Years ago, my wife was going through her old belongings. She reminisced about childhood memories as she showed her dolls, figurines, toy horses, and many other tokens of her youth. “What kind of things do you have from your childhood?” she asked.
I thought about a plastic horse that came in a pack of 100 cowboys and Indians. There was a hole on each side of the saddle where prongs on the side of the rider’s feet kept him in place. The rider had long ago journeyed to that great buffalo hunt in the sky. It was then that I realized nothing survived my childhood. Nothing except the rider-less black horse. And it only survived because it fell into a box of Christmas ornaments and was packed in the attic. Many Christmases ago, the cowboys and Indians fought for control of Mom’s ceramic Christmas tree. Apparently there were no winners, and only this horse lived to wander into the decorations. It was forgotten, but he survived. He’s now being trampled on the floor of my kid’s room.
Fond memories came flooding back when I thought on my childhood. Thoughts like my mother saying, “See if I ever buy you anything again,” after discovering my hammer-smashed Hot Wheels car collection. “Do you know how much these cost?”
“But Mom, that’s how we play the game. These are car crashes,” I pleaded my case.
“Can’t you use your imagination and pretend they are smashed?”
She just didn’t get it. It was so cool to make crashing noises while beating them with a claw hammer. These were the days when Hot Wheels made the cars out of steel. They didn’t fly into a million pieces like the cheap plastic ones of today. Of course they are worth a small fortune today, but not in hammered condition.
I discovered that GI Joe can only withstand about twenty adventures of crashing through the trees. We’d toss our soldiers high into a tree and see how many branches he could hit on the way down. He was one tough cookie. At least he was until the elastic cord inside him broke. In those days, GI Joe’s were about ten inches tall, and a brass hook connected the inside of his neck to his limbs. I didn’t know this until the twenty-first tragedy he had to endure.
After an amazing plummet through a tree, he banged off at least a dozen branches, and then landed in a wounded heap on the ground. I picked him up, expecting to straighten out his mangled body, but his arms were hanging loose. Then they dropped off. His legs soon followed, but were held up by his khakis. I tried stringing his body parts back in place, but once his elastic spine was broken, he just wasn’t the soldier he had once been.
One year I got a Sandlot Slugger for Christmas. It was a cool toy – for about 36 hours. The toy was mounted on a green stand that was supposed to be the grass of a field. A white marble rested on a tee.
You’d twist the slugger into position, push the lever at his feet, and his waist would snap back and swing the bat. His bat would hit the marble off the tee and it was game on.
There’s only so many times you can whack a marble before the boredom gives way to creative imagination. A brilliant idea dawned. We’d pitch to him instead of just having him hit off the tee. Marbles were impossible to hit, so we decided to throw rocks while the other would push the lever as the pitch went by. It took a lot of pitches, but he finally connected. And his bat disconnected.
We looked at the broken plastic bat and new it was not repairable. Oh well. Might as well finish the job. My dad had recently plowed up the back yard for a garden, and there were tons of rocks. So we became giants casting boulders at the intruder of our mountain. We tossed and pelted the slugger until I hurled a rock that caught my attention. It felt very heavy for its small size. Giants are notoriously dimwitted, so I didn’t notice the rock until after I hurled it away.
“What was that?” I said after launching it. We had placed the slugger in the grass a good ways from us, so I didn’t know exactly where my rock landed. I combed through the grass for several minutes and then found it. “Wow. Look at this.” I held it up for my best friend, also named Eddie, to see.
It wasn’t a rock at all. It was a lead die. I soon learned that our yard had once been a campsite for Confederate troops during the Civil War. To pass the time, soldiers would beat a few musket balls into squares, make dice out of them, and gamble. I had found something that once cost a soldier his lunch money.
My mother, ever foresighted, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She bought it from me for a whole dollar. It would be quite some time before I realized its value was more than a dollar, but she saved it from certain demise by getting it out of my possession. When I moved away from home, she was so happy that she gave me the die.
Now when my wife brags about her little stash of hootie-tootie toys and says, “What do you have from your childhood?” I can pull out my lead die and say, “This. Want to shoot craps for your toys?” I know which numbers it falls on!
Eddie Snipes 2013