Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas 1945
by Kenneth Neal

It was Christmas 1945 and I had come through World War II unscathed.
That wasn’t hard for a boy of 10.
Yeah, I bought stamps for war bonds, saved scrap iron and aluminum foil and shared the lack of gasoline, tires, shoes, meat, sugar and all those things that were rationed. In that war, citizens were expected to sacrifice, as were the young men who fought it.
My most enduring memory of the war is not the lack of toys during the war, but the Christmas when the toy floodgate opened and real toys were available.
I shudder to think what my dad paid for my two most memorable Christmas toys that year.
Then I remember, that for all his own contributions to the war effort, he was barely 30 years old and a child of the Great Depression. He wanted a toy or two himself.
So he splurged.
The Caterpillar purchased by Fred Neal - Christmas 1945
I got a wind-up metal toy caterpillar, complete with rubber treads. I got a working model of a steam engine. I have played with them since and plan to unwrap them and play with them this Christmas.
Dad bought a giant-sized Tinkertoy construction set (for you young whippersnappers, Tinker toys were stone-age Erector sets). We built windmills and wheels, all powered by the steam engine. When full of water brought to a boil by an electric heating element, the miniature engine generated a tenth of a horsepower. At least that’s what the literature said.
We had spools and windmills connected with string running all over the front room. What a great thing my mother must have thought that was!
As the years went by, I quit playing with the Caterpillar and the steam engine. But dad kept them. And true to his skill as a mechanic, he kept them in working order. Several times through the years he disassembled the “Cat” to oil the wind-up mechanism. He polished the brass and chrome of the steam engine and preserved it with oil.
He kept them wrapped and boxed for more than 30 years and on more than one Christmas we hauled them out to play with them. We must have been a sight; grown men playing with toys and memories.
I will not have Dad this Christmas. But I still have the toys, oil and shined and read to go. And the memories of Christmases past.