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.
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.