Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Buttons, Children's Books, Old Toys

More of the Geiger buttons

From The Heart of the Family
by Elizabeth Goudge

'Zelle had cleared away the tea and was washing up the cups and saucers in the kitchen while Lucilla and Meg played spillikins together.  Margaret, in the deep armchair, was perforce resting for once because Robin was on her lap, stolidly and absorbedly turning over and over in his fat hands a glass bowl with a snowstorm inside it that Margaret had had when she was a child.  Should he tire of the snowstorm, and of the little man and the red house upon which the snow fell, there was  beside them on the table a sea shell that sounded like the sea when you held it against your ear, that Lucilla had had when she was a little girl, and down on the floor was his father's Noah's Ark.......Lucilla watched the lights and shadows passing over Meg's face, and her small deft hands lifting the slithers of pale ivory without a tremor from their nest.  Meg was best at spillkins because though Lucilla had been an adept in her time, she did not now see enough to play well, and her hand shook, but it was not becasue she always won that Meg loved the game but because it had belonged to Lucilla's mother when she was a little girl.
"Wasn't your Mummy any bigger than me when her Daddy gave her the spillikins?' asked Meg.
"A little bigger," said Lucilla.  "She had them for her sixth birthday."
Meg knew perfectly well, for she asked the same question every time they played together, but the question and answer gave her such untold satisfaction that she had to ask, and be told, every time.
" My great-grandmother, " she murmured.
"No, darling," said Lucilla.  "I'm that. Your great-great-grandmother."
Meg sighed in ecstasy.  Unconsciously, both to her and Robin, that was the fascination of the beautiful and unfamiliar toys at Lavender Cottage.  They had belonged to old, old people; their father, their great-uncles and their great-aunt; their great-grandmother, and back beyond to people older still......but the toys weren't old. The snowstorm was perennially young and so was the seashell that sounded like the sea. And the spillikins were more beautiful than ever, for the ivory took on a deeper and lovelier
color with every year that passed.'

I was a few months past my second birthday on this sunny June day when, for whatever reason, I was inspired to drag my toys and belongings out to the south-facing front porch of my grandfather's house.
[We lived there until 1949 when the expected arrival of my youngest sister prompted my parents to build a small house just along the road.]
I zoomed in on this photo after scanning it, wanting to identify each of the toys.
There is a tribe of stuffed animals, doubtless suitable to my tender age--but I don't recall that they were expecially dear.  The tall bunny leaned against the porch post at the right had soft green 'fur'
and pink-lined ears.
It was perhaps the next Christmas that the beloved 'panda bear" arrived wearing a glossy red satin ribbon about his nearly non-existant 'neck.
On that same holiday cousins of my mother arrived at Grampa Mac's house for dinner.
I remember Maude and Owen stamping snow from their feet as they crossed the porch--the bustle as they came through the front door and the rush of  wood-smoke scented cold air that entered with them.
I remember Maude approaching my chair, her rather large teeth so white in a wide smile, holding out a stuffed toy she had made for me--an elephant created in sturdy grey-checked gingham with embroidered features.  I named the panda bear "Pooh" after the creature of A.A. Milne fame--and the gingham elephant became "Piglet." The strange pair occupied a place on my bed and later sat in the small rocking chair which had been my mother's before it was mine.
I passed "Pooh and Piglet" on to my children--sadly [as I now think] they disappeared when we moved from the Vermont farm in 1977.
In the black and white photo I spy a bucket and spade and a small watering can---suggestions perhaps of the gardener I would become?
Strangely, I don't recall the doll buggy--was it a remnent of my mother's childhood?

I do recall a beautiful rag doll--the "Betty doll" handmade for me by a family friend who was a gifted seamstress.  Betty Phelps created the doll with a soft muslin body, delicate embroidered features and a mop of brown yarn hair.
The doll's wardrobe was exquisite: white muslin undergarments; a dress of printed green calico embellished with dainty rickrack and tiny buttons.  The doll's coat and bonnet were of red fine-wale corduroy with a trim of dark brown ribbon.
Also noteworthy in the above photo is the presence of a cat---its distinctive shape is there resting beyond the 'fence' which my grandfather created to keep me away from that end of the porch.
Several of the planks in the porch floor at that spot could be raised for access to the cistern beneath--not likely a feat I could have managed, but his carefullness is evident.

This is all I can locate at the moment of the doll's teaset which belonged to my mother.
Although we moved to the new house next door and Christmas and birthdays brought new toys compatible with our growing years, my younger sister and I preferred to play at Grampa Mac's farmhouse.
At some point we were allowed up to the attic where we discovered the remnents of Mother's childhood in the form of the teaset and a battered doll called "Heloise."
Looking back I wonder if Heloise hadn't been handed down from my grandmother's time.
She had a tired cloth body stuffed with sawdust, a snub-nosed bisque face and [I think] hands and feet of soft kid. Her glued-on wig was in sorry shape, but she wore a dress of much-washed dimity--pink-sprigged.

photo from wikimedia commons
 My mother owned a set of The Bobbsey Twins books--highly improbable adventures of children whom today's readers would consider downright sappy.
These, along with her collection of 'Old Mother Westwind' by Thornton W. Burgess, were standard bedtime read-alouds.
My favorites of the early childhood books were undoubtedly the stories and poems of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh. [They were the "real thing"--before Disney added cartoon characters and
bouncy tunes.]
A 4th volume, "When We Were Very Young" seems not to have survived the affections of my children and grandchildren.  My daughter and I can still spout bits of the saucy poems:
James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George DuPree
Took great care of his mother though he was only three
James James said to his mother:
"Mother," he said, said he
"You must never go down to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

And try rolling the "R"s on this one!

Round about

And round about
And round about I go--All around the table,
The table in the nursery--

Round about
And round about
And round about I go--

I think I am a traveller escaping from a bear;
I think I am an elephant
Behind another elephant
Behind another elephant who isn't really there....
Round about
And round about
And round about and round about
And round about
And round about
I go.

I think I am a Ticket Man who's selling tickets--- please,
I think I am a doctor who is visiting a sneeze;
Perhaps I'm just a nanny who is walking with a pram
I'm feeling rather funny and I don't know what I am--
Round about
And round about
And round about I go--
All around the table,
The table in the nursery--
Round about
And round about
And round about I go:

Ah, yes--the poem goes on for a few more dizzying stanzas--but you get the idea!

I could go on too--about beloved toys, treasured books--wallowing in nostalgia as dear daughter is prone to reminding me!
If you've persisted thus far, may I invite you to share memories of childhood toys and books and games--perhaps linking to my post to create a summer pastime--

In self-defense I can only plead the interminable heat-laden days and nights of July;
The garden is in a mid-season doldrum; it is too hot for turning on the oven to bake.
So--I've retreated to the indoor pursuit of reading and writing.
Join me, if you will!


  1. What wonderful treasures you still have! I wish I could say the same. I was the youngest of four daughters (11 years between me and the sister next to me) and an aunt at a very young age (two)! I do remember slowly giving all my toys (which I don't think were much!) away to all my little nieces. Someone should have told me to keep them!


  2. I just love the poem books of A.A.Milne, I remember teaching my Grandson the one about the bears walking in all the squares, he learnt it off by heart at a very young age.
    Thanks once again for you kind comment on the blog.
    Try to keep cool....,

  3. What wonderful memories photographs can bring! I remember the Bobbsey Twins as well as Christopher Robin and Pooh. I collect the vintage Milne books and you might find some on your antique hunts. I also am lucky enough to have some of my mother's tea set and can't believe it has survived so many moves. We are fortunate to have these things. They are priceless to me.

  4. What a lovely read ... triggered memories of childhood and toys ...I dont remember many ..a baby doll whose head fixed on by a metal bar made a hole and mum put a plaster over and said she had a spot.... a golly and a rabbit but no teddy. I was 20 before I got one from my future husband. I dont remember books when I was very little but by the time I was 6 or 7 I had what seemed like, my own little library....which by 8 or 9 was all numbered by me.
    We seemed so much happier though, with far less back then.

  5. I wonder, my friends, if perhaps we are of a similar age to remember and cherish these things. I hope that our children and grandchildren inherit an appreciation of the pastimes and collections we have enjoyed.

  6. I have a copy of Christopher Robin and When were very young -- and I think there is one, Now We are Six. I bought them on one of our trips back to England. I always remember "May I please have a little bit of butter for my bread."

  7. Lovely post. YOu've also mentioned an Elizabeth Goudge book I've never read. Those must be David and Sally's children.
    Your grandparents' reminds me of my maiden Aunt's. She kept a litte trunk of toys for me to play with, including dolls she'd made. Thanks--hart

  8. Chris: 'but marmalade is tasty if it's very thickly spread!'

    Hart: There is a trilogy of the Eliot books: A Bird in a Tree; Pilgrim's Inn; The Heart of the Family; the titles are different in the UK publications.