Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The Toy Box
Not very far from here, in a house on the north side of Atlanta, there is a wooden box. On the side of the box is a faded and chipped painting of a bear with a hat and a bow and a big smile on his face. The box is in my sister Mary’s house and it was out toy box when we were small children. She has kept it all these years and now it holds other toys for her own grandchildren.
I remember the toys that used to fill the box. Model airplanes – especially a shiny metal one. The wings folded over the top, just like they do in “real life” in the old war movies, and it was one of my favorite toys. There were wooden boats that came from Norway. And hundreds of small soldiers from all kinds of eras – knights and damsels, gladiators and senators, Indians and cowboys, military men, pioneers and space travelers, aliens and animals. There were covered wagons and little horses. Plastic caves and palatial towers and turrets, drawbridges and plastic moats. Stuffed animals, big and small, ferocious and cuddly. Wind-up dolls that walked when wound and laughed when squeezed. All kinds of cards were there, too, the kind that came with bubble gum. Baseball and football cards, cards with aliens and cards with cartoon characters. There were plastic rocket ships that had a metal top into which we used to slip caps. We would toss them into the air and when the thing landed on its head, the cap would explode. I can still remember the smell. I can also remember the smell of the toy box, a dusty wooden smell, and the sound the toys made when we would go through layer after layer, looking for something special that we wanted and would not give up till we found it. And on rainy days, we drove mom crazy when we emptied the entire box on the floor and spread its contents for what we thought was the biggest war in history. Tanks and dinosaurs and knights and spacemen all sharing the same floor. And we seven kids all shared the same toys, with all the variations that made them up.
I cannot remember the time of life when I moved beyond needing the contents of that box. Was it sudden or gradual? I do not know. But I do know that there came a time when I no longer looked inside to see what was there. Life beckoned me elsewhere, to places made available through bikes and longer walks, new friends and different needs. I do remember one time in my adult life when the going got rough, telling Mary that there must be a way to crawl back inside the box and come out the other side to a land of youth, of a kind of Never Never Land where things never die and are always, well, fun.
At times I wonder if what we really do is graduate from one set of toys to another, to more sophisticated play things. Like computers, telephones, cars, jet planes, hi-techi things. But maybe such things are given us when we are young until we are ready to move beyond them. They are like stepping stones to new years, new challenges. So, maybe the toys I have now as an adult are best used when used for others. But that takes time to understand, time to discern, time to know the importance of giving away what we are and have and learning from what was given to us as children.
There is no going back to what once was. There is no door in the toy box. Its contents filled my days long ago and I grew into new places, new people. I cannot ever go back to what was. But I can move ahead, hoping to share who I am, and what I have, and in that way keep the best that was in the little wooden toy box. Life needs to be shared, again and again.