Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Sifoddling Along

By Marilyn Carnell

In the 21st century, children, at least many American children, are inundated with toys. When I was a child that was not the case. Toys are always a part of childhood as it is a way for children to mimic what adults do and begin to learn how they will behave as adults. Before the presence of ubiquitous plastic, only readily available materials were used to create toys, especially dolls.

They could be as simple as a corn husk or a feed sack doll.

At the other end of the spectrum were elaborate (and expensive) porcelain dolls.

I was born in 1940 at the end of the Depression and on the cusp of WWII. Both circumstances led to shortages and a lack of resources. It was more important to use your ration book for gas, tires for the car, or groceries that were limited than on a frivolous toy.

I recall having the following toys during the war: a baby doll, a panda bear, and a male doll I called a “Soldier Doll”. I don’t recall feeling deprived.

There were many ways to amuse myself and, as the baby of my mom’s family, I had many family members to entertain me. My siblings and cousins read stories to me, so I learned early the value of books. They also played games with me and taught me to recite rhymes and sing little ditties. The first song I learned was a popular tune during WWII called Mairzy Dotes (Mares Eat Oats). From that, I learned I liked to perform and be the center of attention.

As I grew older and went to school, I learned games like Red Rover and other active games to blow off steam from the classroom. Another fond memory is that the girls would rush outside at recess to create “houses” between the roots of trees that surrounded the playground. We found small pebbles to outline the rooms and found items like acorn caps to make pretend dishes. I had a classmate who brought us chinquapins (American chestnut). They looked a lot like acorns, but had a bristly cap. Not only did they bring something new to our supply of “dishes” the nuts were quite tasty. Sadly a blight destroyed most of the chinquapin trees, so they are no longer available.

Of course, there were simple games. I loved rainy days in the 4th grade because we stayed in the classroom and played Jacks.

Dominoes were fun to arrange in a line and knock them over. I never actually played the game that adults found interesting. Card games offered another opportunity to play, but are probably not thought of as toys.

I remember being taught how to manipulate a circle of string into a “cat in a cradle” or make a shadow of a bunny by holding my fingers in front of a light in a certain way to cast a shadow on the wall of a long eared creature. I loved doing those things.

All in all, I don’t think I missed much by having few toys. In creating my own amusements and interacting with others, I stretched my imagination and learned the joy of simple pleasures.

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