Killer toys and soft kids


We’ve all gone soft. There’s no doubt about it. This is getting out of hand, man. I can think of several examples from when I was a kid back in the ’60s and early ’70s. Here are just a few off the top of my head:

For one thing, the rules of riding in a car were completely different. The first thing Dad did when he bought a new car was cut the seat belts out. Couldn’t have those darn things getting in the way. Shoot, I rode from southern Ohio to Colorado in the back window of a ’72 Pontiac Catalina Brougham. You know, up above the back seats. Just for kicks, Dad used to hit the breaks occasionally and send me flyin’. I guess kids just knew how to take a fall back then. I loved it.

In addition, the dashboards back then were made of metal, chrome and a lot of sharp pointy stuff. None of that padded crap for us. You had to pay attention and be ready to get those hands up to catch yourself. Of course, it helped that we didn’t have our faces buried in iPods and iPhones and whatnot. I was usually either pestering my sisters, looking out the window, or horror of horrors, reading a book.

We used to go to Reds games all the time. My Dad and Uncle Myrl would drive a pickup with the bed filled with six to eight kids. Keep in mind it was a two-hour drive to The Natti from Bourneville, and it included weaving in and out of traffic on Columbia Parkway. How nobody fell out is beyond me, but if we had it would undoubtedly been attributed to stupidity on the kid’s part, not parental neglect or abuse. And trust me, those rides home afterwards (arriving home around 2 a.m.) could get pretty interesting. You know, like throwing your cousin’s shoe at a passing car and stuff. It’s also sort of surprising how cold it can get in the back of a pickup going 70 mph down a highway at 1:30 a.m. on a July morning.

Random thought. When I was a kid, any adult could smack you if you were being an idiot — guy pumping gas, barber, neighbor lady, if you were misbehaving you got what was coming to you. End of story. In addition, nobody cared or complained.

Also, we had toys that could literally kill you. I once stabbed a cousin with a Pick-Up-Stick and I thought we’d never stop the bleeding. Hey, I think he’d cheated or something so he deserved it. I also shot my best friend with a BB gun, but that’s neither here nor there. Being the responsible kid I aimed for his leg. If I remember right I heated up the tip of a pocket knife and removed the BB so it was cool.

And what about the greatest game in the history of games? The game that is currently outlawed in all 50 states and most civilized countries of the world? I’m talkin’ ’bout Jarts, people. Seriously, on Dec. 19, 1988, all lawn darts were banned from sale in the United States by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. What a bunch of wienies. Apparently, four kids were killed by Jarts over a period of several years. Just a thought — anybody ever hear of parental guidance? Please.

If you’re too young to remember, Jarts was a simple game. The players stood about 20 feet apart and each had a large hula hoop on the ground beside them. In each hand, the players had the key to the game, the jart. The jart was large (about 10-inch long) plastic-winged dart with a heavy, pointed metal end. The idea was to lob the dart underhand at the opponents target, which was the Hula Hoop looking thing. The jart was so heavy on the pointed end it would stick right into the ground. Anything wrong with that mental image? Not in my day kids, but let’s just say you had to pay attention because that jart would impale the living heck out of you if you were caught unawares. But hey, that was part of the fun. Either keep your head on a swivel, or, you know, maybe die.

The legendary Clackers.

Anybody remember Clackers? Clackers were essentially two acrylic balls on each end of a string, with a loop in the center. You began slowly clacking the balls together until you got to really fast speeds. Like many toys from the ’70s, these were deemed dangerous and taken off the market. According to my research, they were banned because they were being used by gangs as weapons. Maybe I have a sick sense of humor, but I find that hilarious. Imagine this: “Bro, that dude’s goin’ down. Go get my Clackers.”

I also recall something called Creepy Crawlers, which were several kinds of awesome. You had these little metal molds that you’d plug in and they’d heat up to like 1,000 degrees. You’d then pour this disgusting, smelly stuff called Gobbledy Goop into it. This would turn the goop into spiders, snakes, bugs, snails, whatever the mold’s shape resembled. Bottom line, I must have burned my fingers a 1,000 times on those molds. Not only that, if you accidentally left them on they’d start smoking, which I did on purpose just to watch. Told you it was awesome.

You know, when I really think about this and add it all up — taking out the seat belts, slamming on the brakes when I was in the back window, riding in the back of a pickup down Columbia Parkway, the games I was given, that time he asked me to check an electric fence to see if it was live — it all clearly adds up to one chilling, undeniable fact: My Dad was trying to kill me.

Well, that certainly alters my perception of the idyllic Southern Ohio upbringing I’ve always told people about. Sobering realization. Sobering realization indeed.

But seriously, I know my father loved me. In fact, he loved me enough not to jump in every time I faced a little adversity and to let me deal with it on my own. Shocking concept these days, I know.

Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at

No posts to display