Here it is, almost Valentine’s Day and I’m finally taking down our indoor Christmas decorations. Virtually no one but Dennis and me got to see them this past year, but they still added a cheerful touch to an otherwise drab period.
I didn’t do the amount of holiday décor in 2020 that I typically do. Instead, I tried to do more with less. This meant rearranging old favorites in new ways. Among those new ways was a display of antique toys. I cringe to use the word “antique” to describe this hodgepodge of playthings — because I remember playing with all of them as a child — but in my defense, I was not the first owner of most of them.
Apparently, “they don’t make them like they used to” because, in current times, many toys and games don’t seem to last from one holiday to the next. Of course, nowadays, most toys are made from plastics, while “back in the day,” metal was more often the material of choice. Perhaps that’s why many types of older items lasted longer than their modern counterparts. For example, I still regret giving away the sturdy electric can opener that my mother had used for many years, all because I wanted one that matched my stainless-steel kitchen appliances. I’m now on my third — a pretty, color-coordinated can opener — and it’s not working so well either.
Instead of taking out my entire collection of sleigh replicas that I usually display at Christmas, in December I only took out the largest one, which is a foot long and 8 inches high. I usually seat a large Santa inside it, but this time I left him inside his box in the attic.
Instead, I went to the bottom drawer in my kitchen’s original section of cabinetry. It is a drawer that has been an attraction for several generations of kids, because they know it holds a collection of crayons, coloring books and an assortment of small toys. There, I found what I was looking for to stash in Santa’s sled.
Soon I had assembled a nostalgic array of playthings that I remember from my youth. There’s a Clarabelle the Clown hand puppet with a discolored plastic head attached to a red-and-white striped cloth “glove” that gave me many hours of fun. Then there’s a small plastic instrument shaped like a French horn with a red body, a yellow “bell” and a green mouthpiece. It used to make a horn-like sound when you blew into it, but now it’s silent.
The four remaining items are made from metal and are in relatively good shape. There’s a colorful top with pictures of dogs and children at play. From the attire of those youngsters, I’d guess this top dates to the 1920s, and likely belonged originally to my father. There’s a wooden spool-like apparatus that fits onto the center post of the top and can be turned to wind it up and set it spinning.
There’s a charming, little, yellow metal cat about the size of a real kitten. It has a painted-on blue bow at its neck, as well as painted marks to imitate fur. A red wooden ball is positioned between its front paws on a metal pin that allows it to rotate when the cat moves forward. A wind-up key sets the cat into motion, “chasing” its ball while its long, curled tail switches back and forth. There is evidence that the little cat once had ears that moved, but their demise apparently pre-dated my acquaintance with this playful feline.
The two remaining items would be treasured by any farm kid. There’s a miniature, two-bottom, cast-iron plow that was once painted red, though a good bit of that paint is worn away. It has two black tires that spin on the plow’s axle and a hole in the plow tongue where a piece of string can be inserted to attach it onto the back of another mobile toy. This toy also pre-dated me, though whether the original owner was my older brother or my dad, I couldn’t say.
One toy that I’m sure I was the first owner of is a brightly colored metal wind-up tractor. It’s decorated with drawings of Disney characters of yore, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, Thumper the Rabbit, Minnie Mouse and either Chip or Dale. The tractor is piloted by Donald Duck, whose head bobs on a spring. He has one hand on the tractor’s steering wheel. The other hand used to be upraised in a friendly wave but, alas, that arm went missing somewhere over the decades. Since I was the original user of this toy, I must regrettably assume that I’m responsible for this unfortunate amputation. This toy is still my favorite because, when you turn a key on the bottom of it, the tractor goes forward and back crazily, rearing up on its back tires at times as it changed directions. You wouldn’t want it plowing your fields.
Now that Christmas is over, these old pals have returned to their home in the toy drawer, while I remain grateful for all the good times we’ve had together.
Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.