Let’s . . . let’s just talk about toys.
A trip last weekend to my childhood home has made me nostalgic. It’s far too early to share a list of Christmas present ideas, so how about this list of toys I remember from my childhood? Many are still popular, in one form or another. Here’s ten of my favorites, most for under ten dollars:
1. Sparking wheels!
The ones from my yoot were made of tin, and were very sturdy. I liked to sit at the bottom of the stairs, at the darkest spot in the house, and just crank that wheel, watching a mesmerizing little red and blue galaxy flash in and out of existence in the palm of my hand. The scratch and catch of the mechanism was very satisfying for the hand and ear, too.
Shopping around for a sturdy version that didn’t cost a million dollars, I came across this sparking toy:
which also toddles around aimlessly when you wind it up. Looks like today’s version of the hand-cranked wheel I remember is plastic and more flimsy, but probably still four bucks’ worth of fun.
If you haven’t seen one of these in action, it’s hard to explain what it does. The axles of the wheel have little magnets in them, and if you hold it by the handle end and flip it around the right way, the wheel goes whizzing around and around the frame, and, I dunno, it’s fun.
3. Siren whistles!
My migraine-plagued father had an inexplicable drive to buy us wonderful toys that drove him crazy. One perennial favorite was siren rings, which (like everything in my childhood, it seems) used to be made of metal. You could wear them like ordinary rings, and whenever the time seemed right, you would blow into the round window in the top and it would go “wwwweeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeooooooooooo,” and it never ever ever ever got old.
The closest I can find is siren whistles built into lips or mustache, or just in little tubes.
These get okay reviews, and you get, um, four dozen for $7.50, thereby ensuring that you will never ever ever ever run out of hearing “wwwweeeeeEEEEEEEeeeooooooooooo.”
Some inefficient part of me wants to buy myself this lovely, shiny little siren whistle, not a toy ($33) but designed for making sound effects.
It’s from the Acme company. THE ACME COMPANY. Wile E. Coyote c’est moi. The description also points out that it’s “a useful and unusual warning signal for small boats.”
4. Chinese drums!
Oh, my gosh, these are fun.
You roll the handle back and forth between the palms of your hands, which makes the balls swing on their strings, whacking the drum on both sides. Very satisfying! These are about $7, and they will send you a randomly-chosen design.
5. Clacker balls!
Did I ever get the hang of these? No, I did not. But they were enough fun that I tried for years and years; and I liked walking around the house looking at the world through the transparent balls with their tiny captive bubbles, too.
The trick is to loop the middle of the string around your finger and sort of jerk them in a rhythm so they smack together at the end of their strings until they start arcing up and down, clacking against each other high and low. (One of the reviews here shared a video, so you can get an idea of how it goes.)
Okay, so these are plastic (about $5 a pair). We had dark blue glass ones when I was little. Nostalgia aside, I can’t shake the idea that maybe it’s okay that today’s kids are pampered and coddled and aren’t generally encouraged to make glass balls crash against each other. Old ways are not always the best ways. Either way: not recommended for kids with short tempers.
6. Magnetic scotties
I’m not gonna lie to you: these are magnetic scotties. That is, they are two plastic dogs with magnets in them. See?
$6.55, and you get two dogs that have magnets in them! This mean you can make them kiss, or you can make them chase each other! It was a simpler time! It was fun, I tell you!
7. Mooing cans
They put farm animals on this item (about $8) to make you think it’s a toy for children, but it’s actually for anyone who just needs to hear a little moo from time to time. I believe it works with a weighted rubber membrane inside, and when you tip it over, it creates a suction that pulls air through the . . . you know, I don’t know how it works. But it’s hilarious. If you shake it really fast, it sounds like the cow is hysterical!
8. Color paddles
The one I had just had the three primary color, but kids these days are lazy, so get their purple, green, and orange handed to them on a platter.
This one gives you three sets of six colors for about $7. You can mix the colors together to make other colors, or you can just peer through them and think, “What if everything were purple all the time?”
9. Balancing bird
Balance it on your fingertip! Balance it on your chin! Balance it on your tongue! It’s such an obliging bird.
10. Jacob’s ladder
The perfect toy to feed into an introspective child’s Heraclitean confusion.
About six bucks. I understand how it works. Really, I do. The ribbons hold it in place, and the thing flips over, and I understand how it works. But damn! How does it do that?
I should note that all of the links are to Amazon products because I have an Amazon Associate’s account. If you buy any of these products, or if you buy anything at all on Amazon after getting to the site after clicking to one of my links, then I earn a small percentage of the sale. This is so helpful to my family, you wouldn’t believe it.
If you shop on Amazon, won’t you consider using my link? I’ll have a button on the sidebar here soon. In the meantime, here is Simcha’s Amazon Link. Be a peach and bookmark it for me! Thanks!
And now tell me about the toys of your childhood, especially the lovely, low-tech ones that keep on going through generations.