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The Jaded Eye… Fountain of Youth Sprouts Here

I’ve poked fun at the masses for acting like mad men and women as they bust down doorways on Black Friday. However, I scour and scout on “Sensational Saturday” as I make the trek to York, Pennsylvania to a place where it not only offers cool stuff but can also take you back in time.

You want the racing set you had as a kid? The doll baby that gave you company and whispered to you? How about a tin toy soldier, a vintage plastic model airplane, or an antique rocking horse?

Chances are if you’ve never let the child inside you go away, we’ve probably crossed paths at the annual Greater York Toy Extravaganza. This year was the 36th annual.

Held at the Memorial Hall at the York Expo Center, it’s a mecca of everything toys, and is the second largest show/sale of its type in the United States. The top dog is in Chicago, so with this one in our “backyard”, it’s well worth the trip!

Reminiscing while traveling Route 15 south onto Route 83 south is as easy as a game of hopscotch. My anticipation builds as it did as a little boy going to Krim’s Toy Store in town, or the Kiddy Car on Washington Boulevard. Building for sure — as in Tinker Toys or an Erector Set!

Most every child grows up with toys, but as we grow older, the toys and games of our youth get lost or discarded. A shame, as these were vital stepping-stones to our past, and which sometimes shaped our future.

The lucky ones have kept their “fun stuff” over the years and go back to them as necessary. It might have been a G.I. Joe or a Barbie doll. Maybe a transport truck with horses or logs in the back. Perhaps a chemistry set, which made you (a mad scientist) want to create a new boiling, smoking concoction! Fire extinguishers were not included.

Kids growing up during the Great Depression usually made their own toys. My grandfather told me of tying together small tin cans and “pretending” they were railway cars. Girls made dolls out of straw and spare rags.

Some adults may be wary of keeping older toys for fear of being ostracized. Maybe they feel they’ve outgrown them, don’t have space for them, or simply don’t want to look back into the rearview mirror. I cherish all mine and keep them on permanent display so I can see them each day.

The Hot Wheels racing set I received from my parents in 1971 on Christmas holds some prominence. I still set it up on occasion and let the cars have at it. Subsequent years turned up “Sizzler” race cars with the battery charger and lap counter.

I haven’t kept the fuzzy and warm teddy bears I got in my very early years. But my mother kept them in a safe and sound place — a plastic bin. One day I opened it up, and the bears seemed to look at me and say, “Hey mister, where have you been? Take us home with you!”

Perhaps that’s the BEST part about toys is that they have the uncanny ability to “transform” us and take us to other places. When I raced my cars, I became Dan Gurney or A.J. Foyt. When girls played with dolls, they were instant “caretakers” or “mothers,” or they adopted a new “sister.” Western toy pistols and holsters made you a gunslinger, a cowboy, or a rancher.

The game of Monopoly might have turned you into a Donald Trump. Maybe not if you didn’t buy all the casinos! Dollhouses? You were not only the “interior decorator”, but also ran the household as you pleased. A toy gas station entitled you to be a pump jockey, mechanic, and shop owner/operator.
Train sets hold particular importance in this area, as we grew up with rail yards around us, listening to the whistle of trains and trolleys. It’s no wonder the Taber Museum features a vast train display and why so many adults have a layout in their basement.

I played for hours on end with Tonka and Buddy L bulldozers, dump trucks, fire snorkels, and military jeeps. Coordinating “parades,” doing construction work, bumping into the pet cat, were all part of this kid’s daily routine.

All the while — get this — using your imagination! This went a long, long, way into not only making your day but also taking up the day! Back then, we made ourselves smile with the help of these toys. These days, it seems kids need a screen to make them happy and content. Don’t get me started.

I’ve let a few choice toys get away. A green and yellow peddle farm tractor with tow hitch and rear wagon, which had a seat and rear dump assembly. A 1966 red Ford Mustang peddle car given to me by my father. Later given to a cousin as a “trade-in.”

But these things turn up at toy shows, and that’s why I go. Sure, I graduated from the minors to the big league with the acquisition of the large, real-life automobiles, but I still have a soft spot for the little ones you can hold in your pocket — Matchboxes, Corgis, Dinkys. Not only are they easy to store and display, but they also use less fuel. Getting on your hands and knees and pushing them is therapeutic for me. Pushing the big ones around? Heart attack waiting to happen.

The small ones were made with the intent of using carrying cases. This meant taking them to a neighbor’s home or the grandparent’s place. New tracks, new excitement!

Going to a swap meet and finding toys still new in the box holds special appeal for me. Unopened and unused, they provide instant gratification. Spared from the ravages of falling down steps, mud or sand, (we took some of ours to the beach) and fire or theft, these are time capsules.

Speaking of time, maybe it’s that aspect which took you away from toys and playing with them. But I insist you can’t take the toy(s) away from the inner child in us. With that in mind, go feed that doll baby and start work on that Estes rocket!

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