“Children’s toys I Remember” : Childhood Memory Piece, by Jan McLay-Bell

Meet Jan
Jan FY

Jan McLay Bell was born in Balcutha, in the South Island of New Zealand.  She is a Primary School teacher by training.  Together with her husband, she has raised three children of her own and is now a proud grandmother of eight.  Jan now lives in Papakura, in the North Island.  She enjoys reading, writing, film and family (historical and current).

Jan article header FY

The four McLay children around 1947 with their mother (left) and grandmother (right). The author is the 3rd girl, with her hands on her little brother’s shoulders.

My siblings and I, the McLay children, were born 1938, 1941, 1942 and 1945 in Balclutha.  Looking back, I think since everything we had in NZ then had a “Made in England” label, many of the toys we had were the result of shipping disrupted by the  World War 2.  Our parents, grandparents Aunts and Uncles had to be creative, literally.  My Dad made wooden toy train engines for us. Mine I remember, had a circular toy block for its water tank and a bright red threading bead as a funnel. Our Uncle Peter made two wonderful cars out of tin, all complete steering wheels and number plates 1 4 U. My two older sister had dolls bought in a shop with heads made solidly of plaster of Paris sewn on to linen bodies but the heads were so heavy when you held the dolls they fell forwards and clonked the unsuspecting child on the head!
Everyone had soft toys made from scraps of material.  My sister Carol had a stuffed black elephant called “Eli”, with a saddle sewn on his back. Mum bought him at the church sale along with a felt pink pig called “Piglet” which was mine.  I tried to nurse Piglet back to health by rubbing purple crystals on him, the stain never faded. Dad also made a dolls’ house out of the ever useful apples cases that were so plentiful when we were kids.  The Aunts came up with innovative ways of making furniture: even a miniature suite made with gum nuts, wool and pins, which my sister Carol helped to make.
Our trike was bought second hand as were all our full sized bikes, except for one, which my Dad saw in all its shining blue glory in the cycle shop in Balclutha. He phoned my mother to tell her it would be just right for my sister Carol, who at that time was short in stature.  Seeing it was brand new, it was expensive, but after much debate the blue bike was bought and she rode it to Balclutha Primary School for a lot of years.
Another new toy was purchased in Wanaka when we were staying for our Christmas holidays when our grandfather Symons was the sole policeman.  The general store up the steps opposite the post office had a green scooter way up on a high shelf.  To us four kids it was fantastic!  What a thrill to have it among our Christmas presents on Christmas morning!  One scooter between four kids, so we had to take turns!
My one wish was to have a “sleeping doll” with eyes that would really close. During the polio epidemic, when I was four, I went to Wanaka to stay with my grandparents for a while. When they brought me home they placed a big box on the floor of the kitchen of our house in Ann Street, Balclutha. On opening it I found, to my joy, a “sleeping doll” dressed in a white frock!  I called her Christine.  She was loved so much.  Her head opened and you could see how her eyes worked.  She was glued many, many, times and my Grandad Symons painted her face cream later on. I was a bit sad because it made her look different. My daughter had her among her toys, but Christine really was past her “used by date” by then. So eventually, and sadly, she went where all old toys go….

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