By Tom Morrow
Comparatively speaking, post-war vintage toys were, at best, primitive. After the War, plastic was hard to get and metal of any kind was expensive. After the War, toys were, shall we say, fragile.
Fighting off Indians and robbers trying to win the American West. The biggest problem with six-shooters of the last half of the fourth decade (1940s) many toys, especially pistols, were made of compressed sawdust. We had to lay our pistols down on the ground ever so gently lest it break apart. More than one occasion Mom came to the rescue, but got the barrel glued back a bit crooked … sometimes she glued the barrel upside down. Roy, Gene and Hoppy would be shocked.
The only gift Santa might bring that would be close to that of today were “Tinker Toys” … the “Legos” of yesteryear.
Gift ideas for Santa was limited because there was no television. Surveying hints for the big guy, as well as Mom and Dad were found primarily in store windows or in the annual Sears, Wards, or Spiegel catalogs. Somehow our requests were hinted to Mom and Dad. Of course, a little help from the U.S. Post Office was our backup for direct requests. Being “good” was always part of the bargain. Those items of joy neatly on display in stores had price tags. The price of $3.95 seemed to be the most popular number. As it happened, the price was just a tad out of our Dad’s budget range.
Having lots of presents under the tree measured the amount of joy you expressed. If you were lucky enough to get a “biggie,” then it occupied a place of honor unwrapped displayed among a pile gift-wrapped goodies. On lean years, Mom would increase the gift count by separately wrapping socks, making the big day seem more abundant than it really was.
Electric trains were high on the lists for most-coveted items. While Lionel train sets were the most popular, no self-respecting railroad man would be satisfied with anything but an “American Flyer.” Lionel train sets were powered via a “center” track — three total. “American Flyers” mimicked the real thing with just two rails. ‘Flyers” were authentic-looking in every respect. Mom didn’t understand such things. Dad did, but had trouble with a more expensive price tag. A Lionel set was around $14.95; An “American Flyer” commanded $19.95. Dad never made more than $2,500 a year, such extravagances’ at our house were out of the question.
Ironically, today if you could find either a Lionel or an American Flyer, they’d probably command a collector’s price tag in the hundreds of dollars. But, the Holy Grail on nearly every boy’s wish list was a “Red Ryder” air rifle. Mom said what nearly every mom did: “No! You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Remembering Mom and Dad at Christmas could be a bit of a challenge. Weekly allowance didn’t go very far. I got .50 cent a week, and my sister got a quarter. (So much for equal opportunity). If you had any money, it wouldn’t be enough to buy more than one item. For Mom there was always “Evening in Paris” perfume – for 50 cents it certainly wasn’t “Chanel No. 5” – more like Kids’ No. 001. (years ago when my sister was helping our Mom close up her house, a number of “Paris” bottles had been stashed away in keepsake manner. Ironically, the traditional kids’ parental gift of choice is still being made.
As for Dad, we somehow managed to buy him a necktie … for a man who only wore one for weddings and funerals. Mom usually helped by giving us a dollar or three to buy him something. Dad went through a number of fashion seasons.
One year late in their married life, they had made some huge expenditure, causing Mom to tell Dad not to worry about getting her a gift for Christmas … you can see this one coming. Dad took Mom at her word, causing a very tense Christmas morning. Of course, as she always did, Mom remembered Dad with at least two or three presents. From that year forward, my sister and I made sure Dad had something for Mom under every tree. Throughout my years a home, I don’t think Dad ever shopped for anything at Christmas or birthday … Mom took care of that sort of thing.
For those who annually watch Jean Shepherd’s movie, “A Christmas Story,” you get a picture of what Christmas was like in my hometown of Seymour, Iowa during the ‘40s and ‘50s. (On a personal note, in that movie, the 1937 Pontiac parked in the family’s driveway is exactly like my Dad’s car. Memories? You bet!