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A Tom Sawyer Childhood
THE COSTA MESA, CALIFORNIA YEARS
274 E. 19th St., Costa Mesa, CA
   
   
 

A story about a sort of childhood long lost to the '40's and '50's. Days filled with fresh air, sunshine, rolling hills to run and rivers to swim, trees to climb. Indoors was for meals and the dreaded nap and bedtime.


 

What We Did for Fun Indoors


TOYS

Kids in the 1950's didn't have electronic games or DVD players or much TV programming, what we did have was some of the finest toys ever made.

Tin lithograph toys were huge: tops, crank organs, jumping animals, banks, and dollhouses. Santa and his elves had a lot of "Tab A into Slot A" assembly work at Christmas time! Silly Putty, PlayDoh, Tinker Toys, Slinky, Lincoln Logs, Erector sets, Cootie and Candy Land. Many of these toys and games are still popular today.

We had the perfect setup for Slinky fun: our Nanan's stairs. There must have been a dozen steps!

We also had pogo sticks but I personally never got very good at it and interest was short-lived.

Tin lithograph organ and top
~ 1950's ~

Patty and I loved our dolls and stuffed animals. Just as they dressed us in matching outfits, like twins, our parents (and most everyone else, following Mother and Dad's lead) bought all toys in two's.

To most grownups, the pairs of dolls and teddy bears probably looked identical. Not to us, though. Upon receiving a new set of matched gifts Patty I and promptly discovered profound  differences between the two.

For some reason I was extremely nit-picky about the faces on both dolls and stuffed animals. When Patty was very small I would sometimes swap mine for hers if I liked the looks of hers better, and she was none the wiser. But at some point she caught on and would immediately memorize her toy or doll's features. If I tried to pull a swap, she would firmly take her doll back, handing me mine and saying "This one isn't mine. Her face is all wrong." Mother never had to write our names on these toys. We knew whose was whose.

One of the two Character Novelty Co. bears given to Patty and I in the early 50's.

This one is Patty's.

How can I tell?

Hers had a slightly twisted snout that makes his mouth and nose look crooked.

Which brings up the Raggedy Ann and Andy story

Recently we had been given a set of Raggedy Ann and Andy books, and we loved them dearly. That Christmas, we were delighted to find that Santa had brought us Raggedy and Andy dolls. What a wonderful surprise! Now we could sit with our Raggedy dolls on our laps while listening to Nanan read the Raggedy stories.

These were no department store Raggedy dolls, they were handmade!  And this was a rare occasion when our dolls weren't identical. This time, Patty got Raggedy Ann, and I got Raggedy Andy. Now, both of us definitely favored Raggedy Ann. Therefore, I was devastated. I felt cheated.  As the firstborn of the two of us, I felt that I should have been given the Raggedy Ann. I was consumed with jealousy and resentment, and a vague fear of future, similar outcomes. Patty was growing up and I was losing the prestige and privileges of rank that comes with being the oldest.

After a few days, my jealousy or my curiosity got the best of me, and a very bad thing happened. For years I remembered what I did as curiosity-driven. Patty remembers it as jealousy-driven.

At any rate, I decided we absolutely needed to know if Raggedy dolls really did have a candy heart inside that says "I love you".  So, I talked Patty into cutting hers open to see. There was no candy heart. Patty started crying her eyes out.

Of course we both got scolded for cutting into Raggedy Ann, and then Nanan stitched her back up, put her dress back on, and she was good as new, but it put a black spot on my heart forever.

How Raggedy Ann got her Candy Heart

An excerpt from "The Raggedy Ann Stories"
by Johnny Gruelle

"When the dear lady put the new white cotton in my body," said Raggedy Ann "she went to the cupboard and came back with a paper bag. And she took from the bag ten or fifteen little candy hearts with mottos on them and she hunted through the candy hearts until she found a beautiful red one which she sewed up in me with the cotton! So that is the secret, and that is why I am so happy! Feel here," said Raggedy Ann. All the dolls could feel Raggedy Ann's beautiful new candy heart and they were very happy for her.

After all had hugged each other good night and had cuddled up for the night, the tin soldier asked, "Did you have a chance to see what the motto on your new candy heart was, Raggedy Ann?"

"Oh yes," replied Raggedy Ann, "I was so happy I forgot to tell you. It had printed upon it in nice blue letters,  '
I LOVE YOU.'"

Judy's Old Raggedy Andy has a Story to Tell!


Some comments from Dixie
(as told to Patty)

Mom kept you girls' old potty chair for a long time. You and Judy spent hours on it in the kitchen next to the fridge. And I remember the blue and white striped denim overalls Mom always dressed you in to play. I also remember Judy shredding your Raggedy Ann to find the candy heart. Hers, of course remained intact.

I remember how we staged great acts in the Den with those heavy velvet drapes as a frame for our stage. Lildra and I would play "air" saxophones to a 45 record I had. You and Judy would stomp around in time to the record and became part of our act. We had a good time.


RECORDS AND BOOKS

We had dozens and dozens of kid’s records, mostly 45 rpm. At a very early age we were given a small Decca record player in a suitcase style two-tone box that had a manual speed adjust lever and a chubby adapter to put on the spindle for 45’s. It played one record at a time. We played our records over and over and no one seemed to mind. I remember especially the songs "The Little White Cloud That Cried", by Johnny Ray, and "How Much is that Doggie in the Window", by Patti Page. There was also the Flying Magic Song (Inka Binka Bong) and Wee Willie the Whale and Zelda the Zebra. I'll always remember the Zelda verse "Yipes, yipes, I've lost my pretty stripes".

Some truly fantastic children’s books came out in the 50’s and it seemed that Mother bought every one. Popup 3-dimensional books, 33 rpm record sets that came with book pages to read along with the record: “Now turn the page” Bugs Bunny would say. I loved those most of all! And we had stacks of gorgeously illustrated nursery rhyme and fairy tale books.

One of my favorite nursery rhymes was  "Goops and How to Be Them". It was a book about manners. Mother would quote the first verse quite often.  Here's that first verse:

The Goops they lick their fingers,
The Goops they lick their knives
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
And lead disgusting lives!

Someone was always reading to us from these books. I think the grownups enjoyed the stories and pictures as much as we did. Patty and I started reading along between the ages of 3 or 4, and by the time we started kindergarten we were reading on a 4th grade level. (Now if only I had had that same head start in math!)

And of course, there were the comic books. Having an older brother and sister meant an endless supply of them. Dixie was into Archie and Katy Keene, and Leonard had every superhero comic ever to hit the market. I think they were a dime an issue. The best part of the Katy Keene comic was the paper doll that came in every issue.

Mad Magazine became everyone's favorite, but that was farther down the road in time.

Archie Comic Katy Keene comic
paper doll page

ART
(ok, more like scribbling)

Another favorite pastime at our house was drawing and coloring. Dixie was a budding artist and she loved to draw. She would sit with us for hours, sharing techniques and praising our work. Although I never became a great artist, I carried a love of drawing with me the rest of my life, and I do have a few noteworthy sketches to my name.


I love this photo of Patty and Judy coloring together!

The downside of my enthusiasm for drawing was that I felt compelled to draw on anything, anywhere. I went through a stage of drawing stick-people with extravagant hats: on the wallpaper just above the wainscot, in books, and finally, carved into the top of my Mother’s beloved Duncan Phyfe table. She told me years later that although she cried when she saw what I had done to her table, she could never bring herself to have it sanded out, so that carving remained until the day the table left the house.


Stick lady with fancy hat
From a Mother's Day card I made


Some of Judy's baby toys



Soft doll with plastic face. I think it was made in Japan.


First stuffed animal,
He may have
been Dixie's first


Plastic lamb,
stuffed, used to
have a bell
 
     
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