By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Looking back over fading black and white photos of Christmases past, one thing that stands out in my mind (besides the can-can slips my mother always made me wear for church and pictures) are the toys that always appeared underneath the tree each Christmas morning.
Today they seem so simple. There was a slinky in one, and a baton, a kaleidoscope, and a hula-hoop in another. Once, there was a tall doll dressed in a prom dress, complete with permed hair, sequined heels and pearls. Another year there was a Betsy-Wetsy, the next there was Tiny Tears. These “high-tech” dolls had a hole in the back of their mouths or the corners of their eyes. When a bottle of water was inserted into the mouth, it ran down through the hollow body and out a hole covered, hopefully, by a toy diaper, or leaked out the eye sockets. In the mid- to late ’50s, that was really an advancement in the toy world!
In 1959, Barbie came along and changed the way that little girls played with dolls (and looked at themselves) forever. This doll was the start of a mega-billion dollar industry. She had an extensive wardrobe (that is still growing) a house, a condo, a car, and a boyfriend. The boyfriend, Ken, was on any given day, an airplane pilot, surfer, Army officer, or tennis pro.
The antithesis of Ken was GI Joe. Hasbro made history with the first doll suitable for boys — ahem, action figure. GI Joe was a man’s man. Often bearded, he wore camo clothes and regulation combat boots, carried a miniature rifle, and had all the accessories of war, including anti-aircraft missiles.
I never had a GI Joe, mind you, but Santa brought one for my son, and GI Joe is still around, still fighting the good fight, evidently, because when I Googled him, I found the 2012 accessory pack, complete with newer ways to kill other toy soldiers.
In 1960, Santa brought me one of my all-time favorite gifts, Chatty Cathy, when Ideal made history with the first talking doll. She was freckled, like me, had her hair cut in a bob, like me, and my mother even arranged with Santa for us to have matching pink satin nightgowns on Christmas morning. She was my BFF for many years. She still lives in the top of Allie’s closet, where she smiles down at me every time I open the door.
Thumbelina lives up there, too, along with a stuffed Bugs Bunny with a plastic face, plaid shirt and yellow overalls. There’s a Raggedy Ann and Andy footstool up there, too, and a Terri Lee doll in her original clothes, turquoise pedal-pushers and a matching sleeveless top trimmed with black rick-rack.
Companions to these toys that are now officially antiques are Tony’s Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Bionic Man, an Evel Knievel, complete with motorcycle, a set of Sesame Street finger puppets, and two (now thankfully silenced) Teddy Ruxpin bears that belonged to Danielle and Dominique.
Between all of us, we have enough toys to make a brand new Toy Story movie.
Allie never cared much for toys, she was a child of the computer age. It stifled any imagination that she was born with, but I keep hoping that it will surface someday…there is always hope. Of course, she can do things with a computer that I’ll never understand.
Today’s toys and games are not only more expensive than ours were, even factoring in a cost of living allowance, that they are not even in the same category as what we considered a reasonable thing to ask Santa for.
Our horses had wooden handles and something that resembled a mop for a mane. They were not powered by batteries or solar energy, but by our gangly, muscled legs and our never failing energy.
Bicycles were the big ticket item on most of our Christmas wish lists. When fall came, along with it came the Sears and Robuck catalog. Man, did kids ever have fun dreaming about the bikes, toys and games that filled those pages. That thing must have weighed 15 pounds. We lugged them around for months, dreaming of doll houses and surrey wagons with fringed canopies, Radio flyers and regulation footballs, dolls of every description, miniature kitchen sets, Easy Bake Ovens and of course, Barbie and her ever growing entourage, Midge, Scooter and Ken’s surfer buddies.
I used to lay awake at night, hiding under a blanket with a flashlight looking at the toys in that Sears catalog. I guess my great-grandfather poured over the earlier versions in much the same way, looking for the mail-order house he sent away for. It’s still standing today in downtown Landersville.
I miss those toys…jacks and Pick-Up-Sticks, Silly Putty, marbles, Mr. Potato Head, and paper dolls. Yes, they were simple, but they taught us to play by using either our dexterity or our imagination. I worry about the Candy Crush Saga generation….what in the world will they ever have to reminisce about?
I wonder what they would say if they found a 1950s Christmas under the tree this year? I might even find some tinsel somewhere....lol.