I am a connoisseur of playthings. That is to say I am a toy store junkie. I can disappear in a second into a bonafide toy shop, not to be found for an hour or two. Bonafide as in authentic, true, above board. There are still a good number of these shops around. They differ from the mega giants in several ways. The most important one is that there is a lot less junk in an old fashioned toy store. The intention is play and imagination. It is not an electronics store or a bicycle shop. The wares are fun and games.
The owner of Jamie Two Coats in Vermont confided to me a year ago that she was afraid the internet would put her out of business. I was happy to see this year that she had moved to a bigger location and was doing very well. There are two toy stores in Buffalo that are special. The Treehouse on Elmwood and Clayton’s in Williamsville. I have noticed that the big toy store near the malls does not carry everything that comes out. I could not find a plasma car or even the brand of easel that I was looking for. When I checked online for a store nearby the ones mentioned above had the car in stock.
I have high standards when I shop for toys. I look for play value, toys that lend to imagination, toys that can be banged for their buck and toys that teach unobtrusively. I found a great store online called the Tin Toy Arcade. I found an old fashioned Fisher Price milk wagon that I am saving for a future birthday. I bought gyroscopes and the monkey on a ladder who does flips when you squeeze the poles together. I bought juggling balls for my grandson who tosses apples and oranges in the air to prove his dexterity.
I am a sleuth as I wander aisles and shelves looking for FUN to jump out at me. Hands Down, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry. Games that never go out of style. More: Don’t break the ice, Connect Four, Topple. Funniest thing of all is that many toys I favor today were bought by my dad for my kids, like the Crazy Car in my basement. He was the king of toy junkies. My siblings and I just follow his lead.
I don’t need things to play, just my own imagination. Kids love to be in or under things, kind of like a kid-cave, and I am a master tent builder. I remember one of my ‘best’ projects in a small apartment when I had two toddlers. I yanked all the sheets and quilts off of the bed and went to work. The couch, table, chairs were covered. It was tent city, as well built as some people live in. A knock at the door. Unexpected company. I opened it to find my very orderly mother-in-law standing in front of me. Oops, just playing I told her, sorry for the mess. She responded with, ‘that’s fine; I love to see you making the kids happy’.
I have carried on through my own six and ten grandkids, although I have yet to hang out with baby Luke for a true play session. However his sister Karmen and I have playing ‘pilot’ down to a science. She wears the beret and uses a stick for a microphone. We line up the chairs and fill them with dolls and animals. We pass out tickets, collect play money and even serve the airline snack. We take turns at the controls shouting out, ‘put on your seatbelt’, ‘we are number two in line’, and other such pilotisms. We then make the engines start and zoom up into the sky, pointing out objects below with our imaginations. At the Johnson house this game started out as ‘train’ instead of ‘plane’. My other game is ‘shoe store’. It goes like this: knock knock, are you open? [yes or no] and then on to measuring feet on a ruler, trying on all the shoes from the closet for dancing or school or play. Then you walk around and look in the mirror and then you pay for them. My granddaughter asked me to play this when I last visited. She told me that mommy and daddy did not know how. My daughter Krista laughed and said ‘you got that right.’ I told her that the reason I am good at imaginative play is because I did not have a television in my life until I was ten years old and listened to radio shows once a week.
Stomping in puddles is fun. Painting rocks is fun. Making a mess is fun. Cleaning up can be a game. Making a zoo out of stuffed animals is fun. Creating worms and snakes out of play-doh in striking color variations is a blast. Then you sell them at the snake store.
I don’t think the fun and games should stop when you grow up. Be like Peter Pan. There are countless electronic games around and not only are my grandkids into them but also my ‘kid’ sister and my ‘old’ girlfriend. When our family gets together we play games, some made up personally for and by us, some others such as Password. My brother Bob is ‘the man’ and we have a million laughs.
My husband just bought a bowling ball for me for Christmas. Last year it was a skeeball arcade for the basement and the prior year it was an air hockey game. You can see that I am not a jewelry girl. I still need roller skates to use in the basement and tap shoes to exercise my Broadway diva. Let the games begin. No kidding.
Pat Webdale is a freelance writer who lives in Fredonia N.Y. where she raised six children. She is now known to nine grandchildren as MaPatty. Pat has retired after twenty years as a payroll clerk at Brooks Memorial. Pat won a Woman’s Day and American Library Association writing award in 2003. She has had numerous articles published and has appeared as a public speaker on a range of issues.
After her daughter Kendra was killed in 1999, Pat and her family were instrumental in passing an Assisted Outpatient Treatment law in New York State designed to bring treatment to those who suffer from a mental illness. She is a former board member of NAMI New York State. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.