We’ve arrived here at the Hubner home at the annual “get rid of some s**t in the basement” extravaganza. This is the time of the year where I become extremely anal retentive and see a growing, massive mess in the laundry/toy room downstairs and feel the need to “do something about it”. It’s been, well, about a year since we last attempted this futile attempt at cleaning that which cannot be cleaned. This time is gonna be different. This time I’ve got folks on board. Folks that matter. It’s not just me freaking out and yelling things like “Hey! When was the last time you played with this crap?!?!”, and “C’mon! You haven’t had this playset in two years! Why do you still have the game pieces?!?!”, and my favorite “Who plays with headless Barbies?!?!” No, this year everyone in the house is ready to get things organized. We’re tired of stepping over piles of unloved and forgotten dolls, action figures, playing cards, game pieces, and just about anything you can think of.
Part of this “toy cleansing” was finding all my old toys the kids have gotten out and played with over the years but never put back. I want to put them back with the rest of my childhood in the dark corner of the basement where no one dares enter…except for me. Hey, was that a smirk dear reader? Are you judging me because I’ve saved my toys from when I was a wee lad having X-Wing and Tie Fighter battles in my front yard? How dare you! Just because I was a bit of a late bloomer, playing with my Star Wars, Transformers, and GI Joe toys till I was 12 and in the 6th grade doesn’t make me a freak or something.
Okay, we got off on the wrong foot. Let me explain the situation. Ever since my 7th birhday when I received my very first Star Wars action figure(it was Luke Skywalker in Bespin Fatigues) I was hooked. I collected the toys like other kids collected comics, or Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. Every birthday and Christmas up to the fourth grade it was Star Wars. I kept meticulous care of these toys, too. They remained in their original boxes in my closet. Every time I played with them they were put away when I was done saving Leia from Imperial forces. I had a spot for the action figures’ weapons, so they were never lost. Then when I was 10 I really got into GI Joe and Transformers. The Star Wars films were over, and with them new Kenner schwag, so it was time to move onto to something new to collect. So of course it was state-of-the-art military weaponry and ultra patriotism. Hell, just listen to the lyrics of the GI Joe theme song that played at the beginning of the cartoon “He’ll fight for freedom, wherever there’s trouble, GI Joe is there, GI Joe!!!” Go, Joe! Oops, sorry. Anyways, just because Star Wars was so 1983, it didn’t mean I was going to discard the toys like yesterday’s news. No, they stayed in my closet safe and sound, and there for me to get out and reminisce with whenever I felt the need. Once I got into GI Joe I was also getting into metal music. I was ten years old and staging epic battles on my bunk bed between GI Joe forces and Cobra forces while using WASP, Twisted Sister, Ratt, and Van Halen as a soundtrack. It just felt right. “Flint! Look out for Destro!”, I would say as WASP’s “I Wanna Be Somebody” or Ratt’s “Wanted Man” blared from my GE boom box(the weirdness I exuded isn’t lost on me, dear reader.) Well, by the time 6th grade was ending, so were my days as a toy lover. It’s not that I really wanted to quit playing with my toys, but I felt like it was time. So one afternoon I put away my GI Joe Check Point and never looked back. Within two months my mom and dad bought me an acoustic guitar and I started taking lessons. My new obsession began.
Over the years the toys remained in the top of my closet. I would occasionally pull out a box, eye it, get a little melancholy thinking about how simple life was before middle school, puberty, girls, and cliques. Then I’d pick up my guitar and read the guitar tabs for Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and I’d suddenly arrive back to being an awkward teen. As I got older friends would come over and we’d occasionally get the boxes down and laugh and guffaw at these toys. Like it was a novelty. But I knew deep down they envied my toys. They secretly wanted to play with the Scout Walker, Y-Wing Fighter, and the GI Joe Hovercraft. Even after I’d graduated high school and started working full-time the thought never crossed my mind to get rid of these nuggets of an 80s childhood.
Well, when my wife and I finally built our own home I’d decided to bring the old toys to my new home. They’d been moved to a storage room in my parent’s basement, safely stored for that one day when I’d want to do something with them, or when I would get drunk and want to play with them. I remember the moment I got some of my Star Wars toys out for one of my kids to see for the first time. My oldest daughter was only 18 months old and she was sick with a high fever. I ran downstairs and brought up the C-3PO action figure carrying case and her and I played with the Lando, Han, Leia, and Darth Vader. It was fun, and it made her feel better. As more kids arrived, more toys would make their way out. But they’d never find their way back into their safe homes in old boxes and weathered cardboard. So this year’s cleaning I was going to find all the random toys and save them from their descent into obscurity and put them back where they rightly belong.
Currently I have a music studio filled with vintage 80s Kenner and Hasbro toys. Some are in great shape, some not so much. The more I think about why I kept these toys, the more I understand. It’s the emotional investment just as much as my parent’s monetary investment. It’s all the memories I created. The battles in the front yard, or the hair metal soundtracked battles in my bedroom. It was the imagination I honed and sharpened like some sort of weapon. I wasn’t thinking as a 16 year old “Hey, these will be worth some money someday.” It was more like throwing those toys out would be like throwing out family photos of loved ones that are long gone. Those toys took me back to being a kid and loving life(I love life now, too. Just needed to clarify.) Playing with my grandpa on the living room floor. My dad and I spending a Christmas morning putting decals on an F-15 jet. Or my brother actually taking some time out of his busy schedule of being an awkward teenager and playing with his little bro.
Now, I think those memories and imaginative spirit have been embedded into these toys as my son and a couple of his friends are playing with them as I type. They don’t know the stories of these toys, but that’s okay. They’re making new stories for them.
It’s sad, but nowadays a 12 year old kid playing with toys is probably seen as pretty uncool, bordering on mildly autistic. I think it’s ridiculous, personally. Kids grow up way too fast as it is. Let your kids be kids for as long as they can. Let them soundtrack some battles to some hair metal. Or Lady Gaga. Whatever works for them. And when your son or daughter says they want to hold onto to their toys, let ’em. Take that as a compliment. You helped them make some damn great memories.
Memories with some really cool decals.