Toys at Christmas were a rare treat in years past

Christmas Memories
Dec. 22, 2012 @ 03:53 PM

Second in a series

 Just a few generations ago, getting toys at Chrismas was a rare treat. We take for granted that most every child in 2012 will wake up to at least a few gifts. But back when families lived off the land and money was scarce, getting one toy was special.

It wasn't because parents didn't love their children. Audna Blackmon will turn 98 next month. She and her sisters got one doll each every Christmas. If their mother had the time and the materials, she made doll dresses, hats and shoes. Shortly before and during the Great Depression, family life was about survival first.

"Children these days are so blessed, I don't know if they realize how lucky they are," Audna said. "We were thrilled to get one thing. Now children get pretty much anything they ask for."

Before the internet, television and glossy magazine ads, companies couldn't easily market toys to children.

The local dime store had toys on display in their front window. Sears & Roebuck catalogs featured simple drawings of the toys they sold, but the variety was limited. These days there are more toys than one person can imagine. But back then, the endless capacity to find the fun in ordinary objects existed in the child's mind, not the mind of the toy maker.

Still, there were toys that most every child asked for. Every little girl wanted a doll. There were Kewpie dolls with mischievous molded plastic faces. There were delicate china dolls with painted lips and eyes. Raggedy Ann and other cloth dolls could be stitched together in a weekend, or faster if the family had a sewing machine.

Over time, dolls became more technologically advanced. Some had hair that little girls could brush and braid. Some dolls could be bottle fed and then wet themselves like a real baby. The more expensive dolls could even cry when laid down to sleep.

"I remember one year my aunt bought me a Little Ricky doll," Bea Haney said. In the early 50s, "I Love Lucy" was the most popular television show. That success was funneled into children's toys. When the a new baby was written into the show's story line, the production studio saw a business opportunity by making a line of dolls.

"I thought that was just the greatest thing I'd ever seen," Bea said. "I had to share it with my little sister. And since she was so much younger than me, I later on let her have it. But I'll never forget how excited I was when I unwrapped that doll."

When Mary Teal was 5 years old, Santa brought her a toy electric stove.

"I went out in the yard and got some collards and tried to cook them in that little stove," Mary said.

For boys, a little red wagon was the most coveted toy. Bayne Clontz, now 92, was thrilled to find a wagon under the tree one year. He had to share it with his younger siblings, but they found ways for all of them to enjoy it.

"We used to push it to the top of a hill, get in it and ride down," Bayne said. "Then we'd push it to the top of the hill again. We could do that all day."

And even in those days, kids longed for toy cars. Herbert Cooper was about 10 when he got a sleek, wind-up presssed-steel roadster. The wheels actually turned and after winding it up, he sent it rolling all around his childhood home.

"I was lucky to get it. Back then, those cost a lot of money," Herbert said. "They were $1."

He still has it, tucked into the corner of his living room, a reminder of simpler times.

After Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis, Americans fell in love with airplanes.

Small, cast iron versions of Lindbergh's monoplane emblazoned with "Lindy" across the top were on every little boy's Christmas list.

There are still more old fashioned toys that brought hours of play, but would leave modern youngsters looking for the on-button. There were pick-up sticks, kaleidoscopes, Jacob's Ladder, yo-yos, jacks, marbles, little plastic soldiers and wooden checkers sets.