If only we could get all of our toys back

Published 1:39 pm Saturday, March 12, 2011

Column: Alexandra Kloster, Pass the Hot Dish

I was so relieved to hear my friend, Robin, admit the other day that, “I had a Fisher Price My Friend Mandy doll that I stupidly sold at a garage sale when I turned 12. I desperately missed her, so I tracked her down on eBay and purchased her again. She was a big part of my childhood, and I just feel better having her around.”

Hallelujah, I am not alone! Have you ever had a weird secret, taken part in aberrant behavior that made you feel cut off from regular society? I have. For the last five years, I’ve been buying back my childhood. All the toys, games, records and books that went the way of the garage sale, I’m sneaking into my house in plain, brown, unmarked boxes. My dealers spread from Halifax, Va., to the United Kingdom, and I won’t stop until I’ve found the Holy Grail, a pink and purple satin jacket with winged roller skates embroidered on the back.

After finding out Robin and I both hunted for fixes of vintage Hasbro and Playskool, I suspected there might be more of us out there, so I went online.

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Sure enough, there are thousands of us longing for the nauseating bliss of a Sit ’n Spin, the dangerous rush of a speeding Big Wheel, and the stereotyping gender dictatorship that is Mystery Date. We are on message boards, in chat rooms, and blogging about the Peyton Place dramas we lived through our Fisher Price Little People and the concussions we welcomed snapping Clackers, those acrylic orbs of pain, inches from our heads.

Some people would call my collection junk, but to me it’s priceless. It reminds me of when time was something you could afford to waste because tomorrow you’d wake up and there would be bunches more of it.

Robin put it best when she said, “On the hottest summer day, you could find me just hanging out, writing short stories and listening to 45s on my Mickey Mouse record player. Seriously, it’s all I did, and it’s one of the happiest childhood memories I have.”

Evidently, everyone had a little suitcase record player. I never realized how popular they were. We must have looked like pint-sized Willy Lomans dragging our cases with us everywhere. I inherited mine from my sisters along with their stack of 45s. I wasn’t as industrious as Robin was though.

Instead of writing stories, I spent those never-ending hours creating elaborate production numbers in my imagination.

I pretended to be the only person to guest star on “Sonny and Cher” and “The Carol Burnett Show” in the same week. “Take that, Sandy Duncan!”

I’d yell at the end of each song. I don’t remember why my 6-year-old self held a grudge against Sandy Duncan, but it was a big part of my childhood. And when I think about it, it makes me happy.

Why do some of us feel this pull to return to childish things and collect them in our memories and basements? Perhaps we don’t want to grow up? We’re a little self-absorbed? We don’t have enough to do? Well, sure, but there has to be more to it than that.

Mine isn’t the only generation to experience the warm, lazy joy of nostalgia. Surely those who’ve come before me have turned the objects of their early days into totems venerating their place, time and character. My own mother’s trunk o’ memories overflows with tokens of the 1930s and ’40s. It’s like a portal to her youth. Sometimes, when she opens it, I swear the ghost of Gene Krupa is going to pop out and pound a drum solo so cohesive and indicative of that period in time. There is an identity to it all. I don’t feel that way about my generation. For one thing, we don’t even have a real name.

Before us came the Baby Boomers and before them the Greatest Generation. What are we called? Generation X. What else do you call an era with such a fragmented sense of itself, where there is no identifying event or characteristic attached to it except speed? We should have been called Generation Fast Forward. After the 1970s nothing seemed to stay the same for more than a half hour. Change is inevitable of course, but suddenly there was so much of it so often. Some of us started feeling left behind. Opportunities to get stuck in a moment were gone, and we barely knew how to keep up with our own spinning world. I still feel that way sometimes, and maybe that’s why I look to the past to stabilize the present.

It’s probably a little silly and immature, but there are worse things we could do to buffer an edgy day or soothe the uncertainty of tomorrow. So, if you’re at a garage sale and you happen to find a Mrs. Beasley whose hair is colored brown with Magic Marker or a Monopoly game that has “YOU CHEAT” written on all the $100 bills, those are mine. Could you pick them up for me, please? It would really mean a lot to me.

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.