Matt lisa

To All The Toys I’ve Ever Loved Before

I have loved quite a few toys in my life. A favorite recur­ring dream takes me back to my child­hood home to find an entire floor of the house filled to the ceiling with toys and games of every kind. There are dolls and board games and Yo-yos and Hula Hoops, Easy-Bake Ovens and Thing­mak­ers, bicy­cles with banana seats, Barbies, army men, pogo sticks, you name it. Liddle Kiddles, Gumby and Pokey, Chatty Cathy, Poor Pitiful Pearl. Color­ing books, Color­forms, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys.

I like to pore over web sites that feature U.S. toys from the sixties and seven­ties just to recap­ture that feeling of spend­ing quality time with a really great toy. It’s not that I was deprived of toys when I was little. I had a pretty lush life for a middle class girl growing up in Port­land. But the TV ads were relent­less, and my neigh­bors, Kimmy and Ted, had a base­ment rec room that was packed with every kind of play­thing, includ­ing a two-seater surrey with actual fringe on top that you could pedal between the Rock Em Sock Em Robots and the inflat­able bopping clown. The hunger was real.

The very best toy that I owned was a hand-me-down two-story doll­house. It had stairs, cut-out windows, furnish­ings, and wall­pa­per patterns painted on parti­cle board walls. There was odd furni­ture to arrange and rearrange, and there were dolls whose propor­tions did not match the scale of the doll­house. My most favorite thing to do was to make little acces­sories for the kitchen. Dishes, pots, and food items, espe­cially cakes and pies, were sculpted out of Play-Doh.

The other child­hood item that I loved almost as much as that doll­house was my older brother, Matt. I couldn’t play with him the way I did with my doll­house because he was an active guy who had his own ideas of fun. Very few of them involved having anything to do with me, a pesky little sister four years younger and light-years away from his level of sophis­ti­ca­tion. We grew up in a time and place when kids were expected to go play outside all the time, with little to no parent super­vi­sion. As soon as I was old enough to tag along with him and his friends, I begged to do so. He patiently walked with me to the Port­land zoo or the Oregon Museum of Science and Indus­try, where we would roam around the exhibits, feeding leaves to the giraffes with their long, purple tongues, or staring at the big diorama of North­west indus­try that featured little logging trucks and trains and even an airliner on a wire pulley.

I’m sure that a lot of little sisters in the world think their older brother is the coolest guy around, and that I’m not the only one who adored her big brother. But Matt really was differ­ent. He stuck up for me when bullies hassled me, telling them calmly to knock it off” with Lisa. He watched The Outer Limits” with me when Mom and Dad went out, and he put on amazing puppet shows on our back deck that made me and my little sister, Maggie, laugh and laugh. Once, when I heard someone crit­i­cize him for some reason, I felt what it means to have your gorge rise. I wanted to hit that kid, what­ever it was he said. No one was allowed to talk about my brother like that.

It’s not like Matt was a saint or anything. I often used to think he told jerks to stop being mean to me so he could pick on me himself. His teasing could be merci­less, made all the worse because he was often so funny. It’s hard to show right­eous fury when you’re laughing.

There was one time, however, when I was forced to choose my alle­giance. Matt used to make little 8‑millimeter movies with his buddies, some­times doing stop-motion anima­tion and often show­cas­ing their youth­ful acting chops. I was never invited to take part in those projects, and it was some­thing I really, really wanted to have happen.

Hey, Lis, we’re gonna make a movie. You wanna help?”

Are you kidding? Yes!

We need to use your doll­house. Is that okay?”

My eyes narrowed. What are you gonna use it for?”

Well, we need to show a house burning down, so we’re gonna set it on fire. That’s cool, right? It’ll look so neat.”

I could not believe it. How could this almighty big brother, my hero, be so clue­less about the one thing that mattered to me more than anything? Could it have been that my beloved big brother was a little bit dense?

Yes, it could. That day I discov­ered bound­aries. And the dollhouse survived.

By Lisa Groen­ing, Middle School English Teacher, from an essay for the Bay Area Writer Project Summer Course Teach­ing Secondary Creative Writing”