Perspective and Matchbox cars …

September 14, 2007

I was walking around my parents’ yard this evening. It’s strange how time changes one’s perspective. If you’ve ever walked into an elementary school room with your own children, you know what I mean. The desks have become so small.

I remember that yard as enormous, especially when having to mow it. Me, my brother, and my cousins used to play baseball in that yard, as best as 4 or 5 young boys could play baseball as two teams that is. We played football there too, which was a little easier than baseball because the yard is narrow and long.

The trees that used to look so young are huge now. They tower dangerously above the roof of the house. I used to be able to put my arms around the trunks of some of the trees, but now my arms barely go halfway around, if that. The ditch that was so treacherous when mowing that ran the length of the yard has been filled by erosion, and is now just a small dip, a gully that can be driven over with the mower. How many times did we used to get the mower stuck in that ditch, or come dangerously close to tipping?

I remember playing with Matchbox cars under a pair of cedar trees with my brother. They were enormous trees then, the largest we had, against the property line. The fence was tacked to the back of one, and was covered by honey suckle that smelled wonderful in early spring. We used to pull the flowers off to taste the small drop of nectar.

And we never called the cars “Matchbox cars” either. They were always simply “Matchboxes.”

We liked to play with the Matchboxes under the cedar because the dirt was dark and very fine. It made wonderful roads, and the roots of the tree stuck out from the ground so we would dig them out a bit to make tunnels and bridges. My brother wasn’t as concerned about the look of his cars, and drove them through mud and debris. I tried to keep my Matchbox cars clean, and kept them in a special Matchbox-brand suitcase. I think I used to play in the dirt mostly with a red Pontiac whose doors opened, because it was already a little beat up.

Matchboxes were wonders of toy engineering, with doors that opened, sometimes hoods, and were made of die-cast metal. I don’t know how they’re made now, but I’m willing to bet they’re not the same in numerous ways. (Tonka trucks used to have solid rubber wheels. Now they’re heavy plastic.) The make and model of the Matchbox were stamped on the underside of the chassis. I would get one or two in my stocking at Christmas, and would also beg a purchase from my parents or buy one myself at K-Mart when I saw an especially neat looking one. New models came out all the time. There used to be larger, more expensive and fancier models too, usually in a showcase.

Whenever I think of my childhood, those metal Matchboxes are the most vivid of all my memories. They have always symbolized my childhood for me. I can almost feel their outline against the palm of my closed fist, can almost feel their weight in my hand.

I wish I still had those old cars.


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