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My spacious attic holds holiday decorations, teacher materials, books, luggage, 50’s and 60’s memorabilia, and much more. But a large percentage of my attic is filled with toys—a few toys from the 1950’s through 1970’s but mostly toys that my children played with in the 1980’s.
I kept those toys in the chance that I might have a third child. When I was in my mid-forties and that was decidedly not in the plans anymore, I thought, “I could be a grandmother in a another ten years, so why not keep these toys for my grandchildren?” And so I did, and I am thankful that I had the foresight.
Whenever my three grandchildren, ages four and under, come to visit from Houston and San Jose, they are never bored, nor will they be for years to come. Of course, because of those toys and ones that I bought recently, my handsome living room transforms into a play room for the duration of their stay. At those times, when guests step into my house, the foyer inviting them to tread across its dark textured tiles, are the first things they notice the mirrored living room wall or the corner fireplace beneath an oak wood hutch? No, instead of pridefully welcoming them into an orderly, comfortable room, they have to make their way around a children’s table and chairs before tackling an obstacle course of Lincoln Logs, baby dolls, plastic dinosaurs, children’s books, small trucks, and toy kitchen items.
We pick up the toys and move them out of the middle of the floor, but within a half hour, they’re spread around the house again, often compliments of 17-month-old Andrew, who considers the entire house his personal toy box. Oh, he puts toys “away” occasionally—underneath the furniture, inside the hamper, into the bath tub—and, if an item completely disappears, like my star-shaped touch light, we assume that it was deposited into the garbage can. A few of those toys are probably sitting in a landfill as we blog.
All that clutter really doesn’t matter, though. I love to see the children happily engaged, educating themselves as they do so.
To name a few of the 1980’s toys in our attic that are suitable for preschoolers, we have Cabbage Patch dolls, Masters of the Universe figures, a Hot Wheels Service Station, assorted cars and trucks, and several Pound Puppies and Kittens, each with their own tags and papers. But the preschool toy that is dearest to me is the Sesame Street Clubhouse.
Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Sesame Street was the show for preschoolers. It was to Generation Xers as Captain Kangaroo was to us Baby Boomers. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was also popular in the 70’s and 80’s, but in this house and many others, it was a distant second. My son Frank (Frankie at the time) became captivated with Sesame Street at the age of 18 months and watched it two or three times a day for several years (unless he was playing outdoors) until he graduated to Electric Company. My daughter Leslie joined in when she became of age.
Even I observed it often enough to remember Ernie with his rubber ducky, Cookie Monster gobbling cookies, crabby Oscar the Grouch in his garbage can, lady bugs at the lady bug picnic, and much more. From its inception in 1969 to the present, Sesame Street has won 159 Emmy Awards and 8 Grammy Awards—more than any other children’ show.
My son was drawn to anything Sesame Street related, and when I saw the clubhouse in a store—Children’s Palace, I believe—I knew that it would make a perfect Christmas gift. Let me explain its many features via video.
Frankie loved it. You can see the big smile on his face as he and I played with it on Christmas morning 1979, a few days after his second birthday.
It had always been our tradition to meet up with my side of the family on Christmas Eve and then my husband Frank’s side on Christmas Day. Frank, the two kids, and I would open presents on Christmas morning, and then after church and lunch, we would visit with Frank’s family. Frankie and Leslie would always take a new toy or two over to their grandparents’ house to play with over there. It was a toy that they liked too much to leave behind at home. As you can see in this photo, Frankie brought over the Sesame Street Clubhouse to show Grandma and Grandpap.
Inevitably, the kids outgrew the clubhouse, and it was put in storage. I sold many of their baby clothes and toys at a flea market, but no way was I giving up the clubhouse. I remember one Christmas when a girl a little under two years old visited with her parents. She entered timid and whiny, clinging to her mother. That behavior went on for a while until I pulled out the Sesame Street Clubhouse. Everything changed. I showed her all its delightful features, and she immediately became absorbed in it. Before long, she was feeling comfortable with the room full of strangers, which was appreciated by all.
Years later my grandchildren came along. They look forward to the flight to Pittsburgh, partly because they enjoy Grandma and Grandpop’s toys, with the Sesame Street Clubhouse and Little People at the top of the list. At one visit, Mikey made a beeline for it as soon as he got in the house. This Christmas was the third year that I put it out on my living room floor for them. There are now three grandchildren who play with it—Mikey at 4, Katie at 3 1/2, and Andrew at 17 months. Even little Andrew is so fascinated that he can play with it for a half hour straight.
Here is Mikey at 3 years old . . .
And Katie at 2 and 1/2.
My grandchildren are not attached to the Sesame Street TV show like my kids were. There’s too much competition out there with children’s programs like Curious George, Dora the Explorer, Thomas and Friends, Bob the Builder, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. However, kids don’t need to be familiar with the Sesame Street TV show to enjoy the clubhouse.
What is so special about the clubhouse?
As you can see from the video, kids can use their imaginations to create countless scenarios. They can recreate situations that they have experienced themselves, such as sliding down a sliding board, riding a merry-go-round, playing hide-and-seek, riding a moving walkway. They can recreate skills such as taking turns, playing cooperatively, and sharing with friends. They can practice lessons learned from the different characters on Sesame Street, such as copying the Count’s signature laugh as he counts away or Bert and Ernie working out problems together. Whatever that something is, the clubhouse holds preschoolers’ attention longer than most toys I’ve seen. Here is 3-year-old Mikey playing with the clubhouse while his little brother fusses.
Those benefits don’t even include the myriad of uses for the Little People characters. My grandchildren have given them rides on our 1980’s toy train as it chugs along the tracks. Bert, Ernie, and the gang have slid down a cardboard gift wrap tube “slide” into our vintage Barbie swimming pool, where they proceed to have a fun day of swimming.
Before I go, I must tell of the frightful Sesame Street Clubhouse incident that took place one morning when the grandchildren were visiting this past Christmas. I was sitting next to 17-month-old Andrew as he played with the clubhouse in the living room. He put his index finger inside the hole at the bottom of Big Bird. When he tried to pull it off, it didn’t come loose. I tried multiple times to get it off without success.
Concerned but not in full panic, I called his mother over, debating in my head whether we should try Vaseline, oil, butter, or WD40. We wouldn’t have to make a trip to the emergency room, escorting a little toddler with Big Bird stuck to his finger, would we?
“Leslie, Big Bird is stuck on Andrew’s finger, and I can’t get it off.” All of a sudden, “pop!” While I was informing Leslie of the looming catastrophe, Andrew, nonplussed at the whole affair, had, without fanfare, pulled Big Bird off himself! That was a relief. And guess what he did next? Yep, he stuck Big Bird back on his finger, and then, “pop!,” he pulled it off again. He got a kick out of that “pop” sound because he did it again and again. That’s a comical story I won’t likely forget.
Leslie snapped this photo seconds after Andrew popped Big Bird from his finger.
Talking about vintage toys so often in this blog, I had to give a shout out to one of my favorites—one that is so right for curious and imaginative little minds. If I’ve convinced you of the worth of the Sesame Street Clubhouse, though long ago discontinued, it always seems to be available on e-Bay. Right now, March 17, 2015, there are 29 being sold on e-Bay, with starting bids ranging in price from $0.99 to the perplexing “Buy it Now” price of $163.48.
Most clubhouses are not sold with all the original pieces, but individual accessories are also available. Ernie, Roosevelt Franklin, and the big yellow wheel disappeared from our set in the 1980’s. However, for my grandchildren’s playing pleasure, I bought those pieces on e-Bay as well as the red wagon that came with a later edition of the clubhouse.
Yes, the Sesame Street Clubhouse has served me so well that now I regret having sold the Fisher Price Farm and Fire Station with the accompanying Little People. Oh, well, you can’t keep everything; my attic isn’t the size of a football field, after all.
Since Christmas, my blue barrel has been missing. Yo, Andrew . . . .
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.