Matchbox Cars: An Ode to Old School

My parents are in the process of selling the family home. We moved there when I was six months old, and thirty-eight years later, it is finally time to move on. It is a heartbreaking process, and when the day actually comes when the papers are signed I am sure a few tears will be shed. But in between now and then it is a lot of work, cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning.

Sometimes, though, the cleaning gets interesting, and it is more like an archeological dig through your personal history. Old report cards, letters, yearbooks, and of course, the toys. Way in the back of a tunnel closet, beneath the eaves, we found a treasure trove. A well-loved but still in the original box Millennium Falcon, various other Star Wars ships and figures, legions of army men, countless dinosaurs, and one blue plastic suitcase full of Matchbox Cars. Opening it was like opening a window to my youth.

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It amazed me how so many cars brought back very specific memories. Here is the big silver Maserati that was my brother Chris' favorite. There is the one I was painting when I spilled the oil-based model paint on the wood floor. One futuristic car had the initials J.D. on the bottom, and I immediately recalled my brother Mike trading for it with a kid from his class named Jason Durney. And of course, the Monkees Mobile, which I bought from Jimmy Sheeran for five dollars in seventh grade. While it is not technically a Matchbox Car, it still holds a place of honor in the collection, for obvious reasons.

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I found myself studying the collection and trying to analyze the younger me. Why the fascination with rescue vehicles? What's with the limited showing of sports cars and the preponderance of trucks? And why on earth did I have three hovercrafts? But I remember receiving many as gifts, so I may not have had a lot of say in what I ended up with. What is certain, though, is the hours of enjoyment I got from them. One look at their condition is a testament to that fact.

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These cars are primarily metal, with some plastic bits, and most of them were made in England in the 1970's. They obviously have stood the test of time and are still a big hit with kids today. This fact was recently proven when a friend visited with his two boys the other day. Their astonished glee and subsequent complete absorption was joyful to see. And not to get all crusty and rose-colored, but it did make me wonder what will stand the test of time from the childhoods of today. How do you store away an app, to be dug up decades later with delight? I know kids have plenty of stuff, but do they have too much to focus hours of their energy into just a few things? And is it built well enough to last forty years?

I know, I know, too maudlin and preachy. But what I am taking from this whole experience is the ability of kids to infuse themselves into beloved material possessions, so much so that thirty years later, details and memories come flooding back with startling clarity. This speaks to the power and significance of a child's surroundings and the objects in them. After sifting through that suitcase of cars I will no doubt more carefully consider what I can give my kids that will make them warmly smile and reminisce some thirty years down the road.

(Images: Richard Popovic)

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