All Blog Posts

Playing With Food

December 12, 2014

First posted 3/21/12







I was driving home from the grocery store yesterday and the deejay on the radio was spinning moldy oldies and asking trivia questions. One of the questions was: “What was the first toy or game advertised directly to children on television?”

I’m terrible at trivia and usually rely on Mrs. C. to fill me in on the Zeitgeist, but I couldn’t help shouting out answers. The Hula Hoop! Play-Doh! Cootie! “Wrong,” said the deejay when listeners phoned in these answers. I’ll pause here before giving the correct response so you can yell an answer at your computer screen..................


Okay; the correct answer is—Mr. Potato Head!


I was surprised, too. But the deejay wasn’t about to let it go at that. He wanted to impress his listeners with more facts. Such as: Originally Mr. Potato Head didn’t include a plastic potato and kids were required to prowl through pantries for a real one. In 1952 this prompted complaints because of food shortages. Also, parents whined about the smell of rotting potatoes left in the box and stored on shelves or in closets.


This conjured up a memory I hadn’t thought about for over fifty years. Mr. Potato Head was actually an instructional tool, providing me with knowledge I might otherwise have missed. I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley, famous enough for its orchards to be mentioning in several Jack London novels. I should have been very familiar with how things grew, but I wasn’t, even though a pear orchard spread for miles behind our back fence.


I remember being six or seven and reaching for my Mr. Potato Head box on the top shelf in my closet. My best friend and I were expecting a rousing hour or two of jamming plastic features into the spud I’d grabbed from a bag in the pantry. But when I opened the box I was shocked to see that the last time I’d played the game I’d left a potato in the box. Only it didn’t look like I remembered it.


In the darkness of my closet, the potato had grown long roots that swirled around the inside of the box. It also had little buds growing on it. I showed the potato to my dad. He examined it carefully and said, “Let’s go plant this in the backyard.” He grabbed a shovel from the garage and divided the old potato into half a dozen pieces. We planted them along the side of our house. Several weeks later we were the proud owners of six little potato plants. I watered those plants, shooed away neighboring pets wanting to pee on them, and plucked bugs off the tiny leaves. But in the end a marauding gopher denied me my platter of homegrown French fries.


I learned nothing from playing with a Hula Hoop (couldn’t keep it above my belly) and the only thing I learned from Play-Doh was that it didn’t taste as good as modeling paste, but at a tender age Mr. Potato Head taught me a valuable lesson, one that I’ve carried with me until now: Although I appreciate the labor of those who produce food for my table, farming sucks!


When you were a kid, what was your favorite game?




Note: Thanks to all of you who left comments for the travel contest. I really appreciate it.







Stealing all my brother's toys. That sure was a sign of things to come.
By: LL Cool Joe on December 12, 2014
I remember my first pair of skis. I was just 3 at the time and it's my earliest memory.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 12, 2014
too cute! :)
By: TexWisGirl on December 12, 2014
i loved my etchasketch.
By: TexWisGirl on December 12, 2014
Cowboys and ...? Sometimes it was other cowboys, sometimes we played soldier instead, but it was always some kind of game of aggression.
By: Uncle Skip on December 12, 2014
My memory's not what it used to be, but I DO remember my favorite game!! It was...who's calling, please?
By: fishducky on December 12, 2014
Don't feel too badly about it, i can't really grow anything to save my life, either. As for toys, i preferred, once i learned to read, books. Not too many toys could pry me from them.
By: mimi on December 12, 2014
I liked tag, and I liked Cowboys and Indians. I also liked dodgeball, but we only played that when teachers organized it. What I hated was team sports.
By: Snowbrush on December 12, 2014
We weren't allowed to have TV--Mom said we would quit communicating--so kick the can was the favorite outside, poker inside.
By: Akansas Patti on December 12, 2014
Board games! I really liked monopoly.
By: red on December 12, 2014
Hide and seek, I think. I was a great tree climber and could disappear high among the branches and leaves.
By: Catalyst on December 12, 2014
A tie, between Operation! and Feeley Meeley.
By: Val on December 12, 2014
My favorite toys - if you can call them toys - were books. My mother used to yell at me for always having my nose in a book. I'd yell back at her that I was probably the only kid in the world who got yelled at for reading. LOL.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 12, 2014
I never knew the origins of Mr Potato head until I read this .Potatoes smell HORRIBLE when they rot---can you imagine the stench the poor parents had to deal with? Another GREAT post, Stephen!!
By: marcia @ Menopausal Mother on December 12, 2014
I would've guessed the Slinky. I had no idea the first Mr. Potato Heads were actual potatoes! I remember hula hoops, Play-doh, Klackers (the sound designed to drive parents insane), Barrel of Monkeys, Candyland, and Shoots & Ladders. Thanks for bringing back good memories!
By: Lexa Cain on December 13, 2014
Oh, I loved my original Mr. Potato Head. Was so disappointed when the new one came out and included that plastic potato. And now I have the song looping in my head: "You put it in the eyes, you put in the nose, you put in the mouth and away it goes." And I can't find the commercial that used that song!
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 13, 2014
I beg to differ about the taste of Play-Doh!
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on December 13, 2014
My favorite game? I remember playing Parcheesi with my parents, loved Clue as a teenager, thought Monopoly should have been called Monotony- but favorite? Loved playing with blocks- could do that for hours- but that's not a game. I guess my favorite would be the card game Hearts! I loved playing that game- especially when I would "shoot the moon" and beat all the adults playing. Cheers!
By: Kathe W. on December 13, 2014
Oh, don't sell Play-Doh short. A nice salad, a little ketchup, some fava beans, and a bottle of chianti... Voila! You're throwing up. On the other hand, I'll have a potato.
By: Al Penwasser on December 14, 2014
I still love Mr. Potato Head and the jingle: "I made you, you know it's true. Mr. Potato Head, I made you!" Loved the Lite bright even more, though.
By: Robyn Engel on December 14, 2014
I was more of a book/comic type. Although I did like potatoes in all their guises for their tasty, filling ways............
By: John on December 15, 2014
Aside from baseball, I'd have to say "Flashlight". Our version of hide and seek as kids. You had to scour the neighborhood, turn a light on some kid and shout his name. Then he joined you as a team member to find the others!
By: Michael Manning on December 18, 2014

Leave a Comment


Return to All Blog Posts Main Page

RSS 2.0   Atom