From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

The Best Toys Ever

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

Carl Sagan

“It’s not fair,” I told my mother. “Every eight-year-old kid in the world has a GameCube.”

“Not quite,” she said.

“Yeah, I know. We don’t.”

Mom turned and gave me that “Are you being rude?” look, and I decided to back off. My mom was afraid I would turn into a couch potato with weak muscles and mush for a brain.

“Think of the eye-hand coordination I would gain from those games,” I said hopefully. “The experience would probably double my test scores in school.”

“So would reading a book,” Mom said. She shook her head and continued, “Why don’t you go play in the sandpile or call a friend?”

The sandpile is Mom’s answer to everything. Anytime we move somewhere new, the first two things she does is to get a library card and have Dad make a sandpile for us. I gotta admit, we have a neat sandpile—not one of those dorky plastic turtles filled with a bucket of sand. It took thirty bags of sand to make our sandpile. We have scraps of wood and old pipes and stuff for building. But still . . .

“Mommmmmm,” I sighed. “No one wants to play at a house where there’s no GameCube or video games. We don’t even get cable, our TV screen is about six inches wide, and we don’t have a DVD player. I can’t invite kids over here. It’s boring.”

Mom frowned, and I knew I was getting to her. She wanted me to have friends. Maybe not every kid in the world had a GameCube, but everyone I knew did, and most of them had big-screen TVs with everything from HBO to Disney. Up until the year I was six, all I was allowed to watch was educational TV on our six-inch screen. Out in the sandpile, all the other kids would be playing some kind of superhero games. I was building stuff like on the home-building show. I was not going to be a couch potato, but I sure wasn’t on my way to being popular.

I was not happy a few days later when Mom told me we were having people over for dinner. “They have a boy your age and a girl who is six,” she said. “I want you to be polite and entertain them. This is a good chance to make a new friend with someone your own age.”

It was just as I had expected. “So, what games do you have?” Brian asked. Somehow I knew he didn’t mean checkers or chess or Chutes and Ladders.

Then his sister had to add, “We’ve just got Super Smash Brothers, and I unlocked just about all the characters.”

I croaked out something about my GameCube being broken and maybe getting a new one. It was getting dark and too late for the sandpile, which I didn’t think this kid was going to want to play in anyway. We sat around in my bedroom, tossed a Nerf ball, and poked at my box of Legos.

“So, where’s the playroom?” the sister asked, snooping around out in the hallway.

“There’s just the basement,” I told her. “Only it’s not fixed up.”

“Let’s see,” she said as she started down to the first floor.

“I’ll show you the way.” I was hoping my mom would get the hint about how boring things were at our house.

Brian came, too.

It was dark and damp in the basement with a big old furnace to the right and a small bathroom with a sink and toilet. There were two light bulbs, one at each end of the huge room. We kept the bikes and sports equipment down there. You could see where the last family had started to fix it up with paint on one wall and tiles for the floor.

“What’s all this?” Brian pointed at a pile of boxes and empty containers lined up along one of the walls.

“My mom saves all this stuff,” I told him.

“What for?” the sister asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. How could I explain my mother’s love of cardboard boxes, empty milk jugs, egg cartons, and green plastic tomato baskets? It all had to do with being creative and not catching the coach-potato disease.

Brian picked up a milk carton and tossed it in the air. He looked into a refrigerator box. “There must be a zillion milk cartons in there.”

“Let me see.” The sister tipped over the box with a crash, and Brian let out a whoop.

“We could build a fort,” the sister suggested. But by the time we had emptied out the cartons, Brian had a better idea. We spent the next hour and a half flipping each other over in the box. We’d put the box down on its side. One of us would crawl in, lie flat, and yell, “Ready!” The other two kids would push the box over. Whomp! It made a great noise. But the waiting, just before the fall, was the best. Then we stuck our feet into bent plastic milk jugs and hopped across the floor without touching the cement.

Before I knew it, Brian’s dad was calling down to us. “Let’s go, kids. It’s late.” Brian’s sister crawled into the box for one last fall.

“Ahhh, Dad . . . do we have to?” Brian asked.

“Yes! I want you two up here this minute.”

Brian rolled his eyes and shrugged. I followed my two guests up the stairs.

At the front door, the adults were getting coats out of the closet, saying thank you and good-bye, and making plans to get together again.

“Mom,” Brian said, “they have the best toys ever. Can we come again?”

My mom looked at me suspiciously. Then she told Brian, “Sure, you can come again. Any time.”

After they were gone, she stared at me. “Best toys ever?” She headed for the basement. I followed, sure I was about to get yelled at for getting into her things. I was going to have to clean up all by myself.

At the bottom of the stairs, Mom just stood still. “Best toys ever.” She shook her head and smiled. The floor was covered with egg cartons and milk jugs. The battered refrigerator box was torn and beat up.

“I guess your friends weren’t bored,” Mom said. She didn’t even ask me to clean up.

“No way,” I said. I smiled and thought about some kids I might invite over after school on Monday.

Karen Lynn Williams


Reprinted by permission of Robert Berardi. ©2007 Robert Berardi.

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