Island of Misfit Toys

Rick Ryckeley's picture

It’s been over 45 years since I’d seen them. Toys like the ones I played with while growing up at 110 Flamingo Street have long been gone from store shelves.

Gone are balsa wood aeroplanes, the Slinky and jacks. No one plays with jacks anymore. Alas, jacks have gone the way of dominoes and pick-up-sticks. Windup toys are even a thing of the past.

Toys now run off batteries – toys that’ll be outdated and discarded in less than six months. Not so with toys of old. Jacks last forever.

You know you’re getting older when walking across wooden floors you hear popping noises and they ain’t coming from the floor. It’s safe to say that if the toys you remember playing with as a child are now considered antique, then maybe you are too.

This was the thought that bounced around my head as I wove between the aisles of the small corner knick-knack store downtown. I creaked and popped with each step. Looking for the perfect Christmas gift, especially this year, was truly exhausting.

Ten stores in 10 days and not one gift had been bought.

That’s why I did my little happy dance right there in the middle of the corner store. It was a sight to behold. Not the happy dance, but what was displayed on a long wooden table.
Like an island all to themselves in shop worn retro packaging were stacks of faded brown boxes with red and blue designs. Inside, each of the toys I grew up with were waiting – waiting for a child’s imagination to set them free. No batteries needed.

The can of jacks came with six gold jacks, six silver jacks and two rubber balls. The game had been improved since Flamingo Street with the addition of an extra ball. I guess the second one was included so you could throw it at your brothers while you picked up the jacks. On the bottom of the can was also something that wasn’t there years ago.

Warning: a choking hazard.

Balsa wood aeroplanes stacked on the table were both single-winged and bi-winged versions powered by rubber bands. There once was a time when we got exercise by running after aeroplanes such as those for hours. Trying to catch them before the twists in the rubber band ran out and simultaneously trying to outrun our brothers was a good workout.

Now kids stand in one spot and push a button on the remote controller as they watch the plane circle overhead. Sadly, they’ll never understand. Half the fun of flying a model plane is running after it as the band unwinds and trying to outrace your brothers.

I turned the box over and read: Caution, adult supervision required.

A Slinky was a toy perfect for a boy and a girl. It was a giant metal spring that actually walked down steps. We’d walk down, retrieve it, and walk back up only to do it over and over again. That’s about all you could do with a Slinky, unless you wanted to throw it at your brothers or get it caught in your sister’s hair. Both would get you sent outside to play Dad’s version of pick-up-sticks.

The Slinky box read: Warning! Not for children under age 3 due to risk of injury from ends of metal spring.

Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street us four boys and the sister had a lot of adventures. Some did end up in injury. Some had a punishment as the end result. And some ended up with both.

Through the seven years we lived on Flamingo, no one ever got hurt by a toy. We didn’t think it was a good idea to swallow a jack. After all, we were kids, and even kids wouldn’t think it was a good idea to swallow a jack.

We knew a Slinky was a giant metal spring with sharp ends that could stick you. It never did because we were careful.

Pick-up-sticks was a fun game indoors, and yes, we knew they too had sharp ends. When we misbehaved and started to poke one another, Dad made us play his version of pick-up-sticks outdoors. Not nearly as much fun – we had a lot of pine trees in our backyard and a lot of fallen sticks to retrieve.

Mom and Dad encouraged us to go outside and play. When we did, the last thing we wanted was adults standing around supervising. Funny, that’s the last thing they wanted to do also. After all, we had to grow up sometime.

Toys from yesteryear: worth every penny.

Watching a child’s imagination set free as they play with them like we used to do when we were young: priceless.

Warning labels on the toys? Ironic.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net.]