I really love to remember those great days of playing army outdoors, all year long. Rain, cold and snow didn't always stop us from having the best fun of our lives. I often wonder what it is about those days, the memories of all that plastic play gear, and the feelings of such joy, that still invade my thoughts. Trekking around the cold fields, parks, playgrounds, or wherever else we could find, was so much fun, and brings back vivid images. The day after Christmas when everyone recieved all their toys was a great day for playing army outside. Somebody usually had something new and different that added a perfect element to the mix.
Those play days of army and army toys are very precious in my memories, and as I get older they seem to be even more clear. I don't think it's only about remembering a special time when playing and games were our only concern; I don't even think it's about the freedom of childhood sans responsibilties; I think it's about remembering a time when the world in general seemed like a much better place than it is now. The smell of the plastic of the old canteens and play accessories is, to me now, quite vivid, and brings up names like Remco, Marx, Kenner, and Mattel.
Though I cover a lot of this, and other topics on my army toys page, I cannot say enough about how these plastic toys delighted me. My Dad was the most generous guy on earth, and on Saturdays while riding around in the car, he always managed to swing me by the 88 cent store on 82nd and Foster, or the Newberry's at Eastport Plaza, or any other nearby shopping store. the 88 cent store was a great place to score big on army toys though. One of the toys that amazed me was a very realistic army dagger made of super hard plastic, and could serve as a real knife. Even as a kid I wondered how they could produce something like this for kids. The blade was not sharp, but the point was.
Half the fun of playing army in the winter time was that the fields and local play areas were mostly deserted by those kids who preferred the comforts of playing indoors. We'd often go off on long (longer than usual) expeditions seeking out uncharted fields and secret places. There were a few successful ventures, but it was the doing, the seeking that was fun. What was even more fun was when we could assemble a large group of guys to play. In southeast Portland, there were lots of great alleys, dead end streets, dirt roads, and wide open lots or fields where we engaged our battles. With our fingers frozen, and our noses running, my friends and I sought the greatest of frigid outdoor adventures while on constant patrol for the enemy. There were also the times when we just stayed in the neighborhood.
A parked car could have been an enemy tank in our imaginations, and that vehicle would be the focus for imaginary hand grenade throws and bazooka blasts. Being staked out behind a street corner fence was great until some car would pass by, and the driver would wave at you giving away your position to the enemy. On sunny winter days, frost covered the puddles in a crytal blanket awaiting out rubber-booted feet to stomp them and hear the dry cracking sound before our feet were submerged in the freezing water.
And speaking of stomping around frozen mud puddles, I was also very big on action clothes; Anything that looked rugged, or faintly resembled military or action garb, I wanted it! There was a certain pair of rubber boots that were taller, and I always wanted them because they looked like German army boots. I constantly scanned the Ward's Catalog for them. They couldn't be the ones with the lighter colored soles, they had to be "dark all-over" like the center boot in the catalog picture on the right. A neighbor kid had a pair of these, and he used to tuck his pant legs into them and, I swear, they were the coolest looking boots ever. They were great fun, but I never did get a pair. My parents preferred the old standard buckle-clasp, so I made due with them. They were still boots, and boots were always cool.
One of the neighbor kids got something really cool for Christmas that I'd never seen before: a toy German army helmet. I imagined how cool that helmet would be with the tall black rubber boots. These items provided a certain touch of class to the game by outfitting the enemy. Other great German army toys were available, but I'd never seen the helmets before, nor any of the general accessories like the "potato Mashers" (German grenades). Toy Lugers were common, but the other accessories were rare.