I can’t remember the month, date or day of the week, but I know it was the fall/winter of 1988 and I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade. I also remember the feeling that came over me , a feeling it seems I will never forget. I was a late bloomer in the stop playing with toys department. By the 8th grade it seemed all the boys in my class had stopped playing with toys and had moved on to other things like sports while I was still playing with my G.I. Joe Conquest X-30 and Cobra Rattler.
One school night I had just finished an epic battle with my G.I. Joe toys. The Joes had just defeated Cobra in a daring mission and I was packing up my toys and putting them away in an old army foot locker I kept them in. The next day seemed like any other. I woke up, went to school, came home, had a snack, did my homework, played some Nintendo, had dinner, took a shower, and then went to my room to play with my toys. As I began taking out my G.I. Joes I suddenly felt a weird feeling, the feeling like I was doing something embarrassing and immature all at once, like I shouldn’t be playing with toys anymore. I stopped and sat there, then began to pack the toys away. It was that moment that the toys had died for me.
But long before the toys had died, the collecting bug had attacked in the summer of 1983 when the movie Return of the Jedi had come out. I was 8 years old and spending a week at my aunt’s house in Long Island. If we didn’t go away during the summer for vacation I’d usually go there for a week. Sometimes my mother, brother and sister would come, sometimes just me and my sister, this time, it was just me. My aunt and uncle were very good to us, they’d take us to the beach, mini-golfing, we’d swim in their pool or play with the neighborhood kids. Depending on the time we went we’d even go to hockey games. We even saw the movie Gremlins there one time in the theatre.
That summer day I was outside playing with the neighbor’s kids when the ice cream truck came along. I walked up along side it to see what he was selling when I saw a box of Return of the Jedi cards. Back then card packs went for a quarter and you’d get 10 cards, a sticker and a piece of bubble gum. Quickly my mind began racing doing math. I looked in my Snoopy wallet (a brown pleather wallet with Snoopy sitting around a campfire with Woodstock and his friends) and saw I had 4 dollars left. I could get 16 packs of cards for that amount. I asked for the cards, fearing my aunt wouldn’t let me buy them because she knew my mother wouldn’t want me wasting my money on such things, gave the man my money, got my cards, and ran into the house and sat on the steps where I began going through my cards. Series one had 132 cards and 34 stickers. While my brother, sister and I never came even close to getting a full set, it was still neat to try.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my very first collecting purchase. The very first time I was on my own buying something for the purpose of collecting. While toys were given to us for birthdays, Christmas and Easter, this was the first time I actually spent my own money on something that I had wanted. It began in me the collector I would one day become.
Fast forward to the Spring of 1989. I’m almost 14 now and graduating from the 8th grade and going to high-school. My grammar school is having a flea market, and my friend Rich and I are walking the aisles of the gym looking for something to buy. One table has a zip lock bag of vintage Star Wars toys for sale for twelve dollars that comes with a hardcover Star Wars story book. Rich and I pool our money together down the middle, buy the toys, then go back to my house and split the figures evenly. I forget who got the book. (Rich and I would once more pool our cash together to buy a Darth Vader helmet at a convention for forty dollars, each shelling out twenty.)
As time went on I started high-school and Rich and I started attending science fiction conventions, horror movie conventions, or plane movie conventions. Here my collecting habits became a frenzy. With a part time job I could somewhat afford the items that were now taking up space in my room. When we got older and our driver’s licenses in the 90’s, we would then drive to every Toys R Us and Kay B Toy Store (now long gone) looking for the latest Star Wars toys. Sometimes it would be me and Rich, sometimes me and other friends, sometimes just myself. But the collector in me was sparked and I was loving it.
As I got older I met Mrs. Nostalgia who was a collector herself, mostly of Disney items, which was great since I too loved Disney. We would take vacations to Disney World and buy collectibles or pins which now decorate our house. But as we got closer to marriage I slowed down my collecting to only certain things.
As I look back on my days of playing with toys, I consider myself very lucky for lasting so long as I did. Today it seems kids grow up way too fast and spend less time playing with toys and more time on their tablets, I pod touch, laptops or parent’s I phones playing games, which is a real shame. For a child, playing with toys helped stretch the boundaries of ones imagination. It was a way to escape from the pressures of school, whether it be from homework, bullies, or even trouble at home.
When I played with my toys, they weren’t just little pieces of plastic, to me, they were real, live living breathing things. I spoke to them and them to me, almost as if they were telling me how the battle against Cobra was to be played out. They were a child’s boyhood best friend when his boyhood best friend wasn’t around.
I wouldn’t have it any other way having played with toys so long. I have many fond memories of playing. Children spend so much time wishing their childhood away, waiting to be older to drive, to do what they want, to be independent, that they miss all of their childhood. When they become adults, they try to buy it back through nostalgia by collecting the toys they played with as kids. I’m lucky in that, while I don’t buy back my old toys, I have the memories of playing with them. I never had the Y-Wing Fighter, my favorite Star Wars ship next to the Falcon, but Rich did, and I loved playing with it. I can look back on that memory and all it costs is my minds eye.
I think we all experience the Day the Toys Die. For some they move onto other things and never look back. For others, like myself, it brings us to the next phase in our toy living lives, that of collecting. It’s something we all have to go through whether we want to or not. It’s what happens next that matters. For me, I’m glad to be a collector. I couldn’t imagine life any other way. And I never want to.