Monday, December 20, 2010

The Best Toy

My stocking sits empty
The dogs is getting full
I don't have a single thing
Not even a lump of coal
But I have love next to me
My youngest baby dear
Making this a very happy year.

A Best Toy

It was 1961 and our family moved from Nebraska to Iowa. This was a big move, my father had accepted a new job for a few more dollars a week. He had came earlier and found a new home, so we followed taking the train, the family dog rode in the baggage car. We stayed in a hotel while the movers delivered our household items and my parents took turns going over and sorting things out.

My father took us downtown to show us the new sights and we stopped at a five and dime store. This would be a place of desire for a kid; they had everything you would ever want. A table ran down the length of the store with every type of penny candy along with toys set out in groups according to their price. It was always a journey that took a few times around to decide what you would want both now and in the future. You often only had a dime so wanted to see how far it would go. Almost everything on this table was a dime or less so it was hard to make the decision, even with suggestions from friends or siblings.

Today was to be different from many visits to come. My father gave us each a dollar, which was going to go a long way. We each tried to find something the others would enjoy. My father followed us humbly until we had taken too much time. The candy at the front was calling out to a younger brother, but I wanted him to get some army men so we could have two sides to fight with. My father talked me out of the slingshot, but it was hard to set down a peashooter. We each put our chosen items up at the cashiers and found we still had about thirty cents between us. We had army men, jacks, a small doll, a peashooter and a few pieces of candy. We couldn’t leave with the change so back we went looking for something nice. My sister didn’t care for more army men, and we didn’t need a doll so we looked even harder until we found a box of modeling clay. This was the best toy; even our father liked it over the other items he said would hurt when he stepped on them. It was a good choice and we went to our new home penniless but happy.

My mother wasn’t as impressed with our new acquisitions as we were. Immediately she told us how careful we would have to be if we played with the clay over her new rugs. The peashooter was short lived since it was winter and we were mostly playing inside. The peas were all over, but I think it was hitting one of my parents that it was set in my father’s drawer where things disappeared for life. After a few wars, the army men became scattered and placed into a toy box where it was hard to find small things, A younger brother chewed on them anyway so a few were war casualties without heads and arms. We still would gather what we could find for later skirmishes.
My mother had set the clay aside, and we almost forgot about it until a major storm came and snowed us in. She often had a box called her "rainy day items" which she got out. In there she had put the clay and we carefully unwrapped the four-color packages. It was hard with four colors and three kids which we would use, giving orders to the younger brother not to mix the colors or eat any clay. I’m sure he had a nibble, it was too hard not to. We rolled out long snakes, trying to see who made the longest. Figures were tried, but it took a lot of attempts to make a human form. My mother liked elephants she told us, so we set to work making her one. After a number of attempts I finished a small one for her and set to work showing my siblings how I did it.

This created a form to use each time we made anything with clay. These elephants became characters in our make believe play, and we all soon had our own form to make them. Entire families would arise of varied sizes. They soon could even fly and became superheroes. In later years I took my kids out and got some clay, showing them the elephant design. Working for the schools I showed a number of other children my technique amazing many with this simple toy, a treasure in my life to me.


  1. Simply wonderful photos and then an equally lovely recounting of wonderful memories!

  2. Lovely photographs, as always; but your story charmed me. Dime stores were magical places, for adults and children alike, I think. The story of the three of you children working together to make just the right purchases...things you could all enjoy...tells a lot about the character of your home, as well as the times in which we lived. Good post.

  3. Love, love the photographs today Steve. And your writing is wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing with us today. :)

  4. Ah, nothing like having our little ones, no matter their age, close to us. My oldest stands well over 6' and he's still my baby!

    What a wonderful post and a perfect family picture.

  5. Ahhhh...loved the story! I remember those 5 and dimes to!
    Love the "love" photo!!

  6. Lovely family picture as well as all your other photos.
    Great story about the clay. Toys back then were so much better than they are today. At least then the toys forced you to use your imagination. Our kids today are missing out on some great stuff :)

  7. I love memories of a store with all of that candy. I had one like that too. Now I always look in every small store I go into for something that good for the kids in my family, but the stores of today just don't seem quite right. I guess it's up to the kids to decide now.

  8. Such a lovely picture with your baby girl... Christmas is always wonderful with love around.

    We did play with clay when we were kids.. and it is one of the most long lasting toys too. Ours become all jumbled up and the colors all got mixed.. love to see the clay elephant models you make one day :) Merry Christmas to you Steve... and may the New Year brings lots of blessings of goodness and happiness.

  9. Steve, you story harkens back to simplier times that alas are too soon forgotten in this age of electronic everything. Imagination and creativity is going by the wayside, I fear.

  10. I'm waiting for instructions... ;)

    I love this story. I used to love playing with clay, too and I remember the five and dime style stores so well. Such a lovely tale of days gone by. Your photos are lovely as always. Enjoy your time with family. I know you will.

  11. Nice memories and beautiful photos

  12. I see you're enjoying a most precious present!
    I love your Best Toy story! You are so very lucky to have such a wonderful memory to look back on. Merry Christmas!!

  13. gorgeous photos, family and musings here. thanks for sharing.

  14. What a beautiful post. Is that you and your daughter, Steve? I'm thinking it is since little Lilly dog is in your arms. Thanks for a chance to see who writes one of my favorite blogs!

  15. Oh I want to see a picture of one of your elephant creations! And what wonderful pictures - that crisp clear blue sky, and a great family portrait up top. Merry Christmas to you!

  16. I loved this story~As soon as you said 1961 I was back in time playing with toys and rollerskating in the basement! Thank you so much for sharing. Have a wonderful holiday~gail

  17. What a wonderful post!
    You know my favorite? The first photo and what you had to say underneath it!
    If I lived close by you could be sure I would leave you something in your sock....and NO COAL!:))
    Thanks for a lovely read today.

  18. It was fun for me to introduce this art form to a group of behavioral students I worked with in a high school. They would finish their homework early and come ask for the clay. I first asked which color,it was fun to see what they picked. Long snakes went across their desks, a new horizon to follow.Many times a elephant was asked for and sometimes taken home at the end of the day.Often I had them make one with me in separate steps.Another idea I brought was giving them a ball of yarn and letting them crochet a chain.I made the hooks for each to use, and sent many home.

  19. Your story today filled me with emotion..remembering the days that my sisters and brothers walked up two blocks to our little candy store..well perhaps they sold other items as well..but I only remember the jars full of 5 and 10 cent treasures...
    Another member of the family still owns the house we grew up in and I visited it about a year ago,..what a joy it was to see the little store still there.Memories like this,jumping jacks,clay,candy treats..they fill us with love.Thank you for filling my mind today with such treasures!!Blessings to you,yours and your sweet youngest.Cat

  20. Beautiful images to match your beautiful words.

  21. Nice family photograph. Also wonderful pictures of your beautiful surroundings including eagles and geese!

    But most of all I liked the story. What a time piece! Modeling clay in multiple colors. I wonder if they even offer such a thing outside of an art supply store these day.

    We had a box of rainy day play things that was kept hidden away as well. I usually went outside to play in the rain anyway much to mother's dismay. Still do the same thing. Thanks for bringing those days back to me.

  22. Thanks for the glorious uplifting photos, esp the top one. Bless you all

    Aloha from Hawaii

    Comfort Spiral



  23. Steve,
    What a lovely memory; very touching!
    It was great to attch a real face to a name and I am so glad you had your favorite gift with you :) Family truly is what it's about and our children are so very precious.
    Since I've seen your photo I really can imagine you smiling at every one you meet to brighten their day! I try to do that as well, besides, it's free and fun to capture reactions!
    Take good care and thank you for are a blessing to me!

  24. Merry Christmas to you and your family!


  25. Great winter photos. I still love peashooters - raw rice is best! And thanks for visiting!

  26. I love all your photos, including the family one. I enjoyed your childhood memories of moving, the dime store, and family experiences. My memories are not as vivid as yours, but I do remember the dime stores we used to have in Lincoln. Now, we have dollar stores, but they do not sell the same inventories, and none have soda counters.

    Merry Christmas!

  27. First time here...found your site through Costas's blog.
    Your photos are absolutely stunning; it's really hard to pick my favourite!

    Merry Christmas!


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