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Official Article

Raiders of the Lost Toys

Sometimes we retro-enthusiasts go to crazy lengths to find treasures from yesteryear that will set off our nostalgia buzzers. We may spend a Saturday visiting every Thrift Store in a 100 mile radius or haggling with Garage Sale sellers who think too much of their "collectibles". In my case, I decided to drive 15 hours to my in-law's house in rural Montana.

In passing I had mentioned to my wife how much I wanted to flip through the pages of a Disney Adventures magazine again, like I did in 5th grade. She then proceeded to drop the bomb that, "I have a bunch of those sitting in my parent's basement, along with a lot of other old garbage you would probably love." Uh...we've been married for 5 years and you're just telling me this now?

Soon, under the guise of a family reunion, we were on the road to Montana. While my wife and kids were looking forward to making memories with parents, siblings, cousins and the rest, I just wanted to dig around inside a dusty old crawlspace to excavate the remnants of my wife's childhood playthings. So after removing a board from the bottom of a bedroom closet, the adventure began. Come along, RetroDazers, if you dare!

As you can see, it was super dusty down there as I began sifting through old boxes and bins, but I was undeterred. My first find was a bin containing 2 classic stuffed animals of the 80s. First was Swiftheart Rabbit, one of the Care Bear cousins that appeared in the second phase of the movies, cartoons and toys. It's plain to see by the insane look in my eyes, that I was pretty thrilled to start out the expedition this way. That little blue rabbit was one of the few pop culture items my wife was actually nostalgic for and when her Mom said, "I thought that was your brother's.", she was met with a quick response, "Uh no, it was definitely mine."

Keeping Swiftheart company was a bright orange fuzzball from the world of Popples, which an internet search tells me was named Puzzle. To find a plush toy in such pristine shape was amazing, since they usually have old fruit snacks stuck to them or stains from spilled Squeeze-Its. I only ever had a miniature Popple in my personal collection, so I was a little jealous my wife got to enjoy a full-size model in her youth.

In a box full of old elementary school stuff like book reports, art projects and award ribbons (so many award ribbons) I didn't see much of interest. But digging down past Lil' Wifey's academic achievements I made a radical find, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Movie folder from 1990! Proof that the TMNT phenomenon extended to boys and girls alike, it made me remember the frenzy inducing power of that movie poster image. It showed just enough to get our imaginations going, while declaring, "Yeah, Dude, the Turtles are totally living in the sewers, bro!"

Next I found a promising box labeled "Kristin's Toys". And while it was mostly filled with generic stuffed animals, it also served as the home of a dozen Troll dolls of all shapes and sizes! Though Trolls were technically a gender neutral toy, they were mainly the domain of elementary school girls, so of course she would have a stockpile of these neon haired creatures.Trolls in sunglasses, Clip-On Trolls, Pencil Topper Trolls, they were all here giving off a mix of cuteness and creepiness we've come to expect..

The next discovery was definitely the domain of little girls who loved cutesy things, as I came upon her collection of Sylvanian Families figures. Do you remember these fuzzy animals that lived in doll houses with tiny furniture? I had girl friends I played with that thought they were the bee's knees. My wife is not different and has been talking about buying some for my daughter when she is old enough, but I guess this vintage collection can be her starter set in a few years.

Another cool item buried in time was this fashion design rub-art kit. I loved this style of artsy toy and even wrote an article about a Monster/Super Hero version a few years ago. The basic idea was that you could move 3 different plates around with various styles of clothes on the torso, hair styles on the head or pants on the legs to create "wild and original" looks. Rubbing a crayon or colored pencil over the top created the final fashion sketch to turn into the folks at Donna Karen or whatever 80s designer you wanted to add their label to your couture outfits for mass consumption.

Dispersed throughout several different boxes were dozens of Happy Meal toys, still sealed in the packages. Mostly Disney themed, these plastic prizes took the form of characters from Hercules, A Bug's Life, Mulan, Tarzan and more. My wife does not share the collector's mentality with me, so it makes sense she would just be content with her Chicken McNuggets, then throw the free toy in a box somewhere. Truth be told, these properties were all from years beyond my years of caring about Disney movies or Happy Meals, but luckily my Mother-In Law dropped a bomb on me.

"There's way more Happy Meal toys down there than those", she said as she set down two more boxes in front of me. Inside were the true treasures from the "House of Ronald". Though they weren't in pristine shape, their nostalgia value was off the charts. Marty McFly on a Hover-Board from the Back To The Future Saturday Morning Cartoon series? Sonic The Hedgehog? I had lost so many of these over the years and now they were back in the mix. So cool.

In my final moments rummaging through this cave of wonders, I finally laid claim to the original goal of the expedition, Disney Adventures magazine! You probably grabbed a few issues yourself from the grocery store checkout line back in the day, right? As promised, she had a handful of issues of from 1994-1997 featuring the hippest kid stars of the 90's like Jonathan Taylor-Thomas and Elijah Wood. Of course the real excitement is found in the comics, contests and fan art printed on the pages within and I can't wait to explore them all.

So all in all a pretty impressive haul of retro-goodies. While I had secretly hoped to find out that my wife was into She-Ra or Silverhawks, we came home with a more diverse collection of items than would have been found in my own childhood home. I'm gonna make this a tradition at all family gatherings from now on. "Hey Uncle so and so, you got an attic full of junk you were going to drop off at Goodwill? Can I explore it?" Hoju's the name, Retro-Excavation is my game.

So have you had any experiences like this in the past? Discover any hidden treasures?

See real time reports on my Nostalgia Dumpster Diving by following @hojukoolander on Twitter.
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mickyarber Posted on Jul 31, 2017 at 01:23 AM

Fantastic article man. Sadly, all of my relatives cleaned out all their "junk" years ago.

And on another subject, PM me your address and I'll send you a couple of packs of those old Topps cards, unopened, so you can enjoy that smell of the gum one more time!

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jul 22, 2017 at 05:28 PM

@OldSchool80s Yeah, smells are big. The sweet scent of the gum that used to come with Topps trading cards always takes me back.

@Vaporman87 Seriously. I'm thinking of making friends with all the senior citizens I know, just so I can rummage around their basements.

OldSchool80s Posted on Jul 22, 2017 at 02:25 PM

What a fun treasure hunt. It is so amazing how something so small or seemingly insignificant can cause nostalgia to come flooding in. To me it can be just a certain smell and I am taken back in an instant. That's what it is all about for me, the feelings of intense nostalgia that those lovely things can bring me.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jul 22, 2017 at 07:41 AM

Another freaking sweet toy hunt for Hoju. I would have been thoroughly enjoying the old McD's Happy Meal finds.

I need to have more relatives/friends who would let me look through all their old stuff. Maybe I can pay somebody to let me do it.

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