The Simple Things
Toys and games of the 1940s
by: Russ Lancaster
with an ending comment by Doug Gray
As I grew up in the 1940's I had no idea what poverty or riches were. I only knew that my family seemed to be as normal as the next. Looking back, I guess we were doing all right. I don't ever remember lacking for material things such as food or clothing though I suspect my mom and dad sometimes gave up some things to keep us kids happy.
I remember that toys were treasured and were hard to come by. Sure, we would usually get a toy for our birthdays but that was mostly it for the year until Christmas came around. It seems like anything was possible at Christmas if we just asked hard enough. We Lancaster kids probably lost interest in those toys long before they were ultimately paid off.
For the most part, the toys and games that interested us the most were simple and some of the very best were even home made or thought up by our parents.
Toy cars and trucks were favorites. Making a road for them to drive on was easy. One could always find a brick lying around somewhere and pushing it through the gray sand would make an adequate road.
My sister liked dolls. She would usually get one a year, that's about how long one would last. It would soon lose most of it's hair and it's roll back eyes would break or an arm or leg would somehow become lost. This was no big deal to her because paper dolls were popular back then.
One could walk down to Rose's Five and Dime and buy a book of cut out paper dolls complete with clothes for a week's allowance. Those paper dolls were flat and their clothes were cut out with scissors and fastened to them with tiny square paper tabs. She played with them a lot.
We boys made pea shooters and slingshots from the trees in the neighborhood. We played marbles, skated and rode our bikes.
Boys and girls alike participated in some games like "Mother, May I", "Red Light" and we played several ball games with both baseballs and softballs. Jacks was a popular game though most boys didn't want to get caught playing that or be seen jumping rope or playing hop scotch. Boys and girls enjoyed roller skating together on the sidewalks around town.
My parents were great at making up games to keep us occupied. We made bean bags out of dried beans and old socks and tossed them around the house to one another until the beans became frayed enough to begin sifting through the threads of the old socks.
My dad made a game out of an old wooden Coca Cola crate and a ping pong ball. It was a new way to play baseball. Each of the 24 slots was designated as a strike, ball, out, single, double, triple or home run. We stood behind a line and bounced the ping pong ball one time into the slots to determine the outcome of our turn at bat.
We made bracelets and necklaces by drawing a needle and thread through acorns and tying it off. We tried to get the newly fallen green acorns because they looked nicer than those brown ones that had been lying in the yard too long.
We boys had cap guns and played Cowboys and Indians over and over. We also played War. The latest Saturday matinee at the Hamlet Theater usually determined which we would play. Cops and Robbers was another of our favorites. Imaginations ran wild in those made up games that took all day to play.
We sometimes found tin cans and stomped on them to wedge them between the heels and toes of our shoes and clanked along the sidewalks and streets of Hamlet pretending we were riding horses. We folded up baseball cards and pinned them to the frames of our bikes where the spokes of our wheels would make them sound like motorcycles to us.
We made tents in our back yards from old sheets and sometimes spent the night outside in the summer. We told ghost stories out there while drinking our Kool Aid and eating our Ritz crackers. We would scare each other silly and, when the flashlight batteries would grow dim, the most timid would sneak off back into the house hoping we wouldn't miss them though we always did.
We caught fire flies in jars. Lightning Bugs is what we really called them back then. We caught big green "June Bugs" and tied a thread to one of their legs. We shooed them off our hands and held onto the thread as they circled round and round our heads making a great buzzing noise.
We pulled each other around in our Radio Flyer wagons. We took waxed paper to the sliding boards and scooted down with it under our behinds making us go faster than normal. Rolling an abandoned tire down a hill was a fun thing to do.
We were rich with these games and toys we had and never knew it. The memories of those days remind us of that richness and we wonder where those days have gone.
When is the last time you saw a kid with a June Bug tied to a thread as it circled round and round his head? Can you remember the last time you saw a boy or girl with a bright green acorn bracelet? I can, but it was many years ago in the tiny town of Hamlet.
I remember these things from time to time and write them down for my children and grandchildren so that all is not forgotten. They too will eventually have memories that may be better than mine.
But, in the meantime, as I grow older and older and they are busy about doing things their way.... I can still say I remember those things and most of all..... I remember Hamlet
**The following comments came from Doug Gray a day after I wrote this story.... His addition adds even more to this fun memory.....
We would tie one end of the June Bug string to a buttonhole and they could fly at will. Did you ever play with rubber guns? We cut a piece of wood to resemble a "45", attached a wooden clothes pin at the back and stretched cut up inner tubes down the barrel to the clothes pin. You could release the rubber tubing by depressing the clothes pin. It was against all rules to shoot at the facial area. Also, we would take old car fenders up in the woods near the clay hole and ride them down the hill toward Wiregrass Road. The slick pine needles made for fast rides. I distinctly remember us having a fender from a Hupmobile and three to four of us could ride in it at a time. There was NO steering mechanism on any of these rides. We also took old skate wheels and used them to make scooters. This story really flushed out some fond memories.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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