Recently I read an article about having too many toys being bad for children. It cited a study conducted at the University of Toledo (Ohio) that supported this theory. This was not a problem in my childhood. An excess of toys was hardly possible in the stark years of World War II. So, one could say I did not suffer from excess.
As I recall, I had three toys – a panda bear, a “soldier” doll and a baby doll. I treasured all of them and the panda has now served three generations and lives in my son’s attic. There were books, of course. Nothing like the plethora available today. My family had the odd habit of reading at the table. It was my father’s choice and the rest of us followed along. My sister remembers that as a baby in a highchair, I insisted on having a comic book to “read” as well.
When I was six, I acquired another doll. Mrs. Brown, the janitor’s wife made a flour sack doll for every little girl in first grade (I think there were about 8 of us). I treasured mine and nearly loved her to death (photo). The painting shows my naked doll and the one my friend Jane acquired the next year. Jane’s was pristine. Mom bought it when Jane had a sale of belongings before she and her family moved to Kansas City. The reason Jane’s was so well preserved was that she had many toys as she was an only child and grandchild in her family. Her sensible parents had a solution for that. Half of the toys went “on vacation” in the attic until July when a second Christmas was observed. Jane was very generous to share her toys with me and freeing the toys from exile was a great day.
When I was a little older, I wanted a bicycle. I dreamed of having one like the new blue Schwinn like Jane’s. That was not to be. My parents could afford only a used boy’s bike that had been carelessly repainted. I’m sure I showed my disappointment but came to love that bike. I must have ridden it a million miles.
I also got a volleyball one year. Hours were spent serving it to the garage roof and “playing” the ball that rolled back to me. It is easy to see that I got plenty of outdoor exercise as a child.
Not having a number of toys left a lot of time for other activities. We waded in icy cold Testerman Branch, collecting interesting rocks and attempting to build dams so it would be deep enough for swimming. We also clambered up the tall hill in front of our house and climbed the tallest tree (an old Oak) and surveyed our kingdom. We imagined images from the clouds that drifted by and dreamed of things we hoped to do.
At school, recess was a time of playing “Red Rover” to blow off steam, but a favorite activity was to create “houses” with small pebbles at the foot of a nearby tree. The earth was bare from our constant presence, so we arranged the rocks to outline rooms and used acorn cap “dishes” for tea parties.
Without a number of material toys, I had a wonderful childhood. After thinking about it a while, I realize I was blessed to have the opportunities and freedom a child of the mid-Twentieth Century had. We were fearless and carefree in a way that is not possible in the scary world we live in today.