Toy story

I’m one of those unlucky people who had a happy childhood.
– Jonathan Coe, author

“Risto always says he didn’t have any toys when he was a kid,” Wife told the three other people gathered around the table, and around the birthday cake with a big number 1 on it.

Then she laughed and the others laughed, too. He’s such a joker, she said, and we all agreed, but for different reasons. Maybe the others thought the idea of somebody having no toys was really funny, ridiculous even, but I just happen to think I’m a pretty funny guy and a fine joker, generally speaking.

And I do tell people I didn’t have any toys when I was a kid. Or, at least Wife and the kids, and my mother.

Because it’s true.


Of course it’s not really true. There should be an “m” before the “any” because I do remember a monkey friend I had, and in our playroom downstairs today, there’s a children’s rocking chair that used to be mine. It used to be red, but when Dad fixed it a few years ago, he only had maroon paint, so the rocking chair is now maroon.

But if you turn it upside down, you’ll see pencil marks on the bottom of the seat. Those pencil marks were made by a three-year-old playing store by himself. And since he didn’t have a Hello Kitty cash register, he drew the buttons on the back of his rocking chair himself.

The same chair was also an airstair for my airplane for all those trips around the world I was making. I’d climb up one side of the chair, and, holding on to the rocker runners – now the rails of a staircase – I slowly descended from my airplane, and waved to the crowd that was cheering my name. Another speed record broken.

But as for toys, I don’t remember playing with a lot of toys, or having many, and I’ve always thought it was because we didn’t have a lot of money. When I say that I didn’t have any toys when I was a kid, I say it with pride, but for Mom, it’s a sore spot.

“You know, I used to deliver the morning paper, too, for a while,” Mom told me the other day, in an email. She must have told me that story many times in the past because delivering the morning paper is also my backup plan should things really go awry.

We lived in a no-bedroom apartment, a studio with a kitchenette, in downtown Helsinki. Mom was a working business school student and Dad a salesman, sometimes with a job, other times not so much, so he’d stay at home with me.

When I had outgrown my baby bed, Mom designed a new one for me. She turned two armchairs facing each other into a bed, and when I outgrew that, she drew the chairs a little further apart and added a board between them each night. That’s where I fell asleep, listening to the trams clonk on the street just outside our window.

She made clothes for me, and while they may seem really funny today, I did wear her design as recently as in ninth grade when I, at the last minute, decided that it would be nice to wear a costume for the last day of school party after all. I wanted to go as a clown.

Mom took down our orange curtains and sewed me a pair of pants – too big and too short, perfect for a clown. Then she found a pair of suspenders somewhere, messed up my hair and convinced me that she could do the clown face, too, using her makeup powder, lip liner, and lipstick. She could.

Mom was, and is, an inventor, a tinkerer, always finding solutions to problems, always seeing possibilities in what ever it is she has to work with. That includes me.

When I was two years old, I wanted to have a stick horse to ride around with. It wasn’t even much of a challenge for her. She simply took the kitchen broom, turned it upside down, and drew a sock over the head. Giddy up, cowboy!

“Wasn’t that a great idea? Wasn’t that a great stick horse?” Mom said triumphantly a few weeks ago when she visited us.

I had just told Wife and Son and Daughter that when I was a kid I never had any toys. Mom had, as always, told them that it wasn’t true. And I guess the part about the pine cone farm wasn’t really accurate.

“You know, you did get a real horse, too, a “real” stick horse, I mean,” Mom added.

“It was one that looked just like Pippi Longstocking’s horse, a white head with black spots on it. But you liked my horse better,” she said.

Of course I did. I didn’t have toys, but I wasn’t stupid.

It was the best horse in the world.

How does that make you feel?