3 min read

🛰️ You Don’t Need Any Toys.

A young girl on a leather chair playing with a coaster.

“I don’t even know why I even buy you any toys, you don’t need ’em,” my dad said, watching me turn a coaster into a spaceship, fly it across the couch and dock it again.

Ours was an iconic family room of the ‘70s that lived on through the ‘80s and ‘90s; thick brown shag carpet stretched from dark stained panel wall to dark stained panel wall, buffeted by a sliding door leading to a stapled-in-place screened porch on one end and a three-panel bay window on the other.

“This is space command,” I’d attempt to voice in a baritone that a young boy can’t really achieve, “permission to dock granted.” Whooshing noises followed, and a robotic “docking now” would leave my lips.

This was our ranch-style home in the suburbs of Boston. Lisa Lane. Our street sign would be regularly stolen by, I always assumed, someone who really loved the Lisa in their life.

The family room was littered with two pieces of furniture: a mustard-colored, corduroy love seat with matching ottoman stained dark with cigarette smoke and a navy Ethan Allen flower-print three-cushion couch. Positioned in an L shape, both facing a large TV on the floor—back then TVs were furniture, meant to sit on the floor like a small wardrobe—topped with a pair of VCRs my dad would use to “dupe” rented tapes.

The loveseat was exclusively my dad’s for laying on; cigarette in his mouth, tiny-tire-rimmed ashtray he got from his Navy friend (who ran a gas station the next town over) perched on his round potbelly, he’d ash out constantly and talk to me, but more often the TV.

When he said it, the toy remark, I was taken aback. I loved toys. What on earth did he mean? I felt instantly defensive.

Kenner Star Wars guys by the fistful, Battlestar Galactica vipers that would shoot spring-loaded tiny pellet “lasers” (the company later had to glue them in as apparently kids would shoot them into their mouths and choke) and a kitchen-floor parking lot packed full of Matchbox cars.

I loved those toys, but my dad was right.

A cork coaster on an end table was just as good to me.

Anything could be and was a spaceship. I flew them all: a cordless phone with it’s antenna extended as the “turbo power warp drive,” last week’s TV Guide flapped open with “sonic wings extended,” every snack pretzel stick I could hold at once was a squadron of exploratory tube crafts, their salt coating a type of solar space fuel.

Over forty years later, I sometimes still find myself turning something on a side table into a spaceship. I can’t help it. It is who I am.

My dad now gone, I’m the one on the couch. My not-even-two-years-old-yet daughter on the nice leather chair across the room. No TV-as-furniture, no shag rug, no dark paneling, definitely no cigarette, but that warm feeling of that family room is the same, and to my own personal shame (only because I made fun of him his whole life for it, “when are you due, man?”) the belly is the same.

I find myself watching her with a coaster, wool not cork, but a coaster. She’s singing something I can’t make out and she’s making it fly.

As much as I see her wonderful, tender, thoughtful, smart and beautiful mother in her in so many things, she’s also half me, and while it may not be the same kind of spaceship I had as a kid, it’s definitely flying, and like my own dad, I admire her creativity, and do wonder, however briefly, if she needs any toys at all.

A bunch of essays, photos and thoughts by Pat Castaldo.