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Carroll: Toy departments looked different back then
David Carroll
David Carroll is a news anchor for WRCB in Chattanooga, Tenn.

In my continuing quest to write about something that doesn't include the word “pandemic,” I'd like to explore how kids are spending their time during this...uh...event.

Their heads are buried in smart watches, virtual reality headsets, and game systems. They are tapping and texting on their iPhones, iPods, iPads and iDon't Know What Else.

It makes you wonder. What DID we play with before Apple, Amazon and V-Tech ruled the world? How did we manage with only Mattel, Milton Bradley, and Wham-O? You know, stuff we didn't need to plug in, and recharge.

Every little girl's dream was an Easy Bake Oven. As a former little boy, I must confess I was intrigued as well. After all, it made cookies. Many of today's expert bakers started out with an Easy Bake Oven. I can't imagine such a product passing modern-day safety tests, but somehow 8-year-olds of the 1960s fired that sucker up and lived to tell about it.

Boys like things that bounce. The higher the bounce, the better the chance of reaching the sky. In the 1960s, Wham-O introduced the Superball, which bounced really high, and proved very lucrative for the window replacement business.

The Sunday comics section, in color, has always been a kiddie favorite. When the makers of Silly Putty told us their magical flesh-colored goo could copy the color ink, we rushed to the stores. It seemed like magic to our little pre-internet brains.

Speaking of magic, what could be more magical than the Etch A Sketch? You use two knobs to create art, shake it up to erase, and then start all over. Or the Wooly Willy, which allowed us to use a magnetic wand to move "hair" on the face and head of clean-shaven Willy. While we're talking makeovers, we could grab a potato from the kitchen, creating all sorts of identities for Mr. Potato Head.

I wonder how many of today's beauticians and designers were influenced by Barbie, Ken, and Skipper? Some of my girl friends could not afford the fancy accessories, so they used their imaginations. The lid to a can of hairspray became an ottoman, a shoebox covered with a dishtowel transformed into a great bed, and the plastic cups left over from the Lord's Supper at church made a nice little flower vase.

On the subject of dolls, who could forget Chatty Cathy? Pull her string, and she would tell you her life story. There was no alcohol involved.

For those who preferred real-life lessons, there was Betsy Wetsy. Scientifically speaking, Betsy Wetsy simulated urination after a fluid was poured into her open mouth. It was a charming lesson of “whatever goes in, must come out.” I remember my first real-life diaper changing experience, after somehow avoiding the ordeal for my son's first six months of life. I had never trained on a doll, but if I had, it should have been “Explody Cody.”

I'm sure many medical professionals got their start by playing Operation. Certainly the Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Pick-Up Sticks, SpiroGraph and Leg-Os inspired countless engineers, builders, and architects.

I'll bet you anybody who does automotive work glued together model cars, or played with Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels.

Those of us who grew up with black and white TVs were fascinated by our View-Masters, with those round, rotating cards that showed us a world in color. I was already in love with Barbara Eden, but when I saw those blue eyes? Oh, Jeannie!

We were all envious of any classmate who owned Crayola's deluxe box of 64 crayons, including a sharpener. Most of us had a box of eight crayons, or maybe 16. But if you that Crayola 64-box, you were king of the neighborhood. Warning: If your parents bought you off-brand crayons, you might as well have cooties.

One of my earliest childhood memories is a trip to the Shop-Rite supermarket with my dad. I was about 4. I spotted a kiddy car on the top shelf, just big enough for me to sit behind the wheel. I wanted it right then. Not for my birthday, and not for Christmas. I went directly into tantrum mode. Somehow, I survived this episode. Even more incredibly, I was soon steering it through our living room. 

Thirty years later, I took my toddler to Toys 'R Us for the first time. Why is he screaming like that, I wondered. Whose side of the family could that be from? I never made that mistake again. I was too busy making new ones.

It is fun to recall the simple items that kept us busy, like yoyos, slingshots, and marbles. I could play for hours on a manual typewriter. Recently, a longtime teacher brought one to school. All the 7th graders looked it over. "How do you turn it on?" they asked.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga, Tenn., TV news anchor. He may be reached at