My local toy store growing up used to have model airplanes hanging from the ceiling by strings, set up to look like they were heading for a crash landing.
I still go there in my dreams sometimes. The last time I was in my hometown, I visited where the toy store used to be. It's now a locally run pet store that always has kittens in the window. The interior looks completely different. Its layout has changed. But then, it has been thirty years and I am much taller (and wrinklier) now.
The checkout is where the rack of sticker books and comics used to be. Over where the plastic model kits and unassembled model airplanes were, there is sawdust and hay for hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs; whatever other small pets are 'in' these days. Where the checkout used to be” adorned with stickers, tiny model cars, not to mention milk caps” there are dog toys, marrow bones, and shampoo.
I can't get my labrador to shower. Shampoo seems a step too far.
The Model Airplanes Moved
The magic of a toy store when you're a kid is the kind of thing that is so overpowering that it makes the news such as Toys 'R' Us closing feel like a dagger to the heart. This toy store wasn't a big one. It was very small, carpeted, and had a back room that, for some reason, had greetings cards.
I know it's impossible that they did unless they caught a stray breeze from the door that swung open and old-fashionably hit a bell to signify that there was a customer, but I swear those model airplanes moved.
It is also impossible that they made sounds and possible that those sounds came from little me. But, when I saw the model aircraft in that toy store, it was as though they were flying and I was the only person who could see it.
In The Shining, the book by Stephen King, there are hedges outside of the hotel designed to look like animals. Like lions, zebras, you name it. This doesn't happen in the movie, as Kubrick (wrongly) felt that a maze was scarier than anthropomorphic hedge animals. In the book, the main character has a dream that the hedge animals move. Sometimes he sees it out of the corner of his eye when he's awake and outside the hotel.
That is how I sum up my experiences with the model airplanes in my childhood toy store.
I Always Wanted a Model Plane
I liked to build things. Always have. LEGO bricks made my life as a kid and learning how to fold origami planes that flew (on one occasion, with my hamster on top) is still, what I consider, a valuable and meaningful way to spend time.
Plastic model kits were great for this. They were much harder than LEGO but the pay off was also much, much better. Assembling a model airplane from a pile of cardboard or plastic using only that and some basic instructions is, at its core, the basics of engineering.
It would not surprise me were engineering students to state that these toys were their favorites. Awesome, but did theirs fly??
I Think Not.
I have been given a few model planes in my time. There are people who have been in the air force in my family who always approved of my interest in the planes and would bring me these kits of aircraft they had seen with their very eyes. That was cool and all, but if I couldn't build the real aircraft, I didn't care.
These family members would tell me about the planes while I built the kits and would try to tell me all about how it was really done. I let them do it so they would keep bringing me them, but they never flew like those bombers in the toy store. They didn't make sounds, either. And they sure didn't make me want to follow in my family's footsteps.
They Really, Really Did Fly
Imagination decreases as we get older. I used to believe in ghosts and now I'm skeptical (although I would prefer not to run into one in a place where I have to spend the night!) about the existence of life after death. I used to think that the Loch Ness Monster was for SURE a thing and the Jersey Devil would do me the honor of killing me eventually to get my name in one of those folklore books they hock at gas stations all over the east coast.
Because of that, I think the toy store being gone is a good thing. I think that if it were still there, it would damage the memories I have of it. It is sad that it went out of business or that the previous owners retired and sold it, but it is a surefire fact that if I walked into that toy store today, exactly the way that it used to be, those model airplanes would not be soaring.
It would be an establishment like everywhere else.
At Least Something Runs in the Family
The girl behind the counter at the pet store noticed me looking. I had to have looked creepy, like I was lurking to figure out where the hidden vault was or like I was lost. I felt her eyes on me. These days, I know that means I'm about to have a conversation and adjust my social anxiety accordingly.
We got to talking about why I was there; about my lab who won't let me bathe him so the only time he gets washed is in the rain or the river, about how I used to come from this town and was revisiting the places I used to love, about the model airplanes.
When I asked her if she knew this used to be a great toy store, she smiled and nodded her head, affirmatively.
Turns out, she's the owner's daughter and the model planes were hers.