The importance of toys

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1:21 AM

I am a grown woman and I love toys. I have them all over my house and I’m proud of that. In my office, directly in front of me when I sit at my desk working is a Samantha Stevens/Bewitched doll complete with hat and broom. On top of the shelf is an antique croquet game. In the corner is an enormous stuffed bear from FAO Schwartz in New York. I have blocks, a Winnie the Pooh, a Piglet, an Eeyore and a Tigger. In the bookshelf are some stuffed animals; atop my bookshelf is a Scarlett O’Hara Barbie doll and a Scully and Mulder Barbie and Ken doll set from the X-Files. They carefully guard a Tasmanian devil and an old metal lunchbox like what I carried when I was in school. On the floor is an antique doll crib with two antique dolls, one a Madame Alexander, another a Heinrich Handwerk, both bisque. Which is not to be confused with Bisquik, another blog post entirely.

Walk down the stairs and at the bottom is a black, limited edition Road Hog tricycle that I bought for Kevin for Christmas several years ago. It has motorcycle aspirations, complete with a tiny saddlebag under the saddle. On top rides a stuffed dog in a leather Harley-Davidson jacket with matching sunglasses. He looks bad-ass. Miniature motorcycles, mostly metal, are on the stairs; miniature bicycles on the fireplace mantle. On the entertainment center is a Marshall Field Tonka truck from 1955 as well as a Smith-Miller Bank of America armored truck, complete with lock.

The real toy collection begins in the bedroom, though. Like typical kids, it’s where we keep most of our stuff so that it doesn’t get underfoot, nobody slips on it, and it doesn’t clutter the living room. A shelf across the sliding glass door houses some of our best toys. Actually, Kevin’s toys. There are countless trucks mostly from the late 1950s/early 1960s including a full set of orange Tonka road crew vehicles. The set even includes road signs. I bought that for him for his birthday some years ago. On the shelf up high is a menagerie of stuff: more trucks, a Sno-Cone maker, an army tank that actually shoots something, an original erector set, a set of Lincoln logs, a metal Snow-Flake sled and a fully-functional (as long as the battery terminals aren’t corroded) King Ding robot complete with his brain, a smaller robot that rides up and down inside King Ding on an elevator.

Pebbles, a replacement of my favorite doll from when I was a child, sits next to the flat screen TV. Kevin found her somewhere on the east coast and gave her to me when we got married. I always loved that doll; she may well have been the only one I ever did love. I suspect because she first belonged to my older cousin Kim and I idolized Kim. When Kim gave her to me, it was like she had given me a million dollars. I’m sure she didn’t think that; she simply no longer had any use for the raggedy piece of plastic with a stuffed body and bad hair.

I’m not sure when or why we got so into toys, and truth be told, we’re getting a little tired of some of them. Thank dog for ebay. Still, we have some pieces that are true collectors items and worth a good deal of money. We’ll keep many of the best trucks, including Marshall Field, Bank of America and all of the trucks above the sliding glass door. They’re all in mint condition. I’ll keep Pebbles for sure. The trike stays, too.

I think toys somehow makes us feel invincible again, they remind us of a simpler time when we had no responsibilities and the biggest question of the day was “when do I have to be home for dinner?” They allow us to use our imaginations, construct worlds that don’t exist except for that day, as we play and move around our trucks and our dolls and our stuffed animals. It’s a way to create, and even to problem solve. There’s also something kind of cool about having exceptionally old, working and pristine toys in your house as an adult when there are no children around. They make people smile.

Toys and games have been discovered at the sites of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations. These discoveries include dolls and animals, whistles shaped like birds and even carts with wheels. Egyptian children had dolls that sported wigs and even had movable limbs. Most of the world’s earliest toys were made from rocks, sticks and clay. Most were made by parents for their children or by the children themselves. There was care given; each toy was more personal than the mass-produced toys of today.

But the reason for being is the same: to develop the mind and the imagination. That’s something adults could use more of, especially during especially trying times. Toys allow us to escape and to play even if it’s just in our minds, even if it’s just for pretend.

Also in the bedroom, in the corner, is Maguire’s bed. I don’t think he slept in it once during his 15 plus years. Instead, it became his toy “box,” holding all of his toys and they were plentiful. Each day, he would trot out anywhere from two to six, and after he was done playing and chewing, he’d leave them wherever he grew bored. He never learned the fine art of cleaning up after himself. Those toys are still in his bed. They allow us to imagine that he’s still with us, to pretend just for a minute that we can still hear the squeak of Pig or Moo or Hedge as he bites down for a chew.

Tonight I’m celebrating toys, celebrating the pretend. Living it out loud.

A 1948 Roadmaster

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 19, 2011 11:33 PM

A number of years ago, we were at a swap meet in Ventura County, at the fairgrounds by the water, and we found an old bicycle. We’d been looking for one for some time, something pre-1950 that we could restore and show off. We didn’t care what the brand was, or if was a men’s or a women’s, a boy’s or a girl’s bike. We just wanted something interesting, unique, and cool. We’d been frequenting the swap meet and had found some very interesting pieces. An old Zenith floor radio, with all of its parts and a turntable, complete with thick 78 rpm records in German. The radio was from the 1940s. We bought it for $100. Toys like old Tonka, Smith-Miller and Structo trucks in steel, before they started making them only in plastic. Old record albums. A Pebbles Flintstone doll from 1961. A Sno-flake sledding saucer from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We bought them all.

Then, one Sunday, as we walked aisle after aisle, finding nothing, we rounded a corner and there it was. Not perfect by any stretch but perfect for us. It was a man’s bicycle, from sometime in the 1940s or so we assumed based on the research we had done. It was red and black. The seat was wrong, the tires were also wrong as was the sprocket, but the frame was in good shape. It even had its headlight. The guy who was selling it said it was a 1948 Roadmaster. $120 later we loaded it into the Range Rover and headed home.

The Roadmasters were originally made by the Cleveland Welding Company beginning in 1936. The company was purchased by the American Machine & Foundry Co., (AMF) in 1951. Interestingly, AMF bought Harley Davidson in the 1960s and sold it in 1981. They were big into two-wheeled transportation.

Our 1948 Roadmaster was a beauty sporting a search beam headlight in a bullet shape, a shockmaster fork with double spring action for a smooth ride, a tank and grill, an electronically welded frame and a kick stand (!).

The Roadmaster was a cruiser bicycle with balloon tires, an upright seating position and steel construction. A single speed, they were durable, heavy and popular from the early 1930s through the 1950s. Schwinn was the first company to develop a cruiser during the Depression. It was 1933 and it was called the B-10E Motorbike, even though it didn’t have a motor. It borrowed heavily from other similar bikes made in Germany. Schwinn was followed by Columbia, Shelby, Monark, Huffy and Roadmaster. All were popular with paperboys and bicycle couriers.

We brought our new purchase home, cleaned it up and then had to decide where to put it. Just inside the entrance way, above the foyer, we have a bridge that holds the HVAC (heating, venting and air conditioning), beautifully camouflaged in drywall and paint. We quickly decided that placing the bike up on the bridge, high above the floor and thus out of the way was perfect. You can’t see it when you come in the house, but when you enter the living room, and turn around, there it is. It’s a conversation piece.

Not long after we first got it, I was in my office (also upstairs) and on the phone when I heard a huge crash. The bike had rolled off the bridge. Thank dog Maguire was outside at the time; he always liked to sleep in the area underneath the bridge. He still does.

After that, we put the bike back up and Kevin secured it with a metal cuff through the back wheel and nailed to a stud. That baby ain’t goin’ nowhere!

Our bike and pilot bear; the vintage seat is in the background

Today, I was up on the bridge, cleaning. The bike had gotten quite dusty; the tires had gone flat. I brought in the tire pump. The space is now shared by a teddy bear in a vintage children’s rocking chair. The bear sports a leather World War II pilot’s helmet along with vintage WWII goggles. Last year, I found an old brown leather bicycle seat for a 1948 Roadmaster. I gave it to Kevin for Christmas. We still haven’t put it in place, but we will; we talked about it today. We’re still trying to find the rack and the sprocket. Eventually we’ll replace the tires but not until we have the other parts. The tires are easy.

When we build our new home in Tucson, the bike will take its proud place just down from the kitchen in the breakfast nook, overlooking the city. By then, it will be restored to its former glory, and in the 21st century we’ll celebrate the engineering of the mid-20th, when bikes were heavy and of only one speed. When they cruised.

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live out loud

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