Hall of Fame moments from the toy box

A grandchild plays with his father's soldiers

November 22, 2012|Susan Reimer

Two classics have been elected to the National Toy Hall of Fame, just in time for your post-Thanksgiving shopping.

And while you might be able to find dominoes tiles tomorrow, you'd be hard-pressed to find action figures from "Star Wars" anywhere but on eBay, selling right next to a box of endangered Twinkies.

They were selected from among 12 finalists, and they beat out, among others, the game of Clue, the Magic 8 Ball, the pogo stick, sidewalk chalk and Twister.

Since the Hall of Fame, located in Rochester, N.Y., began collecting toys in 1998, 51 have been inducted, including Play-Doh and Slinky and, in a tip of the hat to the power of a child's imagination, a stick and a cardboard box. (I am nominating measuring cups and water next year.)

The winners are chosen from more than 300 nominees each year. The list is reduced to 12 by the museum's curators, and a committee of educators, academics, collectors and toy experts selects the two or three winners.

The criteria? The toys must be widely recognized, promote learning, creativity or discovery and have staying power over decades.

Dominoes won in the "legends" category, I guess. The game was first improvised in China in the 1300s. It is a math game, but you can also line them up and topple them in a cascade effect. That's the source of the expression "the domino effect," employed to promote the war in Southeast Asia, but that's another subject altogether.

As for the "Star Wars" figures, they might not do much to promote learning, but they certainly have staying power. Indeed, they launched an industry — the tying of toys to movies — and generated something like $20 billion in sales over the years.

The promotion of the "Star Wars" figures to such exalted status also opens the door for more criticism of us poor mothers, who are always guilty of getting rid of the child's toy that is eventually worth big bucks.

My husband recently saw a "Ghostbusters" van for sale online for $1,000, and he just won't let it go. I keep asking him, how big a house does he think he lives in?

But because I learned from the previous generation of mothers, I have about 1,200 baseball cards moldering in my basement out of fear that somebody's rookie card is in there and it is worth enough to help send my grandson to college one day.

Speaking of Mikey, he is not yet 2 years old, and he was able to Skype me from his mother's iPad without her even knowing. (He is a baby genius.) And when he has her iPhone he not only holds it up to his ear and says "ha-woe," he uses his little fingers to pinch and swipe the screen to see pictures. So I wonder what's going to make it into the Toy Hall of Fame from his generation.

But when he visits us, the toys that didn't go to the consignment shop are there for him. (OK, I didn't have room to keep the Millennium Falcon!)

He loves his dad's old Matchbox cars and trucks, and he drags his Aunt Jessie's American Girl dolls around by the hair. He plays contentedly with the little green soldiers that just missed the cut for the Hall of Fame this year. (Anybody else feel like they are trapped in "Toy Story"?) He plays with the concentration I recognize from his father, who would build with Legos for hours, and his aunt, who spent her time in Barbie's world, happily talking to the dolls and to herself.

But nothing thrills Mikey more than the American Flyer model train that is as old as his grandfather, bought for my husband's first Christmas by his own father in an extravagant gesture of love that belied their limited means.

The smell of the smoke from the train, my husband says, takes him back to his own childhood. But the toys take me back to a time when my children were little, and that trip can break your heart. But not nearly as much as when Mikey, whose father is in the military, holds up a GI Joe figure painted in camouflage and asks, "Daddy?"

A Hall of Fame moment for sure. How much is that worth on eBay, I wonder?

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com or @Susan Reimer on Twitter.

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