I was driving home from the grocery store yesterday and the deejay on the radio was spinning moldy oldies and asking trivia questions. One of the questions was: “What was the first toy or game advertised directly to children on television?”
I’m terrible at trivia and usually rely on Mrs. C. to fill me in on the Zeitgeist, but I couldn’t help shouting out answers. The Hula Hoop! Play-Doh! Cootie! “Wrong,” said the deejay when listeners phoned in these answers.
I’ll pause here before giving the correct response so you can yell an answer at your computer screen.********************************************************
Okay; the correct answer is—Mr. Potato Head!
I was surprised, too. But the deejay wasn’t about to let it go at that. He wanted to impress his listeners with more facts. Such as: Originally Mr. Potato Head didn’t include a plastic potato and kids were required to prowl through pantries for a real one. In 1952 this prompted complaints because of food shortages. Also, parents whined about the smell of rotting potatoes left in the box and stored on shelves or in closets.
This conjured up a memory I hadn’t thought about for over fifty years. Mr. Potato Head was actually an instructional tool, providing me with knowledge I might otherwise have missed. I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley, famous enough for its orchards to be mentioning in several Jack London novels. I should have been very familiar with how things grew, but I wasn’t, even though a pear orchard spread for miles behind our back fence.
I remember being six or seven and reaching for my Mr. Potato Head box on the top shelf in my closet. My best friend and I were expecting a rousing hour or two of jamming plastic features into the spud I’d grabbed from a bag in the pantry. But when I opened the box I was shocked to see that the last time I’d played the game I’d left a potato in the box. Only it didn’t look like I remembered it.
In the darkness of my closet, the potato had grown long roots that swirled around the inside of the box. It also had little buds growing on it. I showed the potato to my dad. He examined it carefully and said, “Let’s go plant this in the backyard.” He grabbed a shovel from the garage and divided the old potato into half a dozen pieces. We planted them along the side of our house. Several weeks later we were the proud owners of six little potato plants. I watered those plants, shooed away neighboring pets wanting to pee on them, and plucked bugs off the tiny leaves. But in the end a marauding gopher denied me my platter of homegrown French fries.
I learned nothing from playing with a Hula Hoop (couldn’t keep it above my belly) and the only thing I learned from Play-Doh was that it didn’t taste as good as modeling paste, but at a tender age Mr. Potato Head taught me a valuable lesson, one that I’ve carried with me until now: Although I appreciate the labor of those who produce food for my table, farming sucks!
When you were a kid, what was your favorite game?