With increasing frequency, I find myself starting sentences with a phrase I thought I’d never say: “When I was your age…” Yup, nothing says you’re old like those words, which have been uttered by old people since the Industrial Revolution.
Usually, “when I was your age” serves as a cop-out for my cheapness. I say things like, “When I was your age, I only had two shoes” (commonly known as one pair), or “When I was your age, we only had four channels, and one of them was in French.” (Of course, it was the French channel we rural kids turned to when we wished to see nudity, which was whenever our parents left us home alone were out of the room. Love the French.).
But there is one statement that I wish to shout from a roof top. It is: “When I was your age, the toys were better.” If you look at this year’s top toy list, you see cheap plastic crap; and, even though it matches the décor of my house, I am loathe to buy any of it for my five-year-old twins.
I miss the toys of my childhood, all of which my parents still have. Yes, they have a moderate-sized toy collection, a Narnia-closet leading to Fisher Price Land, that is renowned in their community. This closet contains classic, quality toys that last — even beyond 35 years at this point. Most of these toys are vintage Fisher Price; in other words, they were manufactured before the company was bought by Mattel, who brought it into chic-millennium-style by downgrading the toy quality to cheap plastic crap.
So, without further ado, I present my five favourite vintage toys from the 1970s:
- The Little People.
First they were made of wood and then durable plastic (which actually isn’t an oxymoron). You can still buy Little People today but, you guessed it, they’re cheap plastic crap; they’re also the size of a mini-football so no kid will choke on them. While I loved the black and white dog, my favourite out of all the Little People was the angry boy. Who didn’t like that freckly kid who looked like someone just pissed in his Corn Flakes? I even chewed off his orangey-red cap in my own fit of anger. We both survived. That was in the bygone era when parents childproofed their kids instead of childproofing their homes. Back then, experience taught us important lessons, like not to lick ashtrays.
- The Parking Garage. Even though no child uses the middle level, the garage is timeless. I spent hours putting the little gas nozzle into the little cars’ gas tanks. The pièce de résistance, however, was the elevator. It would carry the little cars up before releasing them down the slide. The entire garage was absolute fun, unless you got one of the Little People’s heads jammed between the elevator and the ground floor, but those guys were durable. It’s the Wile-E.-Coyote-Never-Actually-Dies theory of indestructibility.
- The Village. Two items made the village legendary: the mail truck and the mail, six pieces of Flintstone-era letters, all deliverable through the door slots of different businesses. I loved the mail so much, I graduated to bigger postal dreams: using my parents’ slotted liquor boxes to sort various papers and envelopes into. Who needs an Xbox 360 when you have Fisher Price and empty liquor boxes?
- Play Family Camper. The camper was the 1970 kid’s Russian doll set: first the truck, then the camper, finally the boat as the crowning jewel. It was finely accessorized, with a picnic table and a toilet. Parents loved this toy since children could shove all the Little People inside like they were refugees in a shipping container hoping for a better life.
(cc) brandi sims, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License
5. Jack-in-the-Box. The only item in this week’s Top 5 that is not a Fisher Price product is dear old Jack. This toy was made by Mattel before they jumped on the Make-Toys-So-Choke-Proof-They’re-No-Longer-Fun bandwagon. The Jack-in-the-Box hovers beautifully between fear and fun, scaring and scarring both children and adults. Mattel’s Jack (circa 1971) really jumped, sometimes clocking you on your chin. When Jack’s clothing eventually ripped, he became springier than ever. My parents reported that last month, Jack was temporarily freed. On the cue of “Pop Goes the Weasel,” Jack sprung out, sailed through the air, and landed six metres away. Fly, Jacky, fly.
So, to all those born after 1980, I say: When I was your age, the toys were better.
The Little People were the best toys in North American history. They kept our entire family of SIX kids playing harmoniously together for hours. Every Christmas we’d get a new set, so that eventually, we had a whole Little People Universe. The castle was great – you could toss the people into the dungeon through that trap door. It gave us a sense of power to issue dungeon Time-Outs. My despot brother especially enjoyed this. As I recall, the angry boy spent a fair bit of time in the dungeon.
My kids have a Garage (that we bought at a garage sale for $2!), a Fisher Price barn and the A frame house! All old and very functional. They play with them all the time (epecially the garage) and have never choked on the pieces.
My parents still have our Weeble car and camper (with choking hazard sized Weebles and all) as well as the Little People Bus. I bet they never thought that their grandchildren would be playing with them 39 years later!
Angry boy = boy with the red hat on?? His name was Ricky, and he dated the little girl with the red hair in a single ponytail (Donna). ….just so you know…
His name was Ricky? And he was dating? Aren’t those little plastic kids too young for that? Amazing. What was the name with the mom-figure in the blue dress?
Angela Brown says
Existere, my brother and I (when we were little) named the angry boy with the red hat Naughty. His sister was the little girl with the blond bob and the red body. Her name was Joanna.
I agree that the old toys were better. Remember when Tonka toys were made of steel? I recall friends riding down the street on their car carriers. My favorite toys were Dinky and Gorgi 1/43 scale cars. I had a bunch! I also always played w/ Legos and never choked on any of the really small pieces. I too had one of those multi-story garages – I think it was Matchbox. Sadly it is not even possible to find these old toys at thrift stores anymore since they have been deemed “unsafe”.
Lego is still one of my favorites, but I do remember lots of fun playing with the camper and accessories. For Christmas, one of my twins asked for a toy from that store (Lee Valley) where we get the old toys from when Daddy and I were little. We’ve given them such things as gyroscopes, meccano, a book about the art of making shadow puppets, a cardboard kaleidoscope making kit and a metal kazoo from Lee Valley.
I remember the angry little boy, he did have that pissed off look on his face, lol! I had the little people village and the school house. I miss those. 😉