Saturday, February 21, 2009

Toy Story

The fair-haired, pouty little man in the picture to your left is me, at the age of three. The apprehensive-looking imp next to me is my little sister, Klaudia.

This past Christmas, I bought my mother one of those digital picture frames; you know, the kind that displays a continuous slide show of digitized photos. Mom doesn't own a computer, so she handed me a bunch of her favorite old photographs and asked me to scan them to the picture frame's memory chip. It was in the process of doing this that I came upon the picture that you see here.

See that big, beautiful jet airplane that I'm clutching? I remember that jet plane. It's a battery-operated toy, made by the Louis Marx company back in the fifties (although this picture was taken in 1965) and it was beautiful!

I only had it for about two weeks, yet it stands out in my memory as one of my favorite toys ever. When you turned it on and set it on the floor, the jet engines would flash on and off with red light. The airplane would emit a high-pitched whine, as though the turbines were spooling up. Then the wheels would turn and the jet would roll across the floor. After a short distance, it would stop, the jet engines would flash, engine pitch would change and the nose would swing around, changing the jet's direction. Then the wheels would engage again, the jet would taxi off on its new trajectory, and the whole sequence would repeat.

This airplane was a Christmas present. To maximize the impact on my wondering eyes, my father wisely chose not to wrap the box and put it under the tree. Rather, he unpacked the airplane, put in some batteries and, just before I entered the room to open my presents, he turned it on and set it on the floor. The first thing that I saw was this big, beautiful jet plane trundling toward me, eager to greet its new owner.

Perhaps you wondered, Dear Reader, why I only had this wondrous toy for a scant two weeks, and whatever happened to it. Sadly, the high-pitched noise that it emitted when activated proved to be its undoing ... literally! The shriek of the engines frightened my younger sister, who ran from the room whenever the airplane was active. But Klaudia was always, by nature, a strong-willed girl. Not one to shrink, cowering, from her tormentor, she kept a safe distance, bided her time, and waited...

The first moment that she saw the jet plane alone, powered down and unable to defend itself, and without big brother to protect it, she boldly picked it up and tore all four engines off of their mountings, effectively silencing the beast forever. Even my father, a man of no small mechanical aptitude, was unable to repair the damage. I don't recall how long after that we kept the derelict aircraft before finally relegating it to the dustbin of history but, for obvious reasons, the fun had gone out of it, and soon we laid it to its final rest in some city landfill.

I couldn't have told you until very recently when this jet plane was manufactured, or by what company. I didn't take note of such things at the tender age of three, and the images of the airplane and its box had faded in my memory over the ensuing forty-three years. All that changed when I came upon the old photograph at the beginning of this post. Notice that the box in which the airplane came is partially visible behind me. A quick Google search using some of the text on the box as keywords, cross-referenced with a Google image search, soon led me to a web page bearing the image that you see to your right, along with information as to the toy's origin and nature. No doubt about it, this was my long-lost airplane!

In a seemingly serendipitous twist, the web site in question happened to be, and this very toy was being auctioned just then. What's more, it appeared to be in very good condition. I placed a few bids on it, but the price soon exceeded what I was willing to pay for sentimentality. In the end, the prize eluded me.

I told several friends and family members of my discovery, and all were very supportive and encouraging with regard to my attempts to obtain it after all these years. Even my mother, a normally frugal woman who tends to take a dim view of monetary expenditures for frivolous wants, agreed that an investment of up to $100 would not be unwarranted in the interest of reviving this particular childhood memory. My sister, who I suspect has always felt a certain pang of guilt over having destroyed one of her older brother's most cherished toys, devoutly hoped that I would prevail in my pursuit, and unabashedly asked to "play with" the airplane, should I prove successful.

I told some of my closer co-workers at the office of my discovery. Other less intimate acquaintances there inevitably overheard me. I was amazed at the interest shown by all. Various people would ask about the status of my quest several times per day.

One particular co-worker, a Vietnamese chap named Duc, related the story of one of his most cherished childhood toys after hearing my story. His was a tank, which he owned while still a small boy living in Vietnam. Like my long-lost jet plane, Duc's tank was battery operated, rolled along the ground and featured flashing lights and, I think, sounds. Duc's toy made him the envy of all the neighborhood children, as this sort of possession was practically unheard of in Vietnam during the 1960's. Duc's father only managed to acquire it by a sheer stroke of luck. Someone he knew, perhaps a friend or family member, had travelled to Europe, and had brought the tank back with him.

The chief revelation that I take away from all this is the surprising effect that toys have over our emotions. I suppose this is because, being childhood possessions, they remain a link to our inner children, even after childhood has long since passed. More than that, they are a conduit to the people, places and feelings that we associated with their presence in our lives.

Is there a favorite toy in your past? Why not leave a comment, and tell me and my other readers about it?

1 comment:

Martin said...

Yes, I did have a favourite toy. It was a blue "dinky toy" ... you know, those toy cars that were all the rage when we were kids. While I had a hundred of them, this one in particular was my favourite. A childhood friend of mine ... who shall remain unnamed ... rolled it out onto the street and then watched while a car slowly driving up the street squashed it flatter than a pancake. Ya, some kids. Ha ha ha!