On Monday, Kyle Cupp asked his Mindless Monday Question: What toys from your childhood do you most wish you had with you today? Elizabeth Scalia replied with Answering Kyle Cupp With A Plastic Trumpet and a Scream.
I’m answering with this:
If you recognize this as General Urko from Planet of the Apes, then you are probably a male in his 40s and remember Ape-mania. I don’t know what happened to Urko or the other doll I had (Cornelius/Galen, who was played, of course, by the incomparable Roddy McDowall) but they were treasures. I didn’t even mind Urko’s bright purple tights because he had that cool plastic helmet and gauntlet.
I do still have a few toys from my childhood. These were my favorite:
The army guys belonged to my son, and are provided for scale. It’s the anachronistic collection of dinosaurs (including a caveman and a woolly mammoth, just because) that got the heaviest workout, and which I’ve kept these 40+ years.
The set came with mountains and trees and I’d play out scenes for hour with my own army guys and other random toys and figures. It was part of the grand parade that fired my young imagination: Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Lost World, Ray Harryhausen, King Kong, In Search Of, Twilight Zone, Trek, King Tut, dinosaurs, monsters, all the wild worlds of the 4:30 movie, comics (Swamp Thing, House of Secrets, Creepy, Hulk, Batman, Superman, etc), pulps, and old time radio.
And you know what? I still love it all. As much I enjoy digging deeply into theology and history and great literature, I’ve never lost the bug for the great Burroughs-style works of pure imagination and grand adventure. There’s real beauty in them: the beauty of little boys who grew up to be men with fierce creative talents, but never lost that boyish sense of wonder and adventure.
Is it merely empty nostalgia?
I don’t think so, though I probably wouldn’t recognize it if it was. I see these things for what they were: a way for a sad and lonely kid to flee to a safe place that also fired his imagination. I understand that this safe place, formed in those pivotal childhood years, is built of stone and mortar with foundations laid right on the bedrock of my psyche.
There’s always going to be a place in my mind where Col. Steve Austin is a man barely alive but gentlemen we can rebuild him because we have the technology, where Kirk and Spock and McCoy are beaming down to a planet, where Doug McClure fights dinosaurs and Boris Karloff is a sad and misunderstood monster.
And I’ll still return to that place, like some people return to comfort food or certain music. When I was little, sometimes it was my only safe place. It doesn’t serve that purpose any more, but it’s still somewhere I like–and maybe even need–to visit from time to time.