Remembering My Simple Self
It's Big Lock!
In 1964 small-town America there used to be what were called Dime Stores, or 5 & 10s. They originally sold nothing over ten cents, but by 1964 there were plenty of things over five & ten dollars. It was the place to go to find household sundries, hobby supplies, pet supplies, fresh-roasted cashews as well as candy, and most of all, TOYS. Lots and lots of brightly-colored plastic toys like squirt guns, paddle balls, and hula hoops, and other wondrous things like marbles, jacks, board games, Barbie dolls and baby dolls, model kits of all kinds from cars and airplanes to monsters, and always a wide assortment of the latest fad toy, like little troll dolls with neon-colored hair, which we called Wish-Niks. I might have grown up on a farm outside of town, but we were not a terribly salt-of-the-earth or frugal family. This indulged only child had regular stops at the Dime Store, and more often than not came away with some small thing or other, even if just a tiny bag of caramels.
But then one toy in particular called out to me and it was not only purchased, it was loved and played with for years. I remember the first time I saw it, in a cardboard-and-clear-plastic package hanging on a rack with several others, and it was called “BIG LOCK!” It was a clear-bodied, multicolored plastic combination lock of cheerfully cartoonish proportions. Its very existence tickled my funny bone in a way I could not explain at the age of nine and still can’t forty-six years later. It was probably designed for a much younger child, but I didn’t care, and I played with it until I was twelve.
Twenty-odd years later my own son would play with it whenever he visited my parents, although I’m not sure it captivated him as much as it did me. As he grew older and became more interested in things like Legos and video games, the old toys went into storage in the nether regions of my parents’ attic. Theirs is an old farmhouse, circa 1902, which has been updated and remodeled and maintained on a regular basis. The upper story is actually an attic with two bedrooms carved out of the spaces tall enough to stand up in, and there are closets and crawl spaces in what remains.
The other day my son and I went there to help my parents sort through things in the attic. We began with the deepest, darkest crawl space, which they hadn’t looked at in nearly twenty years. To their dismay they discovered that ferocious little Piney squirrels had gotten into that crawl space and ran amok, tearing up insulation and chewing through boxes, and storing hundreds of walnuts wherever they could. It was not recent damage, however–the walnuts were ancient and dry, and there was no evidence of recent invasion.
The crawl space was packed with books, toys, frames, fishing rods and tackle, and Dad’s collection of bar and beer signs. There was also an oppressive number of things that belonged to long-gone loved ones. We emptied it out and quickly sorted through everything, and my son loaded up his things to take back to his own house. One small box pegged for discard had an odd assortment of items, some from his childhood, and some from mine. I picked up the container of one of my old toys, only to discover it was full of dried-up walnuts! We all had a good laugh and looked in the box a little more–and there it was, the familiar shape and colors of Big Lock.
It looked a lot smaller than I remembered it from childhood, but it was intact, unchewed, and still worked like new–the combination is embossed in tiny numbers on the back. I had no idea it still existed and it was a miracle that it was found, especially after the damage suffered by the items on the top of the box. I cleaned it up and actually brought it home with me, where Steve promptly took a photo and laughed because he remembered me reminiscing about it several years ago. I’m glad to report that Big Lock has joined the White Rabbit sculpture in my studio
Minimalist Lessons of the Day:
- Take Responsibility: if you’ve got stuff stored at your parents’ house, go get it out of there now and Deal With It. Don’t wait like I did.
- Don’t buy souvenirs. Really.
- Don’t keep creepy things. Queen Victoria’s been dead a long, long time, so we don’t need to emulate 19th-century forms of mourning and remembrance.
- If it still makes you smile and laugh, it’s a keeper!
Love Me, Love My Lock