Of course, you had to have an attention span, and an imagination, to enjoy these. On each page was a short article to read, a line drawing to color with your crayons, and a full-color stamp to paste in.
I don’t know how old I was when my Grammie got me In Days of Old: The Story of the Middle Ages–ten, tops, no older than that–but I remember it as if I’d read it yesterday. The pictures and the text ignited my imagination, and to this day I’m still interested in the Middle Ages. Still learning.
I am so glad I didn’t have to settle for “Zombie Apocalypse” on some kind of electronic gizmo.
Ask it a question, it’ll tell you no lies! That’s because it can’t, but never mind: it’s the Magic 8-Ball, invented in 1950 and still going strong.
My cousins and I had enormously good times with their Magic 8-Ball, asking embarrassing questions about each other and getting embarrassing answers. “Is Joanne in love with that creepy guy down the street?” “It is certain.” You get the idea.
I’m more than a little surprised that no one has trotted out the Magic 8-Ball to prognosticate this year’s political contests. Think of the money they’d save, just asking the 8-Ball. “Is Joe Biden all there?” “Please concentrate and ask again.” “Do those people on CNN ever tell the truth?” “Certainly not!”
In fact, it’d be instructive to compare the Magic 8-Ball to the various TV nooze analysts, scoring them for accuracy. I dare you to do it, MSNBC. Triple-dog dare you!
Another dreary, grey, rainy day–and me without a Sears catalogue.
One of my coziest childhood memories is cuddling up on the sitting room couch with the Sears Christmas catalogue: and there’s no school, because it’s snowing like mad outside.
I felt like Howard Carter peering into Tutankhamen’s tomb, who answered, when asked what he could see, “Things! Wonderful things!” Bikes and pogo sticks. Toy guns and real guns (not much chance of me getting one of those!). Erector sets and plastic models.
But for me the ultimate treasure was the play sets. Like this farm set.
I wasn’t much for army men, but oh!–all those cool animals in the farm set. And my Grammy gave it to me for Christmas that year. I still have some of those animals. When I see them, I remember her. And her Christmas tree, every year in the same corner of her living room. I still have a few of her ornaments, too, including the elf who winds up on our tree every year.
Yeah, I know it doesn’t count as holy–unless family, and love, and delight are holy, too. Gifts of God, who is the source of every good gift we’ll ever know.
P.S.–And get a load of those prices! The whole 100-piece farm set for $4.99. I can’t imagine what a toy like that would cost today.
During my boyhood, at just about this time every year, we received our Sears-Roebuck Christmas catalogue. Oh, boy! My brother, my sister, and I spent hours and hours marveling at the treasures depicted therein.
My favorites were the various play sets, featuring a whole bunch of little plastic figurines with a nice big setting for them. My brother would have loved the one pictured above! You not only get lots of little cars, but also this wonderful service station plus parking deck.
We had play sets for the Age of Dinosaurs, a farm, Cape Canaveral–you could put your eye out with those spring-launched rockets–an army base, and a three-ring circus.
And look at the price–$4.98 for the whole shootin’ match, or you can get the super-colossal version for $7.98. These items now sell on eBay for hundreds of bucks apiece. I remember when I wanted the dinosaur set and my father said we couldn’t afford it, five dollars was just too much. I wound up getting it for Christmas, and I still have some of the dinosaurs today. (Wish I’d kept those rockets, though!)
Oh, so many play sets! King Arthur and his knights, Ben-Hur and his chariot race, Wagon Train, Fort Apache, the jungle trading post–I used to get off on just reveling in the pictures in the catalogue.
Now, I do realize that such things have nothing whatever to do with Christmas, the real Christmas, but are really just add-ons to express the joy we experience at the birth of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Without Him it’s only a festival of Mammon. We do have to take care, especially with our children, that this is clearly understood. We mustn’t celebrate the gifts; the gifts are a celebration of Christ.
But I will stack up the 1959 Sears Christmas catalogue against any cultural artifact of this present time, and come out way ahead.
Behold the Blue Knight of Milan, a plastic model from the 1950s. This one looks a lot better than mine did when I finished it; but all that detailed painting was beyond my little-boy skills. My knight was lucky he could stand up without leaning on a lamppost.
Model kits were big in our house. And my mother was big on knights in shining armor, King Arthur, Sir Lancelot–for which I give thanks to this day: that was good for me!
So I had the Blue Knight of Milan (I had no idea where Milan was), with his battle-axe; and my brother had the Silver Knight of I don’t remember where–was it Oklahoma?–and the Silver Knight had a nice big sword.
And I got to thinking, “Gee, I’ll bet we could really cut things with that sword!” So I tried to.
Imagine my horror when the plastic sword wouldn’t cut the little string of yarn–but the yarn sawed right through the sword. I had to glue it back together: the old “they’ll never notice!” theory. My brother did notice and he was not amused–although he did understand the need for scientific investigations such as that. He just didn’t understand why it had to be his knight who was the subject of said investigation.
I’ll bet you can still get one of these old model kits on eBay. I wonder if kids today can enjoy such things. Assembling a model takes patience and attention. And it’s quiet. Can we still do patience and attention and quiet?
Don’t be fooled by these unprepossessing little pieces of plastic. Sure, it looks like the easiest model in the world to assemble. But wait, there’s more!
This is the parakeet from Bachmann Birds of the World, vintage 1959. And if you can do a good job of following the instructions for hand-painting it… voila!
I kept my finished model parakeet at Grammy’s house–mine was painted blue and white instead of green and yellow–and it never failed to turn heads, sitting on its perch in the living room. It was very realistic!
I kept my scarlet tanager at home. There were many birds in this series, but I didn’t get into collecting them. I sorta wish I had, though.
Toys for kids, featuring the development of manual skills, learning to follow directions, and patience in working toward a goal–yeah, tell me you can get that with “Zombie Apocalypse.”
Remco produced this game in 1959. How well I remember those commercials! “I’m a schmo, and that ain’t good…” The object of the game was to see how could be the biggest nincompoop, or schmo. Events within the game featured forgetting one’s pants, stepping into wet cement, and other schmo-like misadventures.
I expect I’ll be sitting in a doctor’s waiting room while you read this.
Comic books in the 1950s advertised for all sorts of incredibly cool things you could send away for–X-ray glasses, Sea Monkeys, this little doohickey you could put in your mouth that would let you throw your voice like a professional ventriloquist… genuine authentic foot-locker full of these pitiful flat plastic soldiers…
And the Joy Buzzer.
This little treasure, you wound it up and hid it in the palm of your hands, and when your victim shook hands with you, he’d get a loud buzzing shock that’d make him jump a foot in the air. We thought it might’ve been electric, but when my brother and I got our Joy Buzzers, we quickly discovered there was no electricity involved. In fact there wasn’t much of anything involved. If you and the victim really tried on purpose, you could get it to buzz. But usually nothing happened.
At least these things weren’t expensive.
To this day I remain skeptical of the worth of goods and services advertised in comic books.
I loved those play sets by the Marx Toy Co.! I didn’t have any of these carry-all cases, but I did have the Cape Kennedy play set when it was still called Cape Canaveral: and boy, those spring-powered rockets! You could actually put a dent in your ceiling. Like, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” But the threat was obvious even to us kids, and nobody shot his eye out with a Nike missile.
The commercial also shows Fort Apache, Noble Knights, and Boot Camp play sets. My favorite, not shown, was Dinosaurs and Cave Men.
These toys set my imagination on fire. For a while there I wanted to be a toy maker when I grew up, so I could design some really far-out play sets. But in the meantime I rejoiced in setting up the little plastic figurines and turning the set-up into a story.
Have they quite succeeded, yet, in putting the imagination into deep freeze? Would kids even know what to do with a play set anymore?
I remain hopeful: just give them time, and they’ll figure it out. Human nature as God created it, good and bad, will not be denied forever.
P.S.–Where did my video go? Can any of you see it?