Posts Tagged ‘toys’

When I was in the Halloween candy section at the grocery store last night, I spotted bags of mini rolls of Necco candy wafers.  I don’t see those too often.  In fact, they’re hard to find.  You have to go out of your way to find them if you’re looking for them.  I had to buy a couple of bags but I’m thinking I should go back and get some more before they’re gone.

Why are they so special?  Because they’re classic and have been around since 1847?  Well, maybe but I’ve not been around since 1847 so that’s not it.  For me, I think it’s because they remind me of my childhood.  They were a special treat.  The large roll was a nickel.  There was a Safeway store around the corner from us and the world was not as crazy then as it is now so my mom allowed us to go to Safeway without her.  I remember being about five and walking there with my sister who was a year older.  We just had to walk to the end of our block, turn the corner and walk to the end of the block.  The store was across the street and we weren’t allowed to cross the street on our own but there was a fire station on that corner and there was always, always a fireman or two sitting outside in their lawn chairs waiting for a call and when we appeared at the corner, they would come over and make sure we crossed safely.  We weren’t allowed to go often or for just anything.  We were only allowed to go when my mother needed something and there was no one else to go.  She had to stay home with my two younger sisters so if my older brothers weren’t around, my sister and I were sent.  Occasionally, we earned a nickel for doing something or for being extra good.  With that nickel, I bought Necco wafers.  I loved the taste and I loved that they were round and to me, they reminded me of nickels.  Sometimes, I would use them as currency, trading my “nickels” for something else.

I also remember saving the metal end pieces from the refrigerator biscuits.  I would wash them and save them and then my sisters and I would use them as play money.   I know they were big but they were round and metal and shiny and we often had a lot of them.  We had a big family so when my mom made the refrigerator biscuits, she used a lot of those packages to have enough for us all. So they were readily available, and free!  We had to be creative to get toys!

And then there was the Sunday paper with the color comics.  Those were used as pictures.  We cut them out and put them in our play purses and pretended that they were family pictures.  My sister used the black and white ones from the daily paper too but I only liked the color comics so I didn’t use the daily comic pages.  Our little purses cast offs from my mom or baskets and they were filled with Necco candy wafer money, refrigerator biscuit money, and color comic page photos of our “friends and family”.  It was great fun for us and it was all free and had us using our imagination…the best kind of fun!

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When I was growing up, my family didn’t place value on books or reading or writing. For me, it was horrible because I loved them all. From as early as four or maybe before, I loved to play with letters and words. My mother thought it was strange. I was the fifth of seven children and the only one that would rather stay inside, playing with letters. I didn’t know they meant anything. I just loved playing with them. I used to cut letters out of the newspaper and play with them, arranging and re-arranging, much like Scrabble tiles (which I never even saw till I was in high school).

One day, on a thrift store trip, I saw this wonderful toy that I just had to have. My mother didn’t know why. She discouraged me and offered a doll but I persisted. She finally relented and bought me the toy….the learning toy. I loved to sit and play with it and when my mother said I had to go out into the backyard with the other kids, I would take my toy with me and sit on the steps. What was this toy? I never knew what it was called. It was an oval shaped orange slate with metal bars that had wooden letter tiles on it. You could move the tiles around the oval till they got to the right metal bar and then you slid the tile in there, creating words. I was too young to know about words. Too young to read; too young to write. So I just played. One time, my brother, David, ran by me on his way down the stairs to play tag with my other brothers and sisters and he told me I had spelled it wrong. I didn’t know what he meant. He said if I moved the “t” behind the “a” it would say “cat.” That’s how I found out that letters could mean words and that words could say things.

I kept my orange word toy for a long time, even after I had learned to read and write. Then it got lost. Decades later, in fact only a year or so ago, I was at an antique shop with my daughter and there was a plastic version of my learning toy! It was smaller and it was round instead of oval like mine but it was almost the same. On the box it said “Spell-o-matic” and there was a company name on it. I went home and looked online, typing in the Spell-o-matic till I found one that was just exactly like the one I had as a child. I bought it online and a week later I received it in the mail. I treasure it.

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