Tis the season . . . for toys. Throughout our small town, children (and adults) are already thinking about what toys should be under the Christmas tree this year. Now in my 65th year I rarely hear from young children, and our adult children now appreciate tools of the trade, or gifts with purpose – “play” is no longer their first priority. On occasion however Kathie and I do welcome younger visitors to our new house on the hill, with whom I can sit down and play for both research and recreational purposes. This is good news.
During one recent visit, the toy of choice was a colourful set of wooden dinosaurs purchased from a Penticton craft fair. These pre-historic facsimiles produced almost an hour of reptilian fun for my young companion and me. The experience got me thinking about the toys I enjoyed in my youngest years. Amazingly, I can barely remember what I played with. Certainly, I loved Lego (quite new in the early sixties) Meccano, Kenner Construction building kits. (I should have been an engineer.) Yes, there were building blocks, but apart from a toy wagon, I cannot recall any Christmas desires or gifts. (My wife still asserts that I have repressed my childhood. She may be right.)
I do remember receiving (in the mail? – poor postie) the annual Sears Christmas Wish Book and the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue. “The Eaton’s catalogue was mailed into the hearts, the memory and even the literature of Canadians.” Once delivered to the Harlow Drive kitchen table, I would scour the toys section with an avarice surpassed only by male adult whiskey drinkers. Mine was the era of G.I. Joe (this was the Viet Nam war era after all!), Dinky Toys, HO Scale trains, Batman figures and mechanical hockey sets (never got one of these, but Gerry Morrison down the street did – he also got car racing sets — comparison was inevitable). I wonder what toys you my faithful readers got. Comments welcome below.
As for today, well the online universe awaits covetous eyes everywhere. For those who might wish to celebrate the season differently however, for those in search of toys less electronic, more physical and dare I say “educational,” look no further than to Kamloops’ Tumbleweed Toys. Down the road from our former home, this “mom-owned small business focuses on products that you won’t find in big box stores.”
“We are proud that we specialize in products that are high quality and powered by your imagination. We carry products that will last and will still be fun and interesting generations from now and toys that are eco-friendly and safe for children to play with.”
Given the recent departure of big-box retailer Toys R Us from Kamloops, Tumbleweed has doubled its display space in order to effectively welcome and inspire a growing market share through a small store ambience.
“Being a smaller store our goal is to make your shopping experience amazing. We have staff who will help you find the perfect gift. We play with the toys & games and get to know the products so we can share our knowledge and help you choose. We also have tons of demos in the store so you can play and “try before you buy” too.”
Tumbleweed is my kind of store with my kind of product — whether toy, puzzle or decoration. (No, they did not pay me to say this.) Their approach to play is communal and experiential. Toys are to be played with, and tinkered with (remember Tinker Toys?) alone or in the company of others. Sharing produces delight, a joy well caught in the old children’s song, Marvellous Toy: .
When I was just a wee little boy, full of health and joy
One Christmas morning I received the marvelous little toy
A wonder to behold it was with many colors bright
And the first time I laid eyes on it, it became my heart’s delight
It went zip when it moved,
bop when it stopped
Whirr, when it stood still
I never knew just what it was
and I guess, I never will
Now let’s be clear; not all toys move independently. Some require propulsion and direction. In the Summerland Thrift Shop the other day I saw a marvellous model wooden truck, which I purchased for (hmm) myself, and any imaginative visitor who wishes to join me on the polished or carpeted floor. It just sits there . . . until I bring it to life. It’s like a pianist in recital — nothing happens until the performer sits down to play. With the truck, I push or pull it, I talk to it as I create a story around it. I make it follow the design of the floor rug – you get the idea. For me, the ideal toy draws something out of the player, differently each time.
Visiting Dublin a few months ago, walking along Grafton Street, I stumbled across the first Irish Lego store. Who knew there are stores dotted around the globe devoted to the collection and enjoyment of Lego. For some, it’s a way of life. My biggest problem with modern Lego sets however is that they create the environment for the player – Pirate Jack Sparrow in the Caribbean; the Eiffel Tower I France. Back in my day, you just had blocks, from which you created your own pirate ship or you designed and built a local tower. (I should have been an engineer.) Soon there will be Lego TV. Maybe it’s here already.
Is it too much to suggest that the toys with which we played in our childhood affect in a significant way the rest of our lives? How much do we learn about play and life as we test-drive our creativity in those early years. Just ask Charles foster Kane, the prime character in Orson Welles 1941 film classic Citizen Kane.
(From Wiki) “The quasi-biographical film examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a composite character based on American media barons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, as well as aspects of the screenwriters’ own lives.”
Following the Tycoon’s sad and sorry death, at his mansion Xanadu “Kane’s belongings are cataloged or discarded by the staff. They find the sled on which the eight-year-old Kane was playing on the day that he was taken from his home in Colorado and throw it into a furnace with other items. Behind their backs, the sled slowly burns and its trade name becomes visible through the flames: ‘Rosebud’.’
Is there a “Rosebud” in my life and memory? A pleasure, an innocence taken and never recovered — I don’t think so; I need to think about that. What about for you? What’s your own Rosebud? Do tell. And happy winter playtime.
I always chose (and mostly received) a new doll for Christmas…. It seemed that every year there was at least one new “doll of the year” and they were often designed to perform a “function”. Patta burps, well … she burped, Chrissy had hair that you could pull on and it would grow longer… and then she had a turn knob on her stomach so you could wind it back into her body (!). One of my favourite dolls was from Aitken and Fraser store in Shawnigan Lake … I looked at it sitting in the window for much of December. When I received the doll on Christmas Day, my mum asked what I was going to name her… I said, “Big Hugey” (she was a large doll!)…. Poor doll, was defined by her size for eternity😆