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Clyde, Time Was: Less is best when you choose gifts & deck the halls

Time was, we got just one toy for Christmas. Then the list got longer — ours, not Santa’s. Who said you get everything you want ,and do we really need all that stuff to be happy for the holidays?

Were we just poor or simple-minded, or do we now have way too much to choose from? Rumor was, you could go to school if you could ride a bike and tie your shoe.

Today you must qualify for preschool with SAT scores, I.T. savvy skills, American Idol talent or Ninja Warrior prowess. Whatever happened to Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Chinese checkers and Cooties? We played with our toys on the floor or just outside in the backyard with a rock, a stick or a pile of dirt. Sand piles with side boards were for rich kids and cats. Simple toys were best, with no moving parts to lose, replace or buy batteries for. Legos were found in the Electrolux vacuum cleaner bag. The toy box under the bed held our most precious worldly possessions. Games evolve and they could influence your whole life. Paul Bernhardt was given a real cash register as a child.

Some kids had to have a motor in their toys. They grew up to be famous race car drivers or lawn mowers. Pets are not toys, so don’t try to take them apart or twist them like Gumby. They require maintenance.

Would we be happy with one simple toy?

At what age do you get clothes instead of play toys or do we get “overhalls” with holes cut in the pockets?

Buddy L trucks were steel; we didn’t worry about them breaking. Some antique toys are NIB (New in Box) and more valuable only because somebody didn’t let their kids play with them, ever. You could fix broken wooden toys, but MIC (Made in China) plastic toys ended up in the gully on the first day.

Mountain toys were the simplest: whirligigs, windmills and whittling. Gee Haw whimmy diddles and dancing lumber jacks, dulcimers and mumble peg kept you busy, but nothing could top a button on a string. Foxfire lists over 100 toys you can make from nothing. Washington Irving’s Sketch Book of 1906 offered these pastimes: hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, Bob apple and snap dragon. How many computer games start out with the words, “Now, everybody join hands and make a big circle.” We don’t dare touch anybody or get touched to play games. We made up games: hide and seek; Mother, May I?; Rock, Paper, Scissor; Red Light; Drop the Handkerchief (nobody has one); skip rope; sack races or hopscotch. They were all free and good exercise.

Simple gifts can be the most rewarding. Handpicked flowers with a simple handwritten poem or a handmade card. It’s simple thoughts, words,and deeds that make for memories. The Christmas poke at church was a lesson in humility. Each member, rich or poor, got the same paper bag twisted at the top, which held a few nuts, one each apple and an orange with a wax paper wrapped peppermint stick in it. Maybe a pencil, that’s it, and we were never so happy as that night.

Simple decorations are the hardest to find or make, but you can try. A sprig of holly behind every picture is a must. Bows have tails — it’s the tie that binds — and are not just stuck on the window. They hold the greenery together. More loops do not connote wealth, unless you are the retailer. A single candle in the window can be just as meaningful as all the LEDs in the world blinking on the bushes or projected into the moonlit night sky. God doesn’t judge for the best decorations. Too much glitter can be “kebakebashi” in Japanese. We say just plain tacky.

So, start a tradition of a handmade ornament for each year. Keepsakes. Hold tight to your “blankie” and your “binkie” and buy toys to keep. ’Cause you know, the one who dies with the most toys wins. You can give a few away and still have plenty. Try sharing; you might like it for a change, Scrooge. Now, tell Santa what you want, but be careful what you wish for.

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.

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