Family & Education

The joy of an inherited toy

Sometimes the best playthings are old and battered, says Amy Schreibman Walter


Our baby son has a favourite toy: it’s a wooden pull-along xylophone. Purchased by his grandmother back in 1974, in a department store in Pretoria, South Africa, the toy is older than I am.

After its first round of use by my sister -in -law and my husband when they were babies, the xylophone lived in the garage of my in-laws for four decades. A few times a year it was taken out of storage and played with by my sister -in-law’s children (now teenagers), before only recently finding a new home here in England.

A few unidentifiable marks on the side of the xylophone provide the only visual clue of its middle-aged status. Having survived almost four decades, a cross-continental move and six children banging it and dragging it this way and that way along the floor, the xylophone has proven itself to be a gem. I have to say, I find its longevity rather wonderful.

You can buy a new version of the xylophone, but it’s plastic, not wood, and the pull-along cord is a bit too short for the toy to really be pulled along. You can still purchase the wood/metal version on eBay, though, because brilliant toys will never go out of fashion, even as they compete with super-slick plastic updated versions.

As a child, I too had a xylophone, just like this one, but my own family didn’t hold on to things like my husband’s family did. We moved around a lot during my childhood. Consequently, we all became experts at clearing the decks pretty frequently, and I became a master at decluttering and organising small spaces. Little of value was ever held on to long term, and I have no old toys to pass down to my children.

When I was growing up in Florida, I had a large collection of Barbies, complete with Barbie car and Barbie house. I enjoy telling my five-year old step-daughter about my Barbie collection and showing her photos; we make a habit of shopping for Barbies in charity shops together. It would have been wonderful to pass along my own Barbies to her, but instead, I simply tell her about them — she particularly likes hearing about the one with the hair that I coloured green with a permanent marker, and about the one with the broken arm who still rode a horse.

Since getting married, I’ve watched as my new family members regularly pass down numerous items of value to one another; doing so is part of a long-held family tradition. When my husband mentioned to me that he had a bag of old toys that his mother had saved from his childhood, and asked if I would like to keep any of them for our children, I was intrigued. As I looked through the collection of toys and books, I felt something — emotion, tinged with nostalgia.

There was a dial phone, still working, an old picture book about Chanukah, pages well worn, a cuddly toy gorilla from the 1980s called Gonga, and more. All the items were evocative of not only my husband’s childhood, but of my own. I hadn’t seen a Gonga since I was about eight. It was fun to introduce a toy I used to love to our children, and to discover that my husband had loved the exact same toy, a continent away.

When my mother cleared her loft, years ago, I didn’t ask her to hang on to toys, books or even clothes — things that I realise now that I would have loved to have given to my own children. Looking through the items so lovingly set aside and kept for decades has made me rethink my default practice of always passing along items to charity shops or friends with children, once we were done with them.

The sound of the xylophone fills our house daily: morning, afternoon and evening. There is something beautifully resonant about knowing that my husband played this same instrument 40 years ago. I like to imagine that one day our son will place the xylophone in front of his own baby, and it will spend its twilight years as a beloved favourite of our future grandchildren.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive