The 1980's was a great time to be a little girl. The selection of girl toys with cartoon tie ins seem to be never ending. You had Strawberry Shortcake, She-Ra, Cabbage Patch Kids, Popples, Dolly Pops, Glamour Girls and Monchichis. The quantity and quality was reaching boy toy levels.

The 1980's was not, however a great time to be a little girl whose parents only seemed to shop at outlets and clearance sales. It also did not help that most toys aimed towards girls seemed to come with a premium price tag. Nor was it advantageous to be the lone girl in class without the must have toy required to fit in the ever changing and ever judgmental girl society of the grade school playground.

Perhaps that is why I readily found kinship amongst the boys. As long as you had a few Hotwheels, a bike, a baseball mitt, and some cheap M.U.S.C.L.E guys, you were accepted without question.

This did not deter me from wanting to fit in with those of my gender, and come Christmas or my birthday I would make sure to include at least one of the must have girl status symbols on my list.

One particular year I was crazy over Monchichis. The commercials had me salivating. What a perfect toy for the Return of the Jedi crowd. A furry little friend you could dress up that was cute, had a tail and could suck his thumb.

Every time I saw the commercial, I'd point it out to my mom. If we were in a store that had them on display, I'd wax poetic about them. On Saturday mornings I'd pester my mom to watch the cartoon with me. I was in full blown parental brainwashing mode. I was going to insure that come January, after winter break, I would join the elite girls of my class and be accepted once I had my Monchhichi

Come Christmas, I was beyond ready for my little Japanese monkey doll. I remember ripping into my presents hoping each one would bring me closer. Of course, it would have to be the last gift I'd open, right?

Upon tearing into the wrapping paper like a child possessed, I gazed upon my prize: my brand new thumb sucking monkey... Gonga.

It wasn't a Monchhichi. It wasn't anything that even closely resembled a Monchhichi. It was a little gorilla who's only kinship to the Monchhichi was that he too could suck his thumb. The tag on his butt said his name was "Gonga". I called him "Disappointment." Gonga couldn't even wear clothes. Nothing would fit him, not even Teddy bear sweaters.

I never let on to my parents, though. I thanked them and told them I loved him.

When Christmas vacation was over, and we returned to school, all the girls in class gathered around to show off their new Monchhichis and accessories. I stood with the boys making fun of them, trading baseball cards, and racing the Hotwheels we'd all snuck into class in our pockets.


Lost Sgt. Slaughter

1986 was a great year to be a New Yorker. The Statue of Liberty was turning 100 years old and that Fourth of July was set to be the best ever! The Mets were in the middle of a fantastic pennant race which would end in a World Series championship (not that I cared, being a Yankees fan.) But the most important thing to happen in my young life in 1986 was me turning 10 years old.

Turning 10 meant a whole new slew of responsibilities and a bunch of hard fought freedoms. Those freedoms included being allowed to ride my bike to the video store to rent movies BY MYSELF! The flip side was I could be asked to bike to the grocery store by myself too, if we ran out of something midweek.

Turning 10 also meant a substantial bump on the allowance front... $5.00 a week!

Instead of blowing through my allowance I decided to save up. I really had nothing in mind to purchase, but I knew it would not be a clearanced toy, or a knock off or anything else along those lines. I made up my mind that for once in my life I was going to walk into a toy store and buy that latest, greatest thing I could. It was my mission.

As the months past, I still could not figure out what to get, until I was watching TV one afternoon and a GI Joe commercial came on. I knew then I would go blow through my savings on GI Joes!

I started slowly, buying a couple of figures at a time at the Woolsworth in Cityline. There wasn't anything very exciting about these purchases, other than I learned about sales tax and how much I disliked having to pay more than the posted price when I went up to the checkout.

One weekend I remember getting a flyer in the junk mail from a local toystore. (I loved going through toy flyers as a kid playing the old game "If I X amount of money what would I get?") And there in the flyer I saw pictured the great Serpentor in his Air Chariot AND Sgt Slaughter in his Triple T Tank... ON SALE!  After some begging and pleading, my parents agreed to drive me to that toy store, which was rather far. (Anything NOT within walking distance, or out of the Ozone Park area was considered "far".)

I remember that the boxed Joe vehicles were behind the counter, and being a rather shy kid it took forever to muster up the courage to ask the shopkeep for help. Actually, I mustered up the courage to ask my mom to ask the shopkeep for help. Before long we were on the way home, with my 2 vehicles!

Boy, did I have fun playing with Sgt. Slaughter! I was a big wrestling fan as well as a GI Joe fan, so sometimes the Sarge would wrestle Cobra guys. Most times, the Sarge would go on solo missions, since seriously, would Sgt Slaughter NEED any backup? Most of my other Joes were usually captured and the Sarge would of course, be the lone man to break into Cobra headquarters and single handedly save each and every Joe.

As 1986 wore on, my parents decided we were going to move from New York to Miami, Florida, to be closer to family. I was both excited and sad. I liked Florida. Everytime we went on vacation, we'd go to Disney World, go to the beach and have fun. What wasn't there to like about Florida? But at the same time I was sad because it did mean leaving behind all my friends, and my school.

We packed up the house into a moving van and left Queens for good.

In the U-Haul, I had made sure to pack all my GI Joes into my backpack so that I could play with them on way down to Florida. In fact, moments before getting into the truck, I had been playing with them in the hallway when my mom gave me the signal that it was time to go. I quickly packed them into my backpack and  we were off.

When we arrived at South of the Border, we dismounted as my dad wanted to take pictures, and get something to eat. I brought my Joes down with me. As my dad ran around posing for goofy pictures with my mother, I sat at a bench and looked into my backpack, looking for my favorite of all the Joes, Sgt Slaughter.

He wasn't there.

I looked again.

Still no Sarge.

It was then that it hit me... Sarge was doing recon ontop of the heater in the hallway at the old house in Queens, while me and the rest of the Joes were on the steps. I never packed him up! He was still there.

I ran and told my mother, and all she said was, "I'll buy you another one when we get to Miami Beach."

So I bided my time until we reached my grandparent's condo on Miami Beach. It was late at night. No shopping until morning.

Morning came, and everyone was still tired from the trip, but I was insistent. Lincoln Road Mall had a Woolsworth, and I knew it, and I kept reminding my mom about it. When she finally relented and took me later on in the day, I came to discover that they did not have the Sarge in stock. I was heartbroken, but I was promised that the next time we saw him, I would get him.

I never saw him on a store shelf again.


Interlude: My Mom

I find that most of my childhood memories revolve around not only my toys, which I spent a great deal of time with, but they revolve around my mom... Which oddly enough, I also spent a great deal of time with.

My mom always had time for me growing up. If I needed help on my multiplication tables, or in the dreaded cursive and penmanship assignments, she was there to help. And when I say she was there to help, I mean she would drop what she was doing to help me, no matter how long it took.

She would bring me with her on errands, and it really wasn't that hard to behave in public for her. She always asked me nicely before leaving the house. I was not threatened, so I never truly feared her. I knew she could get angry, but why risk it when it was so easy to just be quiet and be good? I guess, I saw it as my responsibility, even as a young child, to not embarrass my mom in public. I didn't want to disappoint her. I feared that more than any anger driven punishment.

Since my mother did the shopping for the household with me in tow, my mom was also the one that would buy me my toys. She had a great memory for what she bought me too. I could forget about trading toys with other kids, my mom was a hawk!

As the years went on, and I got older, I started collecting toys. I don't think my mom understood it, but she would defend my collection to any nosey adult that dared stick their head in my room.

Then one day, my mom was cleaning a closet and found my Smurfs. We started talking about my first Smurf, the baker, and it ended in her confession... She always meant to buy me a Smurf house, but it was very costly, so she saved up, but by the time she had enough and went to buy it, the store had sold the only one they had.

I went straight to my computer, jumped online and found one. I bought it without telling her. When the box arrived, I handed to her and told her it was a surprise. She started to cry when she saw it. We opened it up and put a couple of Smurfs in and had a good chuckle.

That Smurf house led to a full village that we put together, the both of us. It was our thing.

When my mom passed away, I could barely look at Smurf, much less bring myself to buy one. I couldn't do it. My heart was completely broken, and the passion was gone. It wasn't fun. It was painful. To whom would I show the latest addition to the village? Who would help me decide where he went?

It took going to a toy show, and walking by a dealer who sold nothing BUT Smurfs to get me to even look at another little blue heartbreaker. I looked. Then I walked away.

As I walked up and down each aisle, looking from booth to booth, and all I could do was think about how my mom would have reacted to seeing so many Smurfs in one place, and instead of fighting back the tears I found myself smiling a little.

Before leaving the show I went back to that dealer and bought a Smurf in a cage. It was one we talked about getting, however we ran out of time. When I got home I dusted off the village and found his place.

February 8th 2011 marks ten years since my mom passed. (That's the hardest sentence I've ever had to write down...)

She taught me everything I know about love, kindness, understanding, speaking up for yourself, cursing, flipping off bad drivers that tailgate you, family, and of course, taking care of your toys.

I love you, mommy. Thank you.