Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Plastic Dreams

The heat-plus-humidity stranglehold that gripped my home for the entire weekend has finally let go.

I am left, surprisingly, sad.

* * *

While I cooked breakfast (I fried up pancake batter leftover from the weekend with the first few local peaches), Son found an unopened Lego set in our Random Closet.

Both my parents and David's parents saved our childhoods in attics and basements, so many of Son's too-numerous playthings come from the early 1970s.

The '70s now seem like such an innocent decade. Did people see that at all back then?

Son's Legos, almost all leftover from David's childhood, are stored in a big box. It is an astonishingly large collection of plain blocks in a great variety of sizes.

Almost all of the blocks are red, white, or blue. Clearly, David came of Lego age in 1976.

* * *

1976. I remember drilling my much-younger brother, newly two years old, on how to talk as we watched Walter Cronkite on the television. He learned to whip out, "Bicentennial Minute!" at any opportune moment, saying it at lightening speed in his high lispy tones.

My brother celebrated his very adult birthday this past weekend. I still think of him as nine years old, my son's current age.

Poor brother. He had to deal with having three parents giving him instructions about how to live.

He still does.

* * *

The Lego set Son found in the closet this morning was double-bagged in plastic Publix grocery bags. I have absolutely no memory of this toy, but I would guess it is from Grandma and Grandpa (my in-laws) since Publix is the main grocery chain where they live most of the year.

The set comes with directions. The pieces are not necessarily easy to recognize as Legos. They all share the ability to link to those classic cubes--but now they are just parts of a particular whole, parts that come with instructions that tell you how to put them together, how to play with them.

Following the directions, we make a hard-plastic hot air balloon to take a few little Lego people on an Orient Expedition.

* * *

I lament the passing of the world that now seems to have allowed creativity. When we were children, we were given a chance to make whatever images came into our head. Those red-white-and-blue Legos turned into covered wagons, rockets, Big Foot's footprint, the Mouseketeers, castles, mountains, a hospital... whatever was relevant to our own personal and changing interests.

* * *

As I take a load of dirty laundry down to the washing machine in the basement, I glance at the prepackaged box of magic tricks.

When I was seven, I started to understand that nothing happened without human intervention. But in that age, it seemed that that intervention could not be mine.

Before receiving the magic set, all I heard when my uncles pulled eggs out of cloth bags was, "Magicians never tell!"

Someone else controlled things, someone pulled the strings.

God was a job open to anyone with the right directions.

I had such a sense of power in my hands that Christmas when I opened the magic box. That holiday when I turned seven years old, before the birth of my brother, my parents were telling me they trusted me enough for ME to be the ones pulling those strings.

What could I make happen in this world that had appeared so mysterious before I had the manual?

* * *

I look at my childhood ranch-style doll house, now set up on a little table in the basement. The dollhouse used to have working electricity. Tiny 1970s-style fixtures lit up its back corners. Son points out that there is no way to get from one floor to the next, except by magic.

My grandmother, long dead, knit complicated lace blankets for the beds and crocheted simple rugs for the floors. I, at age seven, cross-stitched a miniature daisy and put it in a tiny frame.

What was handmade looks timeless, still works, even though the peeling doll-house family now lives off the grid.

* * *

I pick up the pattern for the sweater I am knitting on this cool afternoon. It is the first time in days we haven't had all the fans in the house going at full blast. The quiet is wonderful, opening. The pattern sits on the coffee table where I put it, instead of flying under the sofa when the turning column of air lifts it. I look at it closely and imagine following the directions precisely.

K1, yo, k1, ssk, k3, k2tog, k1, yo, k1.

Symmetry, knit from right to left--not like my words.

* * *

Here I am, facing a new day, wanting for all the world for everything to be packaged up and self explanatory.

And yet, I know.

Now is the time to repair our lives and remake the world as we see fit, at this moment, in these difficult times. I know that what is of value is what happens when we pack away the carefully-constructed plastic designed to fit together in one way, pull the plug and try to make do with what we can create ourselves, and let the rules and instructions fly to the wind as we make our own maps.


C Meir said...

When I had Legos I did my rendition the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Bamiyan Temple in Afghanistan.

I was such a weird kid.

Carrie K said...

What an evocative post of childhood memories.

I'm fairly certain the 70's did not seem innocent to those living htem. Key Swap parties. Drugs. Rampant divorce. Open marriages.

The Purloined Letter said...

Carrie--Yep! When I was thinking of the 70s as innocent, I realized that very few people at the time could have ever imagined that there would be a time when what was happening then could seem clean and easy. Will we ever think this way about the Aughts?

Carol--I love that you brought the loves you had at that moment to your play. That is what makes it SO important to have stuff that doesn't tell us what to do with it. Maybe it is especially important for us weird kids.

Penny L. Richards said...

Aha, but just because those new sets come with instructions, that doesn't mean you have to follow them! I was playing with a friend's son a few years back, who had a bin of that sort of Lego mixed with the basic parts. I built a coffeehouse with an open-mike stage. He was highly entertained to see space-ship parts turned into an espressomaker.

Nell was looking at my old Girl Scout sash recently--whole lotta Bicentennial-related patches and badges. I remember we did a lot of dressing up in bonnets and dipping candles and making corn-husk dolls.

The Purloined Letter said...

Oh, Penny, I love it! Yes, we don't follow the rules very often either--but rarely do we hit the espresso level of creativity!

Carrie K said...

Of course we'll look back on the aughts nostaligically. It's our nature. But honestly, not much is really all that new. Sex, drugs, power plays, cruelty, love, music, creativity.......it's all been around as long as we have.


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