HISTORY: Toys of our youth BY JAMES LEINER

“Remember the Days

December 2016


Toys of our youth
A few days ago I happen to notice my sixteen year-old grandson deep in concentration studying a little plastic box with a small video screen. His fingers nimbly flew across the controls while earplugs dangled down. He seemed a world away.

“What is that?” I asked.

“A Game-boy, Pop-pop, don’t you have one,” and he proceed to show me all the details and complicated movements on his little video screen.

Tell you the truth, but I wouldn’t admit to him, I could barely make out what he was watching as the game unfolding in front of his young eyes.

Ahh…modern toys….the simple toys of our childhood are rarely seen these days. I started to remember when I was a teenager, oh so many years ago.
I wonder, do kids still carve their initials on trees? Marking trees with your jack-knife was a boy-time occupying activity.


I wonder if a kid today has ever carved his initials on a box turtle’s under shell and then had fun the next year trying to find him again. I’m not sure the kids today can tell a box turtle from a snapper. Remember when many of the guys in the neighborhood had a sling-shot. It was a forked stick with rubber bands and a leather pouch called a bean-shooter.


A pea shooter was a hollow tube, maybe a paper straw or a hollowed out willow reed that was used like a blow gun. Of course these lethal weapons were always confiscated at school and I recall a few times that was followed by a more discipline when I got home.

Another lost toy and art is top spinning. It took skill and just the right flip of the wrist to toss a top wound with the whipcord and keep it spinning for a full minute or two. A balanced wooded top was a priced possession when I was a younger kid. Gee, I wonder if there is a national top-spinning society I could join today? Everything else is organized, why not top spinning.


Editor’s top pick for best toy of all time

Another game lost to the times is marbles. You could always tell when spring had arrived when the ground was firm enough on our way home from school we paused to play marbles; any kid worth having as a friend had several great Shooters or Boulders in his cloth bag. Some guys were lucky enough to have “Steelies.” Usually their dads worked in plant that used the little steel ball bearings and could bring home any that were damaged. We used to draw about a foot wide circle and put in four or five marbles that we felt we could risk….and the object was to shoot your opponents marbles from the circle and win….Oh for a good game of marbles.

img_6914 Anybody ever play “Letterfly?” This was a lunchtime amusement game for all but the “new boy” in school. The guys in our group took names like Butterfly, Dragonfly and Horsefly. The new kid was told his name would be Letterfly. When the roll was called the new kid would answer “let ‘er fly” —- and we did, with whatever over-ripe fruit each of us had hidden behind our backs. Everyone, but the newcomer and his mother, thought this was good, clean fun.


Courtesy of nostalgia.com

Do kids today ever play Kick-the-Can? That was our version of soccer. We couldn’t afford a ball to kick, but there was always an old tin can around. All we needed was a goal and the game was on. Of course there were a few bruised shins at the end of the game. If someone showed up with a larger can, we would practice kicking field goals for hours. In the summer months there was Stoop-Ball or Stick Ball. An old broom-stick and a pink Spaulding was all we needed…and if you were good you could hit that ball for more than the length of two sewer man-hole covers.
I remember sitting in front of my cousin Jane’s house; she had the only flat sidewalk, and playing Jacks for hours. Of course this is when I was really youn! I was pretty good up till about “fourzies” and then my hands couldn’t scoop enough of the little metal jacks to keep up. Another game the girls used to beat me at was Hop-Scotch. They always seemed to have better balance and with my big feet it seemed like I was always stepping on a line.

Yes, the toys of today’s kids have changed. Some of the toys we played with as kids lasted for generations, until parents got too busy and children were lured by more sophisticated and manufactured toys. I wonder if a boy today has any idea what mumbley-peg is all about. It was actually in my old Boy-Scout handbook along with Tidley-winks. Ahh what I wouldn’t give for a good game of “Tony-the-Pony” or “King-of-the-Mountain.” Of course that’s with my doctor’s permission.