by Terri Coop
Not long ago, I was web-surfing and came across a cache of vintage postcards from my hometown. One particular scene slammed me into the past so hard I didn’t know if I was coming or going. The key to my time warp is in the lower right corner. A place called “Toyland.”
In the 1960s, the California Central Valley was a pretty good place to be a kid. Marysville and Yuba City had thriving downtowns full of wonders to an eight-year old who had wheedled a couple of quarters out of Dad.
Toyland was part of a genuine dime store. The main sign proudly read “5-10-25” and was stocked top to bottom with trinkets and treasures from exotic (at least to a kid from Hicksville California) places like “Japan” and “Hong Kong.” In the back was my personal mecca, a rack of knock-off Barbie accessories, all priced at ten cents per card.
No MBA candidate has ever performed a case study as thorough as my deliberations over how to make the most of my quarters. Did I need another place setting, or should gaudy candelabras grace Barbie's table? A floral centerpiece or a soup tureen? There’s only one set of red placemats left. So, should I hope they will restock, or go with the ample supply of pink? What to do . . . what to do. It was delicious agony.
While Dad was next door knocking one back at the “Blue Room,” I schemed, weighed my options, did the cost/benefit analysis and took down and put back my choices a dozen times before coming to a decision. When I had done my job correctly, I had change left over for candy. I’d wait under the store's awning wearing a pair of wax lips and cooing over my treasures until Dad collected me and we headed home. Life was good.
We were a blue-collar family and didn’t have a lot. However, I guarantee that no Barbie set a grander table. I learned lessons in frugality and decision-making that stuck with me to this day. I can still pinch a dime until Roosevelt chokes and I can still set a beautiful table at a bargain price. Who needs an MBA when you got your training at Toyland.
This postcard also did something I never thought would happen. This Fall I am going home. I left California in 1989, vowing to never return. Something in my head and heart changed and I want to revisit the places that were important to me. I know Toyland is long gone and the space is probably a taco stand or cell phone store. I don’t care. I want to stand on that bit of sidewalk and remember when a dime store in a hot dusty town in California was the center of my universe.