Some time ago, I had a discussion with Eddie French which dealt with our respective childhood toys. Both children of the Apollo era, it shouldn't have surprised me that we had similar experiences and influences with our playthings.
It got me to pondering. How is it that I have such a vivid picture of certain toys I played with as a kid? For example can remember a compressed-water rocket that I had when I was four as if it were yesterday, and it's suffused with a golden glow of well-being and nostalgia that far exceeds the cash value of what is basicallya dollar store toy.
In thinking about those memories, I actually went out and bought the same rocket. It's still available, pretty much exactly as I remembered it, at my local grocery store of all places. I wanted to give it to my four-year-old daughter; to make available to her -- 40 years from now -- the same feeling of contentment I feel when I think of being that age.
I'm not sure it's going to work. She is living in a more complex age and circumstances than what I grew up with. She is bombarded with so many media messages, from Diego trying to tell us about saving the rain forest to My Little Pony trying to tell us...well, trying to tell us to spend more money on My Little Pony.
And I'm certain I couldn't tell you what thet H.E. double hockey sticks message is being purveyed by those freaky BoohBah characters....they kinda scare me.
I'm pretty certain, though, that she will have fond thoughts when she's older of the toys that marked her childhood. They may not be about the classic Slinky and Silly Putty that I've bought her, or the old-school Lego blocks that she builds houses with along with her mother. It may be My Little Pet Shop or Pocket Polly, or perhaps Squawkers McCaw, the Fur Real pet she got for Christmas with her Toys'R'Us gift certificate from her Auntie Deenie.
But she will remember.
And perhaps like me, she will someday try to
make a connection between her playthings and the times in which they were created.
And there's the rub.
I mentioned before that a good number of birthday present and Christmas toys I received were inspired by the heady days of Apollo, Neil Armstrong's footsteps on the moon and the triumph of space exploration. Playing with Major Matt Mason and my Masudaya non-fall Gemini X-5 spacecraft ingrained in me the vast potential of imagination and the heights to which the human spirit, coupled with a pursuit of scientific excellence, can soar.
What will her conclusions be about a society that produces a hyper-realistic $70 parrot with a computerized voice chip and animatronic movements?
I really can't say.
Maybe it will be a sort of steampunk nostalgia about the early days of cyber-pets, before you could get an android kitty or a cloned live miniature dolphin for a bath toy. But it's more likely that it will be simply a memory of the hard-sell pitched at kids; of a vertically integrated wall of marketing in which breakfast cereals, Saturday morning cartoons, plasma screens in the toy section and flyers shoved through the mail slot all combine in a relentless targeted assault of commercialism to manipulate tender young minds with a sophistication they are ridiculously underequipped to defend themselves against.
I hope not.
In the meantime, I will continue to ply her with the toys that filled my young life with such meaning that it resonates strongly even today.
It's the least I can do.