Tried and true toys again in demand

Saturday, December 1, 2001

For at least one man, this Christmas season brings a sense of deja vu, with many boys and girls requesting the same kinds of toys they asked for in the 1940s and 1950s.

This year, fire-engine red paint is definitely in short supply.

"The elves haven't painted this many fire trucks in decades," said Santa Claus, interviewed Friday at Westfield Shoppingtown West Park.

Santa said he thinks the resurgent popularity of some toys is linked to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The children don't mention the terrorist attacks, but the tragedy brought soldiers and firefighters back to the forefront as heroes, he said.

"It reminds me of after World War II," he said of the resurgence of toy guns, G.I. Joes and military paraphernalia.

After Pearl Harbor, the country banded together, and heroes were clearly defined as those who fought to make their country safe, he said

"Back then kids wanted anything to do with the Army," Santa said, listing binoculars, tanks, rifles and toy wagons that were stamped "U.S. Army."

Today, play police and fire uniforms, toy guns, tanks and related action figures are on many children's lists.

Toy trains, popular in the 1950s and '60s are also making a comeback, he said.

That's not to say that nostalgia has swept modern trends away.

Barbie, a perennial favorite, still tops many girls' lists, but Santa said computers, four-wheelers and scooters are also popular with the same girls.

"And they want makeup younger and younger," Santa said.

Pokemon, Power Rangers, Nintendo, PlayStation and every imaginable doll also get mentioned. The new toys keep him on his toes -- that and the fact that the elves have to add computer chips to so many stocking stuffers.

"Everything has its own memory now," he said.

He remembered fondly when the toys in his workshop were simple and mostly wooden.

Four-year-old Katrina Hanson of Cape Girardeau wiggled with excitement over meeting Santa, but was struck by shyness when the big moment finally came. She sat on his lap but stayed silent when he asked her name.

Dustin James, 7, of Cape Girardeau took Santa by surprise by asking for "a real camera with real film" for himself and a ride-on car for his sister, Holly James, 11 months, who seemed happy just staring at Santa's beard.

Wyatt Blattel, 5, of Gordonville, Mo., put Hotwheels and Power Rangers at the top of his list.

Santa said he's seen his share of grownups stop by, too, hoping to recapture some of the delight they felt when they were little.

"A lot of times they just want to talk," he said. "That's OK."

Some have sprawled across his lap for a portrait.

"I had a couple of newlyweds in here recently. She asked for a green Jeep Cherokee. He asked me for someone else to pay for it."

abuchanan@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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