Darrell Huckaby: Christmas toys still bring joy many years later

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

I posed a simple question to my Facebook friends Monday morning. "Favorite Christmas toy?"

At least I thought it was simple. A lot of folks responded with answers like "my dog, Bootsie," or "a pony" or some other member of the animal world. I suppose you can play with puppies and kittens, but I am not sure they classify as toys. But that's OK. I can see how someone would broaden their interpretation of the question to mean best Christmas gift. One person even listed a cold "Yoo-Hoo" in her stocking on Christmas morning. Yogi Berra would be proud of her!

But toys were on my mind Monday and the answers about toys did not disappoint. Keep in mind that I have Facebook friends of all ages, shapes and sizes and the memories recorded on my original post reflected those of several generations.

One young lady, and her sister, for instance, mentioned a child-sized set of table and chairs that their father made by hand. "They were beautiful," she added. I wish I had the ability to make something with my hands that my children would remember, 60 years later, as beautiful. I have a hard time buying a gift that they still pay attention to a week later.

Barbie was a popular girl on my survey and her popularity spanned several decades. A lot of ladies waxed nostalgic over her accessories, too. That hussy has everything! Dream houses, Corvettes, every wardrobe ensemble known to girl-kind -- and Ken. Other women described other dolls that they described in great details. A lot of them, including my mother-in-law, admitted that they still had their special doll tucked away in a place of safekeeping.

Other female friends spoke of Easy Bake ovens and toy kitchens and the things you would expect little girls to covet at Christmas.

I could more closely identify with the toys Santa brought to the former little boys who posted, however. People of my generation used to get guns for Christmas -- lots and lots of guns. The Second Amendment was alive and well in the pages of the Sears-Roebuck Wish Book in 1962. What amazed me was that so many guys remembered exactly which gun and holster set they received. One person got the Paladin "Have Gun Will Travel" set, complete with a set of calling cards with the chess piece and slogan and the whole nine yards. Another got the Mattel "Fanner Fifty," which is a term I had not thought of in, well, 50 years.

The Fanner Fifty was a six shooter that came with six spring-loaded "bullets" and Greenie Stick 'Um caps, which made the toy as realistic as any 9-year-old could hope for. Of course in today's society the political correctness police would be appalled if so many kids got cap guns for Christmas. They would be convinced that it would spur an increase in child violence.

Give me a break! There was no rash of shootings in Porterdale -- or any other community -- in the days following Santa's arrival in the 1950s and 1960s. Lack of parenting is at the root of gun violence -- not a kid emulating his favorite TV cowboy.

Other folks mentioned toys other than guns, of course. Some lucky kids got Lionel trains and slot-car racers and electric football games and giant trucks. One person mentioned an Alamo playset that came with a model of the San Antonio Mission, Mexican invaders, Texan defenders, plastic ladders for scaling the plastic walls and a miniature action figure of Davy Crockett. Other people remembered much simpler toys -- like a Slinky or a four-can gift set of Play-Doh. One person listed Silly Putty.

After reading the list I was inspired to search the internet for some of the toys that had been mentioned. I hit the mother lode after two minutes: I found an online copy of the 1962 Sears Christmas Catalogue. Every page and every item was there, in living color. At least some of it was in color. Many of the pages were originally printed in black-and-white.

I spent an hour poring over those pages. They served as a magic carpet and whisked me back to a simpler time. I remembered all of the toys I had longed for but never possessed -- and a few that Santa had managed to bring down the chimney of our little mill village home. I can't say what my favorite toy was, but I did find, on those pages, the toy that I played with the most. It was a simple little basketball game that had two plastic goals and a court filled with little holes and levers. You would toss a ping pong ball onto the court and when it settled into one of the holes you would flip the corresponding lever and try to score a basket.

Santa brought me one of those one Christmas, along with some fruit and nuts and underwear and socks, and I sat on my living room floor and played with that game for hours and hours and hours. In fact, if I still had one I would probably still play with it. I played with it for years until it finally just wore slap out.

The one in the 1962 catalogue cost $3.33 -- about the price of an ACC Championship football game ticket. It was the best three dollars my mama ever spent.

I wish I could buy my kids as much pleasure for three dollars this Christmas.

Precious memories. How they do linger.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.