“Why don’t y’all go play with those li’l figures out there.” Gabriel’s Wannabees, Mattel’s Hub Bubs, and Kenner’s Strawberry Shortcake … Gen X vintage toys

Me.

Scenes from a crazy room – judgment free zone. In this pandemic, and honestly with the loss of my mom, I have felt increasingly nostalgic. I suppose some of us silly humans are plagued with an instinct to gather up trivial objects in an effort to nest during difficult times.

Tigger and Bo (or maybe Doodle) and little Roy

There were three toy lines when I was a child that I knew at the time the world believed I was either the wrong age or gender to enjoy as much as I did. Such a shame we do that to kids. What I discovered in pandemic is that all three lines were much more finite than I had realized back then. Due to the magic of eBay, I was able to re-gather playthings I thought lost to the ether. The joys of acquisition and completion and display have been a strange comfort to me.

My beloved parents Don and Susie with yours truly

Gabriel’s Wannabees were a failed attempt to compete with Playmobil figures and Fisher-Price’s Little People. My grandma Edna must have scooped them all up at a clearance table in the 70s to keep her beloved grandkids/great-grandkids happy and occupied AND safely out of her Mamie Eisenhower-esque coiffure. She kept the Wannabees all in a wicker, wood-lidded picnic basket on her temperature controlled, enclosed back porch. You could tell you had overstayed your welcome in her kitchen when she said in her lilting North Carolina accent, “Why don’t y’all go play with those li’l figures out there.” (Not as much a query as a directive.)

Wannabees

An odd collection of “professions“ was represented by the figures, which I didn’t realize then was by toy maker design. A cowboy, a football player, a gymnast, a nurse, the Lone Ranger, firemen, a helicopter pilot. Sounds like a casting call for the Village People. Anyway, having these little creatures in my hands again 40+ years later is as surreal as it is transporting, evoking what seemed like a happier, safer time.

Mattel’s Hub Bubs where a similarly unsuccessful toy line, likely intended to compete with Richard Scarry‘s ubiquitous (at the time) Busytown. A series of little anthropomorphic animal figures – attired in various uniforms like policeman, fireman, postal worker, teacher (apparently career inspiration was key back then) – could be placed in little plastic buildings. When you hooked the structures together, and turned a little crank, they all moved and interacted.

Hub Bubs

Again, I have visions of my mother Susie, who always was a sucker for anything animal related, seeing all of these on a sale table, grabbing them all in the feverish way she always shopped, and bringing them home. And likely wanting to play with them even more than I did. Further, I always assumed there were more characters and buildings than we once had. It was just a few months ago that I realized we basically had the complete set, which I then replicated in the feverish online way I tend to shop. That apple (iPhone) doesn’t fall very far from the tree.

And this last toy confession is likely where I will get the most critique, but I loved Kenner’s Strawberry Shortcake dolls. I’ll say it! The smell, the world building, the fact that character conflict existed but was always quickly resolved with minimal harm to any involved. My parents grudgingly bought me a couple of the dolls when I was a kid, but it was an era when that made everyone far more uncomfortable than it should have.

Strawberry Shortcake

Ironically, I learned recently that I had a couple of relatives who thought having dolls in my crib when I was a baby made me gay. I also had another grandmother who thought having a brass bed (which I did) would make me gay. Irony of ironies. If only it were that easy, the gay mafia would be a lot larger. Of course, all that really tells you is how Dr. Freud effed up generations of nosy, well-meaning, lightly toxic kin who failed at job one: live and let live, love and let love.

Thank goodness I had good friends in elementary school – Hope, Missy, Pam – who shared sans judgment their Strawberry Shortcake toys with me, exemplifying from an early age what acceptance, kindness, and inclusion actually looked like. And now as a *slightly* unusual 50-year-old man I have my own set. All still smell great BTW. Lord knows with what kind of chemicals they were doused for their respective aromas to linger so!

And I’m still gay. And proud of it. And not because of any toys I had. And not because of parental-driven decor. But I’m comfortable being me – and thriving – because I have been blessed with parents who loved and supported and celebrated me unconditionally.

Me with neighbor dog Muffy

I also love superheroes which didn’t turn me Kryptonian. And GI Joe which didn’t make me a Marine. And He-Man which didn’t make me a bodybuilder. And Star Wars which didn’t make me a Jedi.

What all these Gen X materialistic influences DID make me was a creative soul who continues to be energized by flights of fancy and imagination. And all led me to a happy, successful, stable loving life. I’ll take that all day long.

My mom always had me dapper

5 thoughts on ““Why don’t y’all go play with those li’l figures out there.” Gabriel’s Wannabees, Mattel’s Hub Bubs, and Kenner’s Strawberry Shortcake … Gen X vintage toys

  1. one of my fav posts of yours, ever. the guessed at ‘reasons’ why you are gay and crazy and funny, if not hurtful. people just need to accept each of us is who we are and just stick with that. as for toys, I still collect children’s books, miniatures, and pinatas, glitter, children’s art, etc. and love it all. by the way, John waters is a huge, huge toy collector as well –

    • Love you! I should’ve known John Waters was a kindred spirit. Fortunately, I already knew you were! Yes, I debated whether or not to write this. Thought about it for a few days. I’m sure the cousin who revealed to me that his grandparents had this theory about my homosexuality is cringing now. I already knew about the brass bed business. My mom talked about that for years. As you can imagine. Oh, family! But I must admit that whenever I hesitate about writing something, it is exactly the thing I should be writing. And the thing to which people respond more than any other.

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  2. Pingback: Hadron Colliders, Bosendorfers, The Beatles, VanGogh, and Pearl Jam: the Spring ‘22 edition of Wabash Magazine « Reel Roy Reviews

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