The word "toy" comes from the Old English word for "tool." When I was an educator in my other life, I often reminded teachers and parents that toys were the tools of childhood and that playing with them was the business of childhood. Those toys of that day required a good dose of imaginative play and their developing minds learned much from time spent with their toys. I once attended an all-day lecture at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, learning all the brain-strengths children gained from playing with blocks. And remember, sometimes it is more fun, and more educational, to play with the box that the toy came in than with the toy itself.
You might consider those toys of yesteryear somewhat works of art. They were well-designed and well-made, not always store-bought, but homemade in the household. The big World War II bomber that I got for Christmas in 1943 was from Sears-Roebuck and was carved from a chunk of wood with pressed-board wings -- simple but good enough for hours of play. I loved it and still have a photograph of it.
In my antique toy collection, I have several works of the past that are not only museum pieces, but were first-class toys in their day. The little wagon in the collection, gray with age, is still in perfect condition with its little wooden wheels and pulling handle made of wood. Interestingly, the bed of the wagon can be rotated on each side to create a flatbed wagon or a traditional tub shaped wagon. The name, still visible in black letters on each side of the two-foot wagon, was "Junior Roadster."
Bobsleds were in widespread use back in our day and I have a small version of a regular bobsled complete with the moveable runners. Every time I look at it I remember the fun days of riding on the village bobsled down Water Street in Northville with a big load of kids. My little 15-inch bobsled is also gray with age but still well-built and in perfect condition. Toys were made to last.
My great-grandfather Adam Bellinger was a dairyman in Dolgeville and peddled milk with his horse and delivery wagon, door to door. The four-wheeled vehicle was drawn by two horses and his name was printed across the top of each side. It delighted me when I found one of those cast-iron toys in an antique shop that depicted the farmer delivering his milk with a horse and buggy. Again, built solid, it will last forever.
My toy chest holds many of those built-to-last, useful, toys of days gone by. The trapeze artists between two sticks come in various versions included those you crank to make them swing and those you squeeze the sticks together. The dancing man who can jig to music on a bouncing board has never stopped dancing. Catch the ball on the string and make the button buzz on a string requires time and talent. Jump-roping and rolling a hoop can still be enjoyed today when the opportunity arises.
Maybe, just maybe, in this new year, we can bring back some of those toys once enjoyed in yesterday's Adirondack homes.
DON WILLIAMS was born and raised
in the Adirondacks. He is a retired Gloversville school principal and magazine author. He lives in Gloversville.