On our regular trips to Easton for a visit with my mother, our boys delight in pulling out all the toys she keeps in a playroom for them.
The funny thing, these are toys that I played with when I was their age: Fisher-Price trucks, Little People play sets and Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. There is even a “Gilligan’s Island” play set complete with Gilligan and the Skipper.
Some of these toys are 40 years old, or close to it, yet all the parts are there and still working. And I can remember playing with them with my older brother — our little brother was a just a bit too young at the time — just like our boys use them today.
As we got a little older, new sets of toys became our playtime focus. Many of these were based on television cartoons: “G.I. Joe,” which, yes, I know came a decade or so before in a much larger doll-for-boys form, “He-Man” and “Transformers.”
I think my mother got rid of all of those toys when she moved out of our childhood home probably about a decade ago, and I don’t blame her. We had boxes of action figures and vehicles and bases for good guys and bad guys, plus all their accessories.
I can imagine every visit turning into one of our boys holding up a character and saying, “What’s his name?” and me trying to remember.
Now, thanks to social media, I have started relearning some of those names.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that there are accounts and groups and communities dedicated to the toys of my youth — and probably your youth, and your neighbors’ and even your grandparents’ and great-grandparents’.
But hey, for all those ‘80s kids, remember the name of the boxer and trainer for “G.I. Joe” bad guys Cobra? Thanks to Instagram, I have relearned that he was “Big Boa.”
That’s the part of it I enjoy, seeing the old characters. I have my own little memory game that I play while scrolling through: “mine, my brother’s or my best friend’s.” I think my older brother had Big Boa. I know I had Croc Master, and my mother does still have his little plastic crocodile in her box of random toy animals.
We all played with the same types of toys, as did so many children at the time. The television shows were really just 30-minute advertisements, often used to introduce new character sets.
There were even cartoon movies. “Transformers: The Movie” boasted among its cast members Orson Welles — yes, the Orson Welles of “Citizen Kane” and “War of the Worlds” — and Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy of “Star Trek.”
Dolph Lundgren starred as He-Man in a live-action theatrical release “Masters of the Universe,” with notable actor Frank Langella buried under bad makeup as the evil Skeletor. That movie was a just mess.
Some of the toys are worth money these days among collectors. I pulled out a Jeep from one of the boxes at my mother’s house that hides a military boat inside its chassis. That comes from the short-lived “M.A.S.K.” TV show, in which vehicles didn’t transform into robots like “Transformers” or “GoBots,” but into other vehicles, usually with guns. I told her she could probably pay her heating bill for the entire winter by selling that little plastic Jeep/boat online.
The insta-nostalgia also extends to other facets of life growing up in what is now a long-past decade. People post interior shots of fast food restaurants from back in the ‘80s or pages from clothing catalogues. They all take me back to being a kid.
I get annoyed though when the posts turn into passive-aggressive cranky old man memes, like “If lightning bugs signaled it was time to go home, you had a good childhood” or “If you had to yell car while playing football in the street, you had a good childhood.”
Some will throw in complaints about all the new-fangled technology children play with these days instead of running around outside, as if we didn’t grow up on Atari and then Nintendo and then Sega and then Nintendo again.
And while we didn’t have tablets or iPhones, we spent plenty of time tying up our parents’ rotary phones or trying not to die of dysentery while making that long slow computer trek along the “Oregon Trail.”
My childhood was different from my parents, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Our boys’ childhood will be different from mine, and they’re going to have blast — whether they learn to tell Skeletor from Cobra Commander or not.