How retro can you go? Turns out I can go as retro as human possible. I can remember every significant toy I had as a baby.
The first of these was the Rock-A-Stack from Fisher Price. You might not be familiar with that name (I wasn’t; I had no clue that this is what the toy was called until I Googled it), but I guarantee you are familiar with the toy. The Rock-A-Stack was a yellow plastic pole which tapered as it went up stuck vertically out of a white square plastic base that was curved on the bottom. That curve allowed the toy to rock back and forth, hence the rock part of the Rock-A-Stack name. Along with this pole-and-base combination was a set of plastic rings in various primary colors and sizes. These rings could be stacked on the pole, hence the stack part of the Rock-A-Stack name. If stacked in the proper order, largest to smallest, all the rings would fit perfectly on the pole. If not stacked in the proper order, some rings would not fit. Simple for an adult, but quite the mindbender for an infant.
But the fun of the Rock-A-Stack didn’t stop with just getting the rings on the pole in the proper order. There were a couple of other things the intrepid infant could do with this simple toy. I always enjoyed stacking the rings in the improper order just to see how things would turn out. I knew I was putting them on wrong, but I wanted to see just how many wrong ways there were and what they looked like. I’m pretty sure I also enjoyed gnawing on the plastic rings. Hey, if you were teething and needed something to chew on, those rings could be a big help. It was pretty fun to unscrew the pole from the base. I’m not sure why I liked doing that, but I did it often. And if you grabbed the pole by the top and turned it upside down, the Rack-A-Stack made a pretty good club.
A somewhat similar toy was the hammer and peg toy. I don’t know the official name or maker of this toy, but I remember that it was a small plank with legs. Several round pegs with caps on both ends stuck out of the plank. These pegs could be driven through the plank with a little wooden hammer. Once they had been so driven through to the point that their caps hit the plank and they couldn’t go any further, the plank could be flipped over and the pegs could be driven back through. I never found as many different things to do with this toy as I did with the Rack-A-Stack, but I did find driving the pegs to be fairly satisfying.
The Chatter Telephone was a red, white, and blue toy rotary phone complete with smiling face on the front. There were wheels on the side and a string attached under the mouth, allowing the telephone to be pulled behind the teetering toddler. As far as I recall, that was all I ever did with the Chatter Telephone. I never actually played with it as a telephone, pretending to talk into the receiver and dial on the rotary. I just pulled it around. Pulled it around and slung it into stuff. Yes, I made my mother very proud.
The Corn Popper was a transparent half-sphere that sat on a pair of wheels and was connected to a long handle. Inside the transparent half-sphere was a number of different-colored and -sized balls. When the Corn Popper was pushed forward, these balls popped around the sphere in an explosion of sight and sound. And that sign and sound really was something. It was enough to keep the Corn Popper a popular toy even into the early grade school years. I distinctly remember kids pushing the Corn Popper around during the indoor recess periods of first grade. It was enough to earn the Corn Popper a place in my heart for life. Even today, I love that sound of the balls being through around the half-sphere, and whenever I see a Corn Popper lying around I have to push it forward just once.
The Music Box Record Player was basically a toddler-friendly turntable, that is, a turntable that a toddler couldn’t tear up. A red plastic square turntable with a platter and a huge yellow tone arm on top. A turntable that was powered by a wind-up spring. This turntable played not vinyl but plastic records. The records were kind of pastel-colored, were stored in a compartment in the side of the Record Player, contained old folk songs such as “This Old Man”, and could double as Frisbees. I spun quite a few records on the old Music Box back in the day, enough to indelibly burn the Record Player and its tunes into my mind. I still think of it today any time I hear “Camptown Races.”
And one last toy from this era was the Shape-O Toy Ball. The Shape-O Toy Ball was surprisingly not a Fisher Price toy but a Tupperware product (yet another fact I didn’t know until I Googled this toy). As the name suggests, it was a ball: a large plastic ball that was red on one half and blue on the other half. Both halves had several geometrically-shaped openings. There was a square, a circle, and oval, a plus sign, and several others. These openings corresponded to the yellow plastic shapes that came with the ball. The goal was to insert all these shapes into their respective openings. When this was done, the ball was pulled apart via the handles on both end and lots of muscle power, allowing the shapes to fall out and the fun to start all over again. I remember spending lots of time with the Shape-O Ball. I also remember having trouble with the circle and oval shapes. I guess they were too similar to each other. I always nailed the plus sign, though.
And there are several others that deserve honorable mention: the Fisher Price Music Box TV, a Jack-In-The-Box featuring a clownish Jack (and which I liked to hold shut and I turned the crank to prevent the Jack from popping out), an ABC Chime Ball (which mystified me beyond belief; I never could figure out what it was supposed to do), a spinning top with a long, twisted plunger that when pushed down created the spin.
These are the toys I had as a toddler, and while they are not as dear to me as the things I had as a teenager, they still hold some good memories.