THE DRAWER OF MISFIT TOYS
By L. Schwirian
In the mid 70’s to mid-80’s, when our sons were young, we typically traveled at least twice a year to visit both sets of grandparents–one set in Cleveland and the other set near Pittsburgh. As the drive was nearly six hundred miles, we (mostly Caroline) had to invent things to do along the way so that the three of them wouldn’t do bodily harm to one another or rip the back seat to shreds. We always brought plenty of books and a number of tapes, mostly Muppet songs, as we sped along the interstates of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. I particularly remember all of us singing along with Kermit the Frog, Why are There So Many Songs about Rainbows? On more than one occasion, usually when we were at least a couple of hundred miles out, Caroline would wonder if she had turned the iron off. After the second or third time, I started packing the iron in the trunk.
When we finally reached my parent’s home after twelve or more hours on the road (there were many pit stops along the way), all three sons would pile out of the car and head for “the drawer of misfit toys” in my mother’s kitchen. The drawer contained bits and pieces of old toys that had long since been lost or abandoned. There was a little ball with jacks, numerous marbles of various sizes and colors, a yoyo, a top, playing cards, toy soldiers, knights on plastic horses, a few Lincoln Logs (but not enough to build anything with), pieces of an erector set, a dart gun, a harmonica, commemorative coins, nuts and bolts, rubber bands, a mouth harp, as well as various and sundry other stuff.
But there were two things that seemed to be favorites. One was a hollow, woven cylindrical shaped object about six inches long and less than a half-inch in diameter with openings at both ends. One son would put his index finger in one end and ask his brother or cousin to put his or her finger in the other end. When he pulled back, the tube would stretch, reducing the diameter and trapping both fingers.
The most intriguing toy, however, was a large horseshoe magnet about five inches long, two inches wide, and about a quarter-inch thick. It had not originally been a toy but must have been removed from some piece of machinery…it was a very strong magnet. There were also two small magnets in the form of black and white terrier dogs. The oldest son would get under the kitchen table with the big magnet while the other two sons would place the two little magnets on the tabletop; wherever the big magnet moved the little dogs would follow. It was pure magic.
Many of these trips took place around the Christmas holiday which meant that there would be a tumultuous unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning and an overabundance of new toys. But as likely as not, after a couple days, all three sons would be back exploring the “drawer of misfit toys.”
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.