Reflections in a jaded eye, by L. E. Taylor
The little fellow had been frail with ear infections for each of the four winters of his life. He needed to be content playing alone in the warmth of his bedroom on the rugs that covered his linoleum floor or in the small living room.
Each trip Mama made to the grocery a block away usually included a stop at the “dime store.” Back home in the warm kitchen, emptying paper sacks of bottled milk, Kellogg’s Flakes, Del Monte canned goods, and small packages string-wrapped with pink butcher paper, her attention would drift down to her son, watching patiently from a yellow enameled wooden chair.
“Did you bring me anything?” he would ask.
She always had. A small red-painted racing car with wheels that spun. A tiny Ford truck. A cowboy with white furry chaps on horseback, swinging a copper wire lariat. A funny book. Or, best surprise of all, a toy lead soldier, marching, aiming, crouching. These trinkets were not large by later, post-war, standards; but they were just right for her little son, the only child so far in all the family; sickly, sunny by nature, and utterly puzzling to his young mother.
In a short time, the boy had acquired a variegated collection of such toys. He kept them loose in a four quart peach basket made of thin sheets of pale wood with a single wooden strap handle, the kind used in those days by farmers and produce markets for tomatoes and apples and of course peaches. Intermittently, each day he would take out his basket of “soldiers” and create make-believe. There had been no wars; he’d seen no movies. Television wasn’t even a word. He didn’t know it, but he was manipulating the tiny men and vehicles to make up stories.
Presently, in that city where springtime is cold, Mama would bundle him up with ear muffs and galoshes and mittens, and send him out to play in the rare sunlight. He’d take his basket of soldiers, hunker down on the porch or the sidewalk, and the new story would begin.
Before long, his solitary activity attracted attention. First, one boy from nowhere stopped by to help him play. The truck noises were fun for boys to imitate. He would divide up the miniature players and their vehicles, cannons, and horses, and the two boys would improvise the action.
In no time, there were other boys. Three or four, all older. And bigger. When Mama would come to the door and say, “Time to come in,” they would put the soldiers and cars and trucks back into the basket, and the little boy would scamper up the steps and inside.
By summer, the boy realized that he had fewer soldiers. Where is the Ford truck? The horse was missing its rider.
Mama explained to him about people. He did not understand. Later when he’d go outside to play, he told the boys they couldn’t play with his soldiers any more
They called him selfish.
L. E. Taylor