Christmas and birthdays always brought toys growing up, many of them made by Tonka and mostly trucks. Fire truck, dump truck, tow truck, even a Pepsi truck. I liked to play with them in my room, but not with the other boys in the neighborhood. Besides, they were kind of big, so they weren’t really portable.
What I really loved to play with were Matchbox cars, and so did the other boys in the neighborhood. They weren’t expensive, particularly compared to larger toys, so we all had several of them. Being so small, they could easily be taken with you anywhere you wanted to go, particularly if you were lucky enough to have an official “Matchbox” collector’s case.
Developers had started building houses behind where we lived, but they hadn’t quite gotten down to land directly behind us. So it was that one summer, Ronnie, Tony, and I used what scrap we could take from all that construction and created a little place under a big old tree where there wasn’t any grass, only dirt, where we could play with our cars. It was right behind our house, so Mother could look out the kitchen window (if she had a mind to) and keep watch.
Tony lived next door, so Emily could watch, too. Tony’s mother was a widow and was the only mother in the neighborhood that worked, so Emily was fulltime help. I remember Mother said that Tony’s mother made more money than any woman in Tyler; I just remember her fabulous Enid Collins bags.
Of course, we started with building our houses. Mine was some kind of brick or cinder block that was half buried in the little hill, providing a covered garage for my cars, which included a Rolls Royce, an “E” type Jaguar, and a Ferrari Berlinetta. I imagined it to be kind of a Mid-century modern, which would have been timely since it was actually the mid-century.
We went on to build a hospital (I had an ambulance), a fire station (Ronnie had a fire chief’s car), and a not particularly successful lake. We’d drive around on the roads we’d built and create little dramas, like a car wreck, that would require some action—like me wheeling the ambulance from the hospital and back again. We never had a fire because we had a healthy respect for our parents. And Emily.
There was another boy in the neighborhood named Bob, who lived on the corner across from Ronnie. Bob didn’t play with us much, being a year or two older. I remember he had sort of inherited his older brother’s comic book collection when he went off to college, and Bob sold me some of them. His brother was a Marvel collector, and I was a DC kind of guy (still am) so I only picked up a few of them.
One day, for whatever reason Bob was playing with us, and we went over to our Matchbox city. I thought nothing of it, since he had recently customized my Jaguar with a really cool blue racing stripe. But there wasn’t anywhere for Bob to play, and before long he suggested that we have a tornado and start all over. Being that Bob was older and something of a bully, Ronnie agreed and so did Tony. Outvoted, I carefully removed my fleet of cars from their garage with the overhang and retrieved the ambulance from the hospital.
In no time at all, the Texas tornado was over, and we began to assess and somewhat correct the damage. Soon enough, it was time for everyone to go home.
We never really got around to putting it all back together before school started. By the time school let out the next summer, we had new neighbors in a new house where the little Matchbox city had been. Thus restricted to our own yards, we learned to play lawn darts and croquet. My Matchbox cars took permanent residence on top of the bookcase in my bedroom, where I played with them alone.
Tony went through a Hot Wheels stage, and he had the racing track set accessory that he would set up in their living room. It was kind of fun, but I was never really a hot rod kind of guy. Anyway they moved, and that was pretty much the end of that.
Somewhere in this house is that Jaguar with the blue racing stripe. It’s a little banged up, but 50 years and a manufactured tornado or two will do that to you.