Voice From The Bullpen: Toys And Games Used To Fill The Time

“There’s nothing to do.” “I’m bored!” “There’s nothing good on television.”

Have you ever heard kids utter any, or all, of these statements in their quest for entertainment on rainy, and even some sunny, days? Back in my day, five and six hours of watching television was not even a possibility. On summer days, and weekend days, after our chores were done, we found things to do, or our parents gave us things to do, like clean the basement, or the garage, weed the garden, pick up litter around the yard, stuff that every kid loved to do, right? Not!

About a month back, Sally and I were sitting at the “Cheers” of Jamestown, A.K.A The Pub, for a little dinner. I saw a few former colleagues from when we were all teaching at Jamestown High School. We exchanged pleasantries and suddenly the conversation shifted to a couple of looking back at a couple recent Voice from the Bullpen pieces. Sitting there also was a current teacher at Lincoln School, and he commented he really liked the one that asked kids of today about Spam, Maypo, etc. He said he is taking one of those questions from that piece , per day, and showing and telling his students what those things were, and letting them know how much a part of our lives those things were, and a few of them still are. The conversation came around to saying that a good sequel to that piece would be things we did for fun back in our days. I thought it sounded good, but something kept scratching my memory for some reason, and when I got home, I checked my narrative file and found I had already done a piece on that topic, penned a few years ago. Then I thought, although it’s already been done, it might be nice to revisit the topic and revise the piece a bit to make it like the “When I was your Age” list, and maybe Mr. Brunecz might share this one too, and let his students learn about our generation’s means of entertainment.

People often ask me where I get ideas for some of my pieces. I tell them some ideas are inspired by my past, my upbringing, my school days, my childhood activities. Some have been inspired by experiences with my family from way back when (parents siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) and my current family (still including my siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the additions of my wife, my children, their spouses, my grandchildren, my great-grandson, my nieces, nephews and their children as well.)

Some ideas come from places I’ve been, the activities I’ve been fortunate to have attended, the opportunities I’ve been given, the colleagues, students, and athletes I’ve been blessed to have worked with, some relatives and friends I’ve had (rest in peace) in my life, those I continue to have here with me, and those new friends we’ve been fortunate to have made as a result of some of the activities we’ve shared. (You fellow Parrotheads know who you are!!)

Some topics for this column have come from just watching what happens around me, and people I see who’ve made some kind of impression on me, positively or negatively. Some come from things that I like, or am astonished by, and some from things that bother me. Topics have come from people in this community who have been a huge part of this community, some from people on my street managing their lawn as I’m walking by, and some have come from shared conversations with people sitting across from me in places like The Pub, “where everybody knows your name.”

So going back to that conversation a few weeks ago, I bring you this revised piece. Thanks to the Hustons, Kurtzhals, and Mr. Brunecz for reminiscing about the things we did for fun, when we were kids.

I ask any of my generation if they recall any of the following, and if you do, please share them with the kids of today, so they’ll have something to do when they’re bored, and the television shows aren’t what they want to watch.

Who remembers (and in our time, some of these were designated for boys, some for girls, and some for both, some for younger kids, and some for older kids) these toys and activities:

1. Kick the Can

2. Red Rover, Red Rover

3. The Slinky

4. Lincoln Logs

5. Tinker Toys

6. Erector Sets

7. Electric Trains

8. Electric Football games

9. Hockey games with the levers you pulled to make the players “skate” and shoot the puck

10. Board games like Clue, Monopoly, Parcheesi, Sorry, Chinese Checkers, Life, Mouse Trap

11. Book Series like Danny Dunn, The Bobbsey Twins, The Nancy Drew Mysteries, or dual books like Robinson Crusoe on one side, and The Swiss Family Robinson on the other side.

12. Green and Brown Army men. Sometimes played with in a pile of dirt in the backyard simulating battles.

13. Metal Roller Skates, with a Skate Key (usually worn on a shoe string hanging around your neck.

14. Matchbox cars, also sometimes played with in an area of the backyard with a patch of dirt.

(In case it hasn’t been inferred as of yet, yes, we did get our hands dirty as kids.)

15.Sandlot baseball, kickball, football, and driveway basketball

16. Jumping Rope

17. Pogo Sticks

18. Climbing trees

19. Riding bikes

20. Yo-Yos

21. Super Balls

22. Silly Putty

23. Twenty Cartoon showings at the Palace and Winter Garden Theaters in Jamestown

24. Drive-in movies

25. Wooly Willy (magnets attached to a plastic covered board with iron filings allowing players to create bearded and mustached faces, and different hair styles)

26. Cootie and Pick Up Sticks

27. Home built jitneys (baby buggy wheels, a plank of wood, and a rope used to steer it as you rode down a slightly sloped sidewalk)

28. G.I Joe

29. Lite Brite

30. Betsy Wetsy

31. Chatty Cathy

32. Easy Bake Ovens

33. Barbie and Ken

34. Colorforms

35. Suzy Homemaker

36. Etch-a-Sketch

37. Play-Doh

38. Tonka Trucks (we’re back in the yard in a dirt pile)

39. Frisbees

40. Mr. Potato Head

41. Troll Dolls

42. Miniature Doll Houses

43. Slinky Pull Toys

44. Rag Dolls (Ann and Andy)

45. Sock Monkeys

46. Racing car sets

47. Twister

48. Leap Frog

49. Dodgeball

50. Plastic sets of Cowboys and Indians (played with similarly to the Army men)

As you can see, if we felt there was nothing to do, or we felt bored, it was certainly on us. Also, many of things in this list were very inexpensive, and many required very little items, if any, but made us use a lot of imagination. None of these toys and/or games we experienced playing just required our thumbs to play with, and there was no television screen necessary to aide to the fun and entertainment we experienced using or doing these things. Many of them had exercise value, and kept us occupied for hours at a time.

So if/when you hear young people complain there’s nothing to do, or they’re bored, or there’s nothing good on television, you can break out this list and give them the old, “When I was your age,” spiel, which in itself might get them up and find something to do, just to not have to listen to that speech again.

Mr. Brunecz, as you are the only one from our Pub conversation who’s still in the classroom, I hope I’ve given you fifty more ideas for discussion with your students. Thanks to you, the Hustons, and the Kurtzhals, for the inspiration for this revisited piece from the Voice from the Bullpen.

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