Surviving the volatile toys of the ’60s | SummitDaily.com
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Surviving the volatile toys of the ’60s

KEELY BROWNspecial to the daily
Keely Brown
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One of the best things about being born in the 1960s, I think, is that we had the coolest toys ever.Most ’60s toys aren’t on the market anymore, and it’s pretty easy to figure out why. They have a little thing today called “child safety laws” which, back in the ’60s, weren’t really invented yet. It made childhood in the sixties infinitely more exciting. Surviving until bedtime was an everyday challenge. We sixties kids had to develop an “Us vs. Them” attitude toward our toys, which made playtime a learning, as well as a toughening, experience.The epic, most awesome toy of our generation was the Thingmaker, with which a kid could create realistic-looking bugs (or flowers, or even little green soldiers) by filling metal trays with “plastigoop” and baking them into gummy shapes.

Unknown to parents (but well-known by kids), the Thingmaker presented two problems. One problem was – well, you can tell a child of the ’60s by the burn scars when we roll up our sleeves. The Thingmaker heating apparatus topped 300 degrees, but we kids handled those piping hot trays like they were Frisbees.The other problem was that kids would eat the “plastigoop.” Many a recess period at school was made more entertaining by watching our peers consume entire bottles of the stuff. Pink and jungle green seemed to be the favorite flavors. Eventually an edible version came out, no doubt prompted by parents tired of taking Junior to the emergency room to have his stomach pumped – but not before kids had consumed gallons of the inedible kind. Sixties kids were tough. We didn’t have bike helmets or knee pads, or soft colored ping pong balls to break our falls in the playground. That’s why our parents gave us stuff like Thingmakers (my brother Kevin and I got several every year) and woodburning kits. The woodburning kit that Kevin got one Christmas actually stands out in our minds as the worst toy ever. It was like a soldering iron, and with the red-hot tip you were supposed to make wooden plaques with your name on them. Not being artsy-craftsy types, we opted instead to experiment with the wall of Kevin’s bedroom.

The walls of the old family home also attest to another typical sixties toy we had … our dart set. In the days before Velcro, darts had needle-sharp steel tips. It was kind of like making a Western movie with real bullets – you learned not to miss under any circumstances. When we tired of playing, Kevin and I created many decorative mosaic patterns on the wall of his bedroom which have stood the test of time and remain there to this day.Sixties toys didn’t just abuse us – we abused them. I recall a little friend of mine tearing open the chest of her Raggedy Ann doll because she thought she was going to get a candy heart inside, buried underneath the printed one. Her subsequent disappointment was keen.My particular and chief hatred was, I confess it, my Barbie doll. However, unlike many a less imaginative little girl, I did NOT tear her head off. Instead, I put her in my brother’s GI Joe clothing and made her go through the rigors of military training. This was long before women were allowed in active combat duty, making my Barbie way ahead of her time. My fondest memory is of dressing her up in a GI Joe paratrooper jumpsuit and throwing her off the hill in our backyard. Oddly enough, that parachute never opened. We had graveside burial services for Barbie on a daily basis. I would get her back later that night when Toby, our dog, went out in search of my mother’s hard biscuits which he had buried all over the yard. In his quest, he always found Barbie and brought her back to me.

Thanks to Toby, I just couldn’t get rid of her.Another toy I hated was the expensive rock tumbler that, after weeks of begging and pleading for, I finally got for my birthday. I had been seduced by the commercials which convinced me that, by a quick flip of the switch, I would be the possessor of instant and valuable gemstone jewelry. I shall never forget the devastation I felt when I opened up the box and found a glass jar full of what looked like everyday backyard rocks, the kind you skinned your knee on. The commercials didn’t tell you that you had to tumble the damn things 24 hours a day for at least three months – and what child is going to wait that long? My rock tumbler was my first lesson in disillusionment. I decided pretty quickly that, as a girl, there had to be easier, quicker ways to get jewelry – which I suppose was a first step on the path to adulthood. Sixties toys taught us all kinds of valuable lessons.


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