Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ne Igrushki (No Toys)


You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats


This is my Grandpa, and his two sisters, Liba and Tilda. They must have been new immigrants in America when this picture was taken. My grandfather rarely spoke of his early years in Soviet Georgia, and I was left with just a few dark images...foremost among these bits and pieces was the fact, oft repeated and with a stark solemnity, that there were no toys for the children. None.

But none? My young mind couldn't accept a child's life with no toys, and I made for myself a little fiction about the peculiar wooden man and bear, who would take turns clacking at the stump with their axes if you pulled the handles back and forth (and I did this very often when I was little). I imagined it was the lone gimcrack entertainment of Max's childhood, and that he derived great pleasure from its existence in the fashion of one unused to more. After all, even Laura Ingalls, living deep in the dark woods of Wisconsin, had the homely rag doll Charlotte, and paperdolls cut by Ma from butcher paper.


I hoped for so many decades that this had been his toy, when he was a boy in the Old Country, that I came to believe in the saving truth. So it was with sadness, this morning, that I was forced to forfeit this constructed memory. I took the bear and the man off its shelf and showed it to my mother, who told me that it had been among the leavings of the previous owners when she and Max and Eva and Abby moved into their brownstone in the 1950s. My grandpa had not, in fact, had any toys.

Ne igrushki.

20 comments:

The Unbearable Banishment said...

NO TOYS! How barbaric. No wonder they fled. Look at how far the world has come.

Leah said...

From no toys, to too many toys! Maybe...

L. D. Burgus said...

It is a wonderful photo. I am sure that they did find things to play with once they were over here. My father spoke of no Christmas presents but of maybe a stick of candy for presents. Times were tough.

Leah said...

I imagine you are right! That's comforting. And maybe it was different for the girls?

Hunter said...

No toys is pretty bad, but I doubt it's the same as no play. Where there's imagination...

Brian Miller said...

no toys, my heart is breaking...

i do think kids these days have an overabundance of toys that often steal more than prompt their imagination...

Sausage Fingers said...

That was a great post, the generation your relatives belonged to were were tougher than tough. I imagine they used their child like imaginations to play even without toys. Our generation of tomorrow would crumble without their techy toys, how coddled and spoiled we have become, oh well progress then.
Cheers, Sausage...

nick said...

How very sad, not to have any toys. Although children are so imaginative they can improvise toys and amusements out of all sorts of everyday things. I'd never heard of the bear and the man and the axes before. What a clever idea.

Leah said...

Hunter, you're right, of course...although I don't think my grandpa had very much time to play when he got to the States, as he worked at his dad's tailor shop, when he wasn't in school. I wonder, though! Wish I could ask him.

Leah said...

Brian, it's funny about those toys that get in the way of, rather than encouraging, open play, isn't it?

Leah said...

Sausage, I am in agreement. They were tough, from a young age. It's incredible, the difference. I would never expect my 10-year-old to work all afternoon after school, yet that's just what my grandfather did!

Leah said...

Nick, I love that old bear and man. You should see it in person--although it is rather hastily made, it has really stood the test of time, and works very solidly! I loved it as a child too, even more than I loved my Barbies, lol.

Tess Kincaid said...

No toys is such a sad thought. But I would venture to say that like all children, they created their own play things. Perhaps even fueled their imaginations more, having less?

Princess said...

Both my parents grew up getting books as gifts not toys. They made their own fun up to starting work full time as 15 year olds. Dad was given a Box Brownie Camera which substituted as a toy I guess. Mum had one Doll which she cherished.

Kids these days sometimes find it difficult to entertain themselves, even when surrounded by mountains of toys and electronic gadgetry.

How often to you hear "I'm Bored"?

Pat said...

Those three look as if they could face anything - together.
Cardboard boxes, wooden spoons and pastry bowls and my grandkids would be content.

Jimmy said...

He may have had no toys hen, but he did pass on a wonderful gift.

Tracey said...

Toys are over-rated. Aren't they? My kids play in the dirt with sticks, and have much more fun than playing with their toys. Even turn of the century Soviet Georgia had dirt and sticks, right?

But, as a kid it must have been a weird thing to picture. Like when I was 6 and I learned that there were kids without television. I just could not imagine.

I am loving April at The Weather in the Streets. I have been looking backward a lot myself lately. Maybe I will do some summer memories when that season finally arrives.

mapstew said...

Try as I might I can't remember having many toys as a kid, but we were always outside, playing in the street. Times were hard in 1960's for a lot of Irish parents, toys would not have been a priority. But we (kids) had a lot of freedom, often going off for hours only returning when our bellies rumbled. Different times.

Lovely story, well told as usual Leah. :¬)


xxx

Baino said...

Sort of makes me a little angry at the rubbish we buy kids these days, they have everything. I bet your grandpa would have made toys out of pegs, or newspaper chains or played in street with a stick and hoop, or thrown pebbles into jam jars. I think kids were more inventive back then. Now if it doesn't have a controller and 3 d graphics . . .although it's a shame the little bear toy didn't belong to him, it's very sweet.

Megan said...

Last week my sister had to bring me some of her furniture because, she said, "baby stuff has taken over my apartment." And the little guy isn't even HERE yet.