Cherished memories

Like hard candy, boxes decorated in green and red have tempted kids for weeks.

Some have been beneath the tree, gifts from aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors. Others appeared in the night, delivered by a stranger said to be from the North Pole.

Finally this Christmas morning, after all the waiting, scraps of paper will lie scattered across the floor while bicycle tires meet the driveway, dolls’ hair gets brushed and trains chug along the track.

Toys create vivid Christmas memories for children and their parents.

This year The Advocate asked readers to share their favorite toy stories. They told of antique playthings that sparked imaginations, handmade dolls and stuffed animals cherished for a lifetime and a teenage Santa who brought Christmas joy to her mother.

Imagination, wheels, string

The most used and abused toy in Chet and Janie Coles’ Baton Rouge home is a 90-year-old wooden rod with wheels and a string.

A pull-toy with four sets of wheels, the play piece belonged to Janie Coles’ mother while growing up in Abbeville. Simple and sturdy, the old wooden toy nurtures a good imagination.

“It is so conceptual, it can be anything,” Chet Coles said. “It can be a locomotive, it can be a truck.”

In the Coles’ home it shared a toy drawer with another pull-toy, a cow with two sets of wheels.

Generations have dragged the toy around, rolling it on the floor, flipping it over. Because the toy has wheels on all sides of the wooden rod body, it never stopped rolling.

“Some toys can be frustrating to small children because, like the cow would flip over, and it wouldn’t right itself, so then they’re dragging the cow on its side,” Janie Coles, an attorney, said. “This thing, when it flips over, it flips onto another set of wheels and so it’s pretty easy for a young child. Once they start pulling it, and it flips over, it’s not a problem.”

Janie Coles grew up with four brothers who were pretty hard on their toys, she said.

“The remarkable thing about it is that it survived,” Chet Coles said.

Janie and Chet Coles entered several toys in a contest sponsored by the LSU Museum of Art that accompanied a recent exhibit of antique toys. Janie Coles dug through some boxes and found the old pull-toy, snapped a picture of it and sent it in. Her photo won.

This Christmas season the old toy shared space with gift-wrapped presents beneath their tree.

Judy the monkey

The toy Lisa Bezet cherishes most is a stuffed monkey she wore hairless with love and hugs.

Bezet, a 47-year-old Baton Rouge English teacher, received a yellow and brown stuffed monkey as a gift when she was about 4 years old. For some reason, she named it Judy.

“I don’t know why I named it Judy,” she said. “Nobody knew why. Maybe it was a TV show I was watching.”

She carried Judy with her continuously. At the Sears portrait studio, she was unhappy until her mother agreed to let her be photographed with the doll.

“I loved her fur and floppy arms and legs,” Bezet said. “I still have it over 40 years later. She’s a little lop-sided now, and her fur is almost all gone, but I smile when I remember how special she was to me as a little girl!”

Judy is the only toy from childhood that Bezet kept.

“It’s almost hairless,” she said. “It looks pitiful, poor little thing.”

But Judy conjures great memories.

“She was my best friend,” Bezet said.

Her little Santa Claus

Sarah Stravinska’s best Christmas came as a 40-year-old.

Thirty years ago, Stravinska and her teenage daughter were talking about the toys they always wanted when they were children. Stravinska, a retired dance instructor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, bemoaned the gifts she had never had the pleasure of receiving, a “Slinky, the big box of crayons with about 64 crayons — including gold and silver — and a collection of Life Savers candies that were packaged as a book.”

“It just seemed like every other kid in the world was getting that, and I was kind of petulant about it,” Stravinska, now 70, said.

Back then the mother and daughter shared a special relationship.

“She always was a mommy to me,” Stravinska said.

That Christmas, Stravinska’s daughter surprised her with the three gifts she had never gotten. “She was a little Santa Claus,” Stravinska said.

Now, 30 years later, she does not have any of the gifts. The crayons she actually used to color. She ate the Lifesavers candy. And the Slinky walking spring toy became very useful in her teaching career.

“The main thing I used was the Slinky, teaching dancers how their spine should work,” she said. “You don’t just fold it over, you stretch it out and fold it over.”

Reminders of love

A favorite Christmas memory of Cathy Arnett’s is seeing her daughter Cheryl hold tightly onto a doll called Pinkie and a quilt, both made especially for the little girl.

The doll was sewn by Cheryl’s maternal grandmother, the calico and gingham quilt hand-appliquéed by her fraternal grandmother.

“These special toys, handmade with love and care, are an ever-present reminder of how much love went into each stitch,” Arnett said.

Once, Arnett remembered, one of her husband’s friends “teasingly told (Cheryl) that Pinkie was going to be kidnapped, and he took the doll from her arms.” Cheryl, now 35, married and living in Raleigh, N.C., cried and cried until the doll was back in her arms.

“Though this was a story about toys, it also is truly a people story,” Arnett wrote.

“Life is all about growth and relationships. These items remind us of how these special grandmothers showed their love toward Cheryl and others.”