Jeff Jardine

Hey, you millennials: Our toys were better than your toys!


I don’t recall ever making a Christmas wish list, but I probably did at some point.

(Of course, I don’t remember regaining consciousness in my apartment complex parking lot after over-celebrating my 21st birthday over 37 years ago, either, but I am told that might have happened, too.)

Anyway, folks of my generation and just about every other generation other than the ones we’ve generated want to believe ’twas better to be a kid at Christmastime when we were kids than it is today, if only because the stuff we got back then rarely beat the box it came in to the dump.

We concede that today’s toys and electronic gaming gadgetry are technologically superior to the Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Tonka truck, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch and for girls, the Easy-Bake Oven or a Barbie doll. At least we didn’t have hoverboards capable of burning down the neighborhood.

Indeed, when the Sears, Spiegel and Montgomery Ward catalogs arrived in the mail, we combed through the toys sections and picked our favorites, never really expecting to ever actually get them. Too expensive. Or our parents already had picked out clothes and stuff we actually needed, because an 8-year-old could never have enough cardigan sweaters in the 1960s. But when we did get a toy of choice, tearing open the package became a magical moment.

One year, my parents bought me an electric football game. We’d line the players up on opposing sides, tuck a felt football in the running back’s arm and then turn on the switch. The field would begin vibrating, sending the players in any which direction except toward the goal line.

Another year, we got the Operation game – the one where you plucked body parts with a pair of tweezers. If you touched the metal along the side, the patient would make a buzzing sound. His nose would light up. Fortunately, the game didn’t include malpractice lawsuits.

Never one to hog all the fun, I asked Facebook friends to chime in, which accounts for the name dropping.

“I still have my Barbie doll, Ken, Midge, and Allan,” wrote Charlene Fuhlendorf. “(I) also have more, because I’ve continued to collect them.”

“My favorite gift was a three-books-in-one Nancy Drew Mysteries collection,” wrote Belinda Rolicheck. “My mom got a little annoyed when she found out I read all three books by the end of Christmas Day.”

Bill Moore cherished his erector set. Sheree Cox loved her bicycle, which “I finally got rid of last year,” she wrote. Likewise, Kim Ogden loved the secondhand bike her mom repainted purple, while friends Linda Oneth and retired Bee editor Sanders Lamont got two-wheelers, as well.

“Memory fails but I think it was Roy Rogers model,” Lamont wrote. “He was my hero. Even so, I stripped off all the extra stuff because that’s what we did.”

Longtime friend and retired Bay Area sports writer Bill Soliday kept the accessories on his Schwinn Phantom.

“... red with chrome fenders and a transistor radio and an actual horn,” he noted before carbon-dating himself. “Being over the top was cool in 1953.”

Maggie Costa received a porcelain doll one Christmas and kept it for the next 64 years.

From shirttail kin Sue Ulrich: “Sometimes, it is the gift that you didn’t get that is the most memorable,” wrote. “When I was 12, all I asked for was a BB gun. Didn’t get it. When I was 35 I bought my own … and one for each of my boys.”

(So far, she’s managed to avoid the no-fly list.)

Mike Klocke, my former sports editor at the Stockton Record, also got the electronic football game and claims forward pass supremacy.

Friends Mike Dwyer (Lincoln Logs), Brian Justin Marks (Raiders jacket), Bambi Porter (white patent leather boots), Amy Maris (a Mary Poppins doll) and Michelle Goodreau (a plug-in Easy Bake Oven) had their favorites.

From Bee copy editor Janice Nienhuis: “Sometimes the simple ones are the best,” she wrote. “ My favorite as a kid was a copy of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and a rather large, pink, stuffed pig. I still have both. I’d take that over any of today’s obsolete-tomorrow technogadgets.”

Laura Birdwell remembers being thankful to get an orange, apple, and three pieces of hard candy from the church, and for the time her younger sister got a used doll for which her mom made dresses.

Karen O’Bannon threw one at me I hadn’t thought of in decades.

“We got a ‘Vac-U-Form,’ ” she wrote. “This little contraption heated up, (we’d) put a flat piece of colored plastic over a mold, push the ‘steam bar’ a few times (and) BAM! A mold of a car, size of Hot Wheels.”

We had one of those, as well. She forgot to mention how the smell of the burning plastic wafted through the house and lasted for a week.

There were too many others to cram into this missive, but I think we all eventually reached the same conclusion that giving, not receiving, is what tops the list.

Oh, who am kidding? I want a Jeep, but I’ll settle for socks.

Looking for the perfect Valley-centric Christmas gift? “Modesto Memories: The Early Years” coffee table book, with the foreward and chapter introductions written by Bee Columnist Jeff Jardine, is available for $44.95 plus tax at The Modesto Bee offices, 1325 H Street in dowtown Modesto.