Nolan’s new toy had me rolling back through my childhood

Emmitt B. Feldner • forThe Review

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our columnist has done it again – left us with nothing. Come to think of it, nothing is probably better than what we usually get from him, but here’s something to fill this space.

Our youngest grandson triggered a flood of memories for his grandfather – and my siblings – with a simple toy purchase.

And grandpa wasn’t even there to influence or direct his purchase.

We met Ethan and his boys, Ty and Nolan, for lunch one day after Christmas.

They had been shopping and Nolan had to show us what he had just bought.

It was a toy 1958 Volkswagen Microbus, two-tone tan and brown in color.

Seeing it immediately took me back to when I was Nolan’s and Ty’s age.

I don’t know why Nolan picked this particular toy, but there must have been some kind of kharmic connection involved.

His new toy was almost identical to my parent’s 1957 Volkswagen Microbus – two-tone, tan and brown – that our family took summer vacation trips to Texas in for at least half a dozen years.

With four sons and a daughter, my parents couldn’t even consider going on vacation – or even a trip to the supermarket – in a little coupe or sedan.

A station wagon was one possibility, of course, but when Volkswagen came out with the Microbus as a follow-up to the Beetle, my parents decided it was just the vehicle they needed.

For those of you who don’t know what a Microbus was, it was the precursor of vans and later mini-vans.

It was basically a box on wheels, with two bench seats in the back that meant it could seat at least eight people – more if they were on friendly terms, which wasn’t always the case with me and my siblings.

Since we usually drove to Texas from New York every summer to visit my mother’s family, my parents needed something with that much room to keep their sanity – and to keep the five of us in the back all in one piece.

One of the nice things about the Microbus was that the bench seats could be taken out and reversed – one of the first vehicles to offer that feature that now seems run-of-the-mill.

Our father took advantage of that, turning around the first bench seat so that the two bench seats faced each other.

He then made a wooden table that folded down that he attached to the side of the Microbus away from the sliding side doors.

We could put the table up during rides and use for it all kinds of things like playing games, reading books or coloring pictures.

Long before the invention of video players, headphone jacks and hand-held video games, that was the best he could come up with for back seat entertainment – and it worked.

We spent many an hour in our own little world back there as our parents drove the highways and byways between the Northeast and the Southwest – all in the days before Interstate highways touched every part of the country.

It probably made it a lot easier for them as they navigated through cities like Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis and the like in the days before bypasses and freeways.

That’s not to say that things were peaceful and tranquil in the back of that Microbus – not with the five Feldner siblings back there.

Since there was no such thing as seat belts or child seats then, there was certain to be one or more of us flying over the table at one of our siblings when some dispute arose over a wrong move in a game, a misplaced crayon or a stolen comic book.

That would, of course, trigger the ominous warning from either the driver’s or the front passenger’s seat – usually both – not to make them have to pull the car over and come back there.

That did happen often enough – usually early in the trip – that the five of us managed to keep some kind of fragile peace the rest of the way.

Naturally, seeing Nolan’s toy brought back all of those memories and more – and naturally, I had to start retelling them all for Nolan, his brother and his father.

It was probably the quickest the three of them have ever eaten their lunch and gotten out of the restaurant.

Oh well, at least I had a more receptive audience when I took a picture of Nolan’s new toy and posted it on Facebook for my brothers and my sister – the common bonds of memory, I suppose.

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