Friday, September 12, 2008

G.I. Joe & the Talking Adventure Team Commander

When I was a young boy growing up in Omaha during the late 60's and early 70's I remember being excited to be going to the stores with my mother. We would normally go to Hinky Dinky or some other grocery store but from time to time we would go to a Hesteads or a Woolco or possibly a Kresgies. When things were really really good we might even get into a Brandies, a Sears or a J.C.Penny. I remember we would go to "grand openings" and I would get little free trinkets from the store owners. Most often these would be along the lines of small plastic baskets with flowers on top and "rain bonnets" inside. Now these bonnets were simply a thin plastic that was accordion folded with a longer piece of plastic used to tie it to a ladies head. When folded down to nothing it would fit into the basket that was of a size useful to Barbie. Why did I want these? I mean, after all I was a young boy and not a girl and one would think I wanted something useful to a boy right? Well, actually I did want something more in line with what boys wanted and I would immediately discard the hat inside and the flowers on the outside of the basket and then I would have an item that possibly could maybe be used for my favorite hero growing up - G.I.Joe. So when I tell you I was excited to go to the stores it was not to see the clothes or the shoes or who knows what else they had on hand. No, I was simply there to see G.I.Joe and as soon as I had the chance I would be off to the toy section to do just that. Now back then it was much safer for a parent to let a child wile away time in the toy department of the store just dreaming about the possibilities..... I would not recommend it today without parental supervision. So when we got to the store I would make for the toy department and peruse the Adventure Team. It seems to me this must have been right around 1970 or 1971 as the only experience I ever had with the soldier lines of Joe was when I would visit my Aunt and play with my cousins snow trooper. Anyway, I remember the boxes of Joe's most vividly at the Brandies that was next to the Hinky Dinky where mom would do her grocery shopping. There were always at least a couple of Joe's in boxes on the lowest shelf of the display. I would open the boxes and inspect each and every one. Most often there would be Land Adventurers and Sea Adventurers. I would inspect each head for fullness of hair as sometimes they had strange beards or bald spots. I would make sure each had a dog tag and a pistol. I still remember to this day how mad it would make me to see them with the guns missing. Why would anyone want a G.I.Joe without a gun I would ask myself. Way back then I really didn't know about people called shoplifters but I guess we had them even then. Occasionally the holy grail of the Joe line would be present on the shelf. The G.I.Joe Talking Adventure Team Commander. When he would show there would never be more than one of him on the shelf. I would carefully open the lid and then pull the string to make him talk. I so clearly remember the time I was doing this that I was "caught" by a store employee who took the figure away from me, put him back into the box and told me that only buying customers were allowed to play with the merchandise. Now this hurt me through and through. True, I didn't have any money. True, my family didn't have much money either so at this point I had not actually ever bought a Joe - but - and this is a big point - I had never taken anything from a Joe nor had I ever damaged one either. To me, even at this early point, Joe was a thing of reverence. A toy to be looked at, admired and hopefully someday even owned. To add injury to insult the employee took the figure with them and dragged me over to Hinky Dinky where they paged my mother to the front desk to come get me. Once at the desk the Brandies employee proceeded to berate my mother for letting her brat run wild in the Brandies and to finger all the merchandise. "Do you know how much this costs?" I remember her asking my mother. Well, my mom didn't know but I did and by providing the answer I just inflamed the situation even further. After that incident and for a long time I was forced to sit in the car with my teen aged sister whenever we visited Hinky Dinky. I thought it terrible punishment for me but as I look back on it now it was probably worse punishment for my sister who had nothing to do with the situation and yet had to sit with me week after week till mom felt it was safe to take me back into the store. Now that year for my birthday the best and the worst occurred on the very same day. I remember awakening to the excitement that is a birthday and I remember running from my shared room with my little sister to the kitchen where I knew that a cake and presents would be awaiting me. I could not have been more wrong... It was a "working day" for my father. He was an Omaha Fireman and at the time they would work one day on and then one day off on a rotating schedule. One day on meant a 24 hour day of work and then a 24 hour day away from work. Well it just so happened that on that day my dad had his day on. We had breakfast and I was told that we would go to the fire station later in the day to celebrate with dad. Later meant almost all day but we got there eventually and there was cake shared by all the three men working with my father, my mom, sisters and myself. That year we even had ice cream malts from the Burger Chef & Jeff located next to the fire station. It was great and then the best part. I got one present that year. It was of course the dreamed of but never in a million years expected Talking Adventure Team Commander. Yes, I will say it right now he was to me the best present ever. Looking back I can only assume that my mom got the idea from that Brandies lady the day I got into so much trouble. Not sure, doesn't matter. I had him and he was mine! I drifted off into thoughts of the adventure's we would be having in the back yard together and when it was time got back into the car. We were off to another relatives house who lived close by because they wanted to give me a birthday present. I honestly do not remember what they gave me but I do remember this. I was told to leave my new Joe in the car so that nothing would happen to him or be left behind when we went home. This particular relative had lots and lots of kids and mom just wanted to make sure my prized possession made it home safe and sound. I don't know how long we were inside the house but I do know that when we came out the car was empty. That's right, I had my dream Talking Adventure Team Commander for less than a couple of hours and he had disappeared. Been stolen right out of the car. He had been placed in his box and set in the back window of our 67 Impala and one would have thought would have been A-OK but no. Some lowlife had taken advantage of the unlocked car and absconded with my birthday present. I was devastated. My mom was beside herself upset more because she knew that there was no money to replace him with and that he had been my only present from her and dad. Now I want you to think about this as I looked it up. In 1970 a Talking G.I.Joe cost $4.99 and now that he was gone there was no money to buy another. I was, to say it politely, simply crushed. I am not sure exactly how things panned out from there but what I can tell you is that my favorite Uncle Bill did what he could to salvage my bad luck. The next day he came to the house with a present for me and upon unwrapping it I found that it was a Sea Adventurer. It didn't talk and it had red hair rather than the brown of the Commander but he was mine and I loved him. I loved him so much that for the next couple of years he was my constant companion. Even when a Land Adventurer joined him in his adventurers it was always the Sea Adventurer who led the way. I never got another Talking Commander as a child but I have never forgotten that first one either and have from time to time wondered what his life turned out to be like in that den of thieves he was taken to. I have also never forgotten the efforts of my mom and dad and my uncle to make sure that for at least one birthday a small boy got exactly what he wanted for his birthday. In so doing they created memories that have lasted a lifetime. And all I can say is: Thanks guys I appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Strange but interesting story. Thanks

Robo said...

Many of my best memories of childhood involved my Talking Action Soldier, my Land Adventurer, and my Man of Action.

I hope you don't mind me linking here. Yours is really a great tale of Joe-stalgia.