Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Colors Out of Time

"What color was this one, Daddy?"

The questions, they never end.

"It was dark green. Shiny dark green. That part there where the driver sits used to have a tinted windshield. The other part is where the motor went."

"So this part had the driver and this part had the motor?"

"Yeah, that's why it was called Double Trouble."

"What about this one?"

The recent move has unearthed a cornucopia of past history for my kids to learn about their parents. Especially, it seems, about their dad. One of these things was a shoebox filled with old toy cars.

"Gold. That was my Batmobile." A '57 Thunderbird made by Matchbox. It had fulfilled that role well, in spite of the color.

I did not treat my toy cars with gentle kindness. Most of the time I was having "car fights." Smacking them into each other to see which one stayed on its wheels. They are all now broken, some paint chipped off, most of the paint simply worn off from age. Wheels missing, windshields gone. I was shocked to see them in this condition. Shocked.

It's too bad, I think, that there wasn't someone around to keep a play diary when I was a kid. If there had been, I would be able to pinpoint the exact day that I stopped playing with my box full of cars. Because I know that somewhere on the spiral of time there is a day when I played with them for the last time, put them back in the big shoebox, slid them under my bed, and never looked at them again. When was that day, and what did I do the next day? At least thirty years ago, probably more.

I say again, I was shocked at how bad they looked. Because I know that that is exactly how they must have looked--except for a thin layer of dust that collected while in storage--when I put them away for the last time. And that is not how I remember them.

Now matter how battered these toys looked while I was playing with them, I still saw them just as they came out of the box. The Double Trouble, part of the Hot Wheels Johnny Lightning line, was one of the heaviest cars I had and stayed on its wheels very well when smacking into another car. Solid, dark and dangerous. The white Jackrabbit Special, another Hot Wheels car, was jaunty and self-confident with its speed, hampered only by a tendency to veer left. A red Ford pickup from Matchbox was quiet, clever and deceptive, because in spite being only a pickup, it was one of the fastest cars in the collection. Another solid car, a blue Lincoln Continental from Matchbox, had such a low center of gravity that it almost never flipped, but wasn't very fast. Yes, they all had personalities back then. Such as the frivolous purple Baja Runabout made by Tootsietoy, or a malicious orange dragster from the same brand.

They all looked battered and broken to me now, but still I remember how I once saw them, and that no matter how broken and paint-chipped they became, I still saw them all as new toys. A green truck and trailer made by Tootsietoy came with a plastic boat that rode on the trailer. The boat stayed bright white with red trim until the end, it seemed, though now the red is faded and the white is dingy, and the truck is missing paint.

They are all a treasure trove to my son, who had to ask me specific questions about each of them. I still remember many of the names. Beachbuggy, Roadster, a Mercedes-Benz ambulance (it used to be white, I said, and had a back door that opened. It also had a little plastic guy on a stretcher that you could take out).

And I wonder. How does he see them? Does his imagination paint them with the colors I described to him? Does he see them with colors of his own?

The Double Trouble is now only primer gray. Every bit of glistening dark green paint is gone. One of the wheels is missing.

"Did it used to be fast?"

"Yes," I said. "It was very fast."

"It still is," he told me.

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