Oh, the things they called toys when I was a girl …
“Easy to do — exciting, new, creative craft for the entire family. Intended for ages 8 and up.”
— From the packaging on a bottle cutter kit
Reading recently that Hasbro plans to roll out a “gender neutral” Easy-Bake Oven got me thinking fondly about the toys of my youth.
I still have my toy oven — a bright yellow plastic ’70s model that I can’t seem to part with, despite my husband’s protestations. (I suggested we use it as a funky lamp — the light bulb still works — but he didn’t think it would match our decor).
While today’s oven for tots comes with a caution for parents that supervision is required, I remember many happy hours spent on my own during my first forays into baking, escaping with only the odd burn or two to my little fingers from the hot metal cake pans or the molten chocolate cake batter.
While today’s parent is barely able to suppress the urge to dress their child in Nerfwear before sending them out into the Nerfplayground to play with Nerfballs and other soft toys (and who can blame them in this crazy world?), kids weren’t quite as coddled back in my day.
We played a primitive form of softball with balls that could make quite a smack against a bare arm or leg, and rough wooden bats rife with the potential for splinters.
We flung hard, heavy fibreglass Frisbees with abandon. I got hit with one across the bridge of my nose once, and the blood spouted out like a fountain.
Oh, those were the days …
Red caps offered hours of fun — unrolling the paper strips, pounding the little black dots with rocks and watching the sparks fly.
At home, there were plenty of toys and games to keep us busy and express our creativity.
We had a candle-making kit that involved melting paraffin and fooling around with wicks in glass bottles that could easily shatter when filled with hot liquid wax.
There were bottle-cutting kits, too, which showed you how to slice an empty beer bottle in two with a very sharp blade, melt the edges with flame, and then fashion that cut glass into a chic-looking ashtray or vase.
Family heirlooms, for sure.
Chemistry sets with various vials of mysterious-looking liquids and powders offered plenty of explosive possibilities.
I wasn’t lucky enough to own a wood-burning kit, but I knew other kids who had them. They came with a tool you plugged in and heated up and used it to scorch fancy patterns on dry wood.
While we weren’t allowed to use the deep-fat fryer or the pressure cooker when my parents were out, one of my older sisters would find something else to keep us occupied. She had a toy that I’ve never seen since and I didn’t remember what it was called until trusty Google found reference to it online.
The Super Cartoon-Maker Featuring Snoopy and His Peanuts Pals came with eight metal moulds which you heated up in a special metal plug-in heater and then filled with hot liquid “Plastigoop,” and painted to make your very own rubbery Peanuts characters.
The original packaging from Mattel shows kids about five or six years old playing with the thing, though most folks today would be loathe to let their youngsters play with scalding hot plastic.
Fortunately, I can’t recall a single mishap during my sister’s Super Cartoon-Maker years, though I am still a little resentful that she wouldn’t let me play with it.
(You can buy a used kit today for US$50 on eBay if it piques your interest.)
When I wasn’t outside setting trawls in ditch water (I thought there were fish in there), I was climbing trees or clambering down sheer shale cliffs with a hammer and chisel to get to the beach to hunt for fool’s gold and fossils.
In summer we’d jump off high rocks and into a murky natural swimming hole inhabited by eels. The older kids’ smashed beer bottles and cigarette stubs littered the rocks, so you had to tread carefully.
In winter, I loved tobogganing.
If we didn’t have an actual toboggan, a Krazy Karpet or a coaster, we’d settle for a nice flat piece of cardboard. We’d start at the top of our steep back garden and fly down the hill, then down our precipitous driveway, sail across the road (“Is there a car coming?”) and then down across my neighbour’s yard, brought up short by the weathered wooden fence protecting us from the 60-foot, straight-down drop to the ocean below.
Ah, what fun. Yes, and how completely foolhardy.
I hope boys and girls of all ages enjoy the Christmas toys they received this year, but be sure to play it safe.
Pam Frampton is a columnist
and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.