In the elevator at my parents' condominium complex recently a stranger remarked to me and my father about my son’s portable video game system, the Nintendo DSi. “We sure didn’t have toys like that when I was a kid,” he said.
That was true for me and but even more true for my father. Given the plethora of toys and other amusements for kids today, I asked my parents about the playthings they got as children. Their responses say a lot about how times have changed.
James A. Seitz, 80, is a retired research pharmacist with Abbott Laboratories:
I never made any special requests for toys as a young boy. My friends never did either.
During our youth, it was the Depression era – the 1930s. Growing up in a small town during the Depression period, our needs were simpler.
I had a cane fishing pole, little trucks and cars that I used in the sand lot and, when I was 12, I got a small bike.
One toy that every boy managed to have was a baseball – or softball – and a glove. When I got a little older, I played on a community baseball team in Fairchild, Wisconsin, and we traveled around the area.
Things were simpler back then. If we wanted to go swimming, we walked or rode our bikes a mile or a mile and a half out of town to a lake. It was a manmade lake built where they dammed the river. We’d only go out about 15 feet to a shallow area because none of us were very good swimmers. And there were no lifeguards.
My most treasured gift was a pair of skis. All of my friends had skis so my parents finally got me a set so I could ski with them. I was 12 years old and got the skis for Christmas. The set didn’t come with poles.
That gift was so treasured because of all the memories I had skiing with my friends.
We’d ski primarily on the hill in back of the school. The school housed both the grade school on the first floor and the high school on the second floor.
I lived about a block and a half from school. The school was on top of the hill and we lived at the bottom of the hill. In the winter, I’d sometimes bring my skis to school so I could ski home for lunch.
I had those skis until junior year in high school when I outgrew them and there were given away. I never skied again after that.
My cane fishing pole also was a prized possession because I was able to teach my little brother, Dick, how to fish. We’d fish in the same lake we swam in. We caught small fish – bluegills mostly. I also felt good about catching the fish and bringing them home. My mom would clean them and cook them.
Toys that were popular in the late ’30s and early ’40s included electric trains, marbles, sleds and saucers. Games that kids liked were tiddlywinks, jacks, Tinkertoys, Parcheesi, pickup sticks, Chinese checkers, checkers, cards, dominoes, and Monopoly.
Alice L. (Kelly) Seitz, 76, is a homemaker who raised seven children:
My most treasured gift was a Princess Elizabeth doll I received for Christmas when I was 8 years old. England’s Princess Elizabeth was so prominent back then that everyone knew who she was. If you had one of these dolls you felt like you were playing with the princess. She was so beautiful when I received her. She had a beautiful white dress with sparkles, a silver tiara and a red velvet cape. I no longer have the doll.
Another treasured gift was my bicycle. It was red and white with a basket on the front. I rode it everywhere in town (Jim Falls, Wisconsin). Not every kid had a bike, so it was a big deal if you had one. I got mine when I was about 11.
When I was growing up, some of the toys that girls wanted were paper dolls, tea sets, dolls of any kind, jump ropes, doll buggy, doll beds, table and chair sets, roller skates (the kind that fit under your shoe).
We learned about toys and kids stuff primarily through contact with other children. Radio programs had intermissions and during those intermission times they would have cereal commercials that advertised certain toys such as BB guns, watches, decoders, Shirley Temple cereal dish set just to name a few. Christmas catalogs from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward also were a big way to find out what gifts kids wanted.
Princess Elizabeth doll similar to one owned by Alice L. (Kelly) Seitz when she was growing up in Jim Falls, Wis.