

The Toy Hall of Fame lives at the Strong Museum in Rochester, NY, which is:

home to more than 500,000 play-related objects including the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of toys and dolls (more than 70,000 items).

The Toy Hall of Fame is a who's who (what's what?) of fabulous toys, some branded, some not. Generics like alphabet blocks sit side by side with Legos and Lincoln Logs.  Monopoly, Candy Land, and Scrabble are there, but so's checkers.

It's hard to quibble with the list, although I can't see how it took all this time for the baby doll to make the cut, given that Barbie's on the list, as are Raggedy Ann and Andy, who certainly deserve to be.

Just reading through the Hall of Famers is a grownup child's nostalgic delight.

I never had an Atari, but I did have a bicycle, one of those heavy, balloon tire old clunkers that my father picked out for me - a light blue and white Western Flyer. (This isn't the exactWestern_Flyer bicycle, but it's close enough. Source: Little Congress Bicycle Museum, in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.) Or maybe I chose it myself. It had a head light on it, which was just the sort of thing that would appeal to me. Unfortunately, the battery in the headlight corroded within a couple of weeks, and the headlight quickly became covered with this hideous orange-yellow gunk. It even got in the screws, so my father had to pull the thing off, leaving two big holes in the front fender. Sure, I rode it, but that bike was never the same to me again.

Fortunately, my sister Kathleen could generally be counted on to let me us her bike which, while not an English racer - the three speed wonders owned only by uppity, only-child rich kids - was a lot lighter weight and sleeker than my bike, which wouldn't have looked out of place if Andy Hardy had been delivering newspapers with it. (That is, if the "boy bar" had been added to it. I always thought those bars were ridiculous. Certainly, no girls of my era were wearing skirts to play, yet our bikes were "girl bikes", without that stabilizing piece of hardware across the middle. As a kid, I always wondered why the boys had the boy bar, given that it they fell forward suddenly, they had more that could get hurt than us girls did. Ouch!)

We collected marbles as kids, and traded them, but we really didn't play marbles very much. Occasionally, we'd shoot them, but it always seemed pointless - especially since no one seemed to know the rules. We did carry felt bags (mine was a green mouse face) full of cat's eyes, glass-ies, clay-ies, and pooners. Clay-ies were the poor-man's marble. They looked like they'd been hand crafted in Pompeii. I don't remember them being for sale at Woolworth's, where we bought our marbles. But they were always around: dull, terra-cotta brown, and boring. (Were they also called midgies? I think they were smaller than "real" marbles.)

Among my other personal faves in the Hall of Fame are jacks, the jump rope, and the Hula Hoop.

Jacks and jump ropes were the only "sports" I ever excelled at.

I was particularly good at jacks, and could very often get all the way through ten-sies without a falter. I also knew all the variants - like tap jack, in which you had to tap the jacks after you picked them up - that you played after you'd got through the vanilla rounds.

And jump rope. Ah, jump rope.

Jump rope is what girls played in the school yard. Single rope, Double Dutch. I was pretty darned good, and still remember the chants - why not, I must have used them hundreds of times.

All in together girls, mighty fine weather girls...

Apples, peaches, pears, and plums, jump out when your birthday comes...

High, low, medium, wavy, walky, talky, slowly, peppers...

I well remember the hula hoop craze.

My father brought home one orange and one blue one for the girls, and a couple of smaller ones for the boys.

I claimed the blue one, and Kathleen seemed eager to have the orange one. Once she'd indicated that the orange one - since it was unusual: most hula hoops were blue, red, or green - I started to think that there might be something to it. So I started making a little whiney noise about wanted the orange one. She let me have it.

Kathleen is two years older, and she had either psyched me out - she really wanted the blue one - or she genuinely didn't give a damn.

In any case, one of the long-standing, highly frustrating patterns of my childhood was bracing for a squabble over something, only to have Kath let me have it. (We had real fights about plenty of things, but it was never over stuff. The hula hoop. Or the last fudge pop in the freezer. She never fought for stuff. This was completely irritating, removing all the satisfaction associated with winning the fight or being the martyr who didn't get what she wanted. Completely irritating.)

There's lots of other good stuff on the list, including the cardboard box which was, of course, a play object non pareil, since it could be anything - especially if the cardboard box were a big one. I remember one refrigerator box coming into the neighborhood when we still lived in my grandmother's house, on a street with ultra-steep front yards. Put a bunch of kids in an old fridge box, have the other kids push it off the top of that steep front yard, and it would end with a satisfying and somewhat cushioned thud on the cement sidewalk. Let's do it again!

Mr. Potato Head. Play-Doh. The Slinky. Roller Skates - boy, did they weigh a ton, and how miserable it was to have to keep trying to tighten them with that skate key. I only knew one kid with shoe skates. Mary B - naturally, an only child. Only children got everything.

The baby doll is, I believe, long overdue for the Hall of Fame, and I'm glad it's on the list. (Sure, I had a Tiny Tears, and a Ginnette, but I want to give a shout out to Amputatee, a baby doll with a deformed arm - the plastic seemed to have melted, leaving a big gap between baby shoulder and baby arm.)

Skateboard, fine. I remember the first wave of skateboards, somewhere in the mid-sixties. My brother Tom had a red (wooden) skateboard, and I used it once in a while. But it wasn't of supreme interest to me.

And the stick. Since it's primary toy use is that of a weapon, it's more of a boy toy, of course,but it can also be put to many other uses: drawing lines (and circles) in the dirt; tying a dish towel on it to make a flag; and throwing it for a dog to fetch. Smaller sticks can be used for fake food; short, stubby sticks (wrapped in a dish towel) can be turned into a baby doll. Multiple long sticks, placed on a lawn, can be used to outline a pretend house. Etc.

So what got nominated this year for the Hall of Fame and didn't get chosen?

Well, the dollhouse, Flexible Flyer, and Wiffle Ball got dinged, as did Clue, The Game of Life, Hot Wheels, the Magic 8 Ball, Rubik's Cube, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Yahtzee.

From this list, I'd have had to go with Flexible Flyer, dollhouse, Wiffle Ball, and Yahtzee. I certainly spent enough time playing Clue over the years, but I never did like those creepy little people in the Game of Life.

Are the Magic 8 Ball and Rubik's Cube - on which I never managed to get more than one side "done" at a time - really toys?

Hot Wheels, yes and no.

But Thomas the Tank Engine? Way too commercial, and not enough longevity, to make the Hall of Fame.

But that's just one former child's opinion.

Got a toy you want to nominate?

Let the Toy Hall of Fame know.

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