In 2016, Ashburton Museum’s exhibition Paper, Scissors, Rock attracted much interest and not just from children. The exhibition took its name from the hand game that originated in China in the 2nd Century BC. (Compared with the very recent update of paper, scissors, rock, lizard, Spock as made famous in the comedy The Big Bang Theory).
The exhibition featured vintage toys, games and pastimes and gave parents and grandparents the opportunity to share some of their favourite things or memories. As we discussed the exhibition during planning, I quickly realised that I am totally out of date with children’s games of today.
I’m not sure if tiny tots play ‘Farmer in the dell’ or ‘There’s a hole in my bucket’ anymore? I was surprised to find that another chasing game we used to play at school called ‘I sent a letter to my love’ was spoken about as a very old game from the 1800s, so maybe such games do live on? Do older children still play four square or, if they have no large rubber ball to throw, do they kick a stone around the square divided into four in their playground?
I know that many children seem to enjoy digital entertainment – either with their cell phones, iPods or PlayStation, but if their batteries die what do they do? Do they still have toys they play with, or simply love? Do they, in today’s plastic throw away world, treasure some toys like many of us older people do?
My favourite toys were books, especially a series of encyclopaedias that my Grandmother bought for me when I was about five. Even then, I was interested in history and so the history volume is now very worn, while unsurprisingly the science one is remarkably untouched. I also loved a book of poems and stories, which is on display here at the Museum. I can’t even remember getting it – it’s just always been with me – like a good book should have.
I wasn’t into toys a lot, and certainly not into dolls (much to my Mother’s disappointment). I did like one doll, which was meant to be Eliza from My Fair Lady but whom I christened Queen Victoria. However, my most treasured toy is a very large blue poodle called Snoopy. While it doesn’t come close to my books, its significance is immeasurable.
Each community has a measure by which they divide time, here in Ashburton it seems to be winds. I have heard people saying ‘well it happened before the big wind of ’75 (or whatever date their time scale depends on)’. In Oamaru, we speak about the Farmers fire. Most things happened before, after or about the same time as our only two storied department store burned down. It was quite an occasion with the main street closed as firemen battled to save the building. Nearly everyone drove down to see the fire, including me who was in tears – mourning the loss of the collection of large stuffed toys, whose prohibitive cost meant I would never have owed them anyway.
The North Otago Farmers Co-Operative building relocated to a vacant building and opened with new (and some ‘smoke damaged, going at discounted prices’) goods. My Mother and I joined the crowds to see what was on offer and among the trikes, dolls and prams was a line-up of stuffed toys. Frequently we would view the toys living high on their balcony – out of reach on a number of levels.
Sadly, about that time my mother became ill with cancer and was facing a rather large operation just before my birthday. I was about 7, and luckily couldn’t really comprehend all the tears and angst as this youngish mother faced what possibly could have been the last birthday she would spend with me. With this in mind she said I could have anything I wanted for my birthday and as she would in hospital I could have it early, plus two birthday parties (I was so lucky!!). Naturally we went straight down to Farmers, and forsaking the tigers, elephants and other wild creatures on offer, I chose a very large poodle. It must have cost the earth, but she didn’t hesitate and Snoopy was mine.
Mum had her operation and we had many more birthdays together. Snoopy was played with but not overly – what can you do with an almost life sized, blue French poodle? But now that I don’t have my Mother, the dog has become much more significant to me – a memory of her and her special gift.
Toys and childhood treasures can often mean so much more than something that was played with. They can remind us of our carefree childhood days, a special place, activity or person. They can elicit happy memories or a twinge of sadness.
The exhibition is sure to invoke a sense of nostalgia in some of us grown-up children and has been designed to encourage hand- on fun for kids both small and large. We look forward to seeing you and perhaps hearing some of your stories too.
By Kathleen Stringer
- Toys and stories on exhibition at Ashburton Museum. ©Ashburton Museum.
- A family sharing fund and stories about toys and games at Ashburton Museum. ©Ashburton Museum.
- A museum visitor with toys from the collection at Ashburton Museum. ©Ashburton Museum.
- More vintage toys and games. ©Ashburton Museum.