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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Childhood Memories

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

My boys love giant robots. The giant, humanoid vehicles piloted by a crew of heroic humans, or “mechas” as the genre is known in Japan, are ubiquitous markers of childhood for those who grew up on the Power Rangers and related shows, and all kids to follow.
But for me, growing up in the 1980s, giant robots were rare and exotic.
Before Voltron hit the scene, becoming a bonafide phenomenon for the 1985 adolescent set, I’d only seen one giant robot before.

I’m still not sure what the robot came from. I knew there was something about it that reminded me of the animation style I’d seen on shows like Battle of the Planets, an Americanized adaption of the Japanese Gatchaman franchise (re-dubbed and reimagined in much the same way the live action Power Rangers would be decades later). But I had no idea what it was really from, and still don’t to this day.

I just knew that it was in the waiting area of one of the shops in South Shore that my mom sometimes visited, and I loved playing with it. That shop may have been a clothing store. It may have been a hair salon. I know it wasn’t someplace we went with the regularity of, say, the gas station or the grocery store. It was an occasional stop, like the dentist or the hardware store, and I was always sad when we had to leave and I couldn’t play with that big robot any longer.

It would be years later before I’d discover Voltron, a show I first saw playing on a television set in a pawn shop in Portsmouth, Ohio (we couldn’t even get cable yet in Greenup County if we’d wanted it), and later still before I received my set of all five Voltron lions for Christmas, that last holiday before my parents divorced.

That was a big toy, and it was one I wanted and appreciated fiercely, but it wasn’t as large as the robot from the mystery shop. Or maybe I was just smaller, but I remember it being huge. Nearly as big as me.

Those memories all came flooding back this weekend when our youngest was playing with one of his brother’s old toys – a Power Ranger’s robot that, at nearly three feet tall, is almost as big as him.

He punches that robot, and kicks it over with regularity. He treats it roughly, in a way I never treated any of my toys, and certainly wouldn’t have treated the mystery robot if I’d ever managed to make it my own.

It made me think of how different our upbringings were, not just in terms of the changes over time – after all it was almost 45 years ago that I was his age – but in terms of the access he has to toys, to media, and to the wider world and technology in general. He takes things for granted that were science fiction to me when I was growing up, and that probably is a result of the huge age gap.

But he also places less value on material goods than I did. I still have 40 year old action figures and comic books – things that were rare and precious to me and after holding on to them for so long still are. I do not expect that he will have that same attachment to items, and for that I am both thankful and a little wistful. I want him, after all, to appreciate the things he has and the work that went into providing them. But he still has years to understand that.

And, at the very least, I hope he won’t be lying awake some night decades from now, wondering whatever happened to that Mego Spiderman he loved so well, while sleep eludes him the way it does his father. I hope, instead, he has happy memories of his time spent with me and his mother rather than a gnawing urge to fill those gaps with plastic ephemera.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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