Colorforms Sunshine

Today, Judge Judy was eviscerating a teenager who was lying about breaking the window of a pizza shop. She called him a fool, and accused his mother of raising him without a shred of moral inclination. “You shouldn’t be standing up for him!” she told the mother. “You should be making him take responsibility for his actions!”

Suddenly I’m five, maybe six years old again, and I’m sitting on my bedroom floor in Takoma Park, Maryland. I had saved up my allowance and bought a Colorforms set.

I had loved the Howdy Doody Show, and was devastated when in 1960 it was canceled and replaced by a perky ventriloquist. I was fully prepared to hate this interloper, but the Shari Lewis Show stole my heart. After that, my Saturday mornings—and the days leading up to them—revolved around Shari and dear Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse. And my Shari Lewis Show Colorforms set was one of my prized possessions.

Alas, my allowance would only allow the purchase of the Basic set. It had most of the important characters and images, but the Deluxe set was twice as large.

The best toystore in the world, and conveniently within walking distance, was Juvenile Sales Co., rival of the burgeoning Toys “R” Us (which actually began a couple of towns over). Chockablock with fascinating toys, it wasn’t as vast and spacious and bright as Toys “R” Us, but it was much more fun. But even caves filled with gold must have a dragon hanging around somewhere, and Juvenile Sales’s dragon was a rather grumpy fellow, prematurely old and stooped, named Robert Roberts.

I didn’t mind Mr. Roberts, frankly. He didn’t like rowdy kids, and neither did I. I wanted to sit quietly contemplating the uses of Silly Putty or magic sets or the wondrous Wham-O SuperBall. Other kids liked to run through the store and push over the bicycles and pull hula hoops off their display rack and generally make noise. Mr. Roberts always put a stop to that.

Every Saturday afternoon I walked up to Juvenile Sales Co., and for many weeks I looked longingly at the Deluxe Shari Lewis Show Colorforms set, wishing I had enough money. And one day, I did the unthinkable. I unwrapped the set and looked inside.

I was dazzled by the array of those colorful little vinyl cutouts: other puppet characters, and children, and houses, and fences, and scenery, and a wagon, and a dog, and the sun.

Oh, that sun! It smiled at me with a beatific smile. It called my name.

And I stole it.

I shook as I pocketed the Shari Lewis Colorforms sun. I felt guilty that the poor kid who would buy that set probably wouldn’t look inside, and never would the sun shine for him or her. I furtively left the store and quickly walked home.

I played with that Colorforms sun for hours. It rose over Lamb Chop in the morning, and set behind Shari in the evening.

After play, I would carefully replace the vinyl pieces back in their outlines on the storage board. Of course there was no outline for the sun, so it always covered one or two of the other pieces. And one day, not long after I purloined said sun, my mother noticed it. I thought she just “knew,” since she knew everything, but I think now she just saw that there was an extra piece. She asked me about it.

I trembled. I seriously thought of lying. But I told the truth.

I had barely confessed my crime when she hoisted me up by the back of my shirt, and started walking me to the car.

“Wha . . . what . . . where are we going?” I said, terrified.

We are going to the toy store. And you are going to tell the manager what you did!”

“No, I can’t!” Now I was really upset. I was sure I was going to die of fear and shame.

Next thing I know, I’m sniffling in front of Mr. Robert Roberts, shivering and telling all. I apologized profusely. Mom apologized on my behalf as well, and offered to pay for the Deluxe set which I had opened.

“Would you let him play with it?” Mr. Roberts asked.

“Oh no,” said my mother, looking down at me. “It will go right in the trash!”

I burst into tears.

“Ah,” Mr. Roberts said. “Do you happen to have the missing piece?”

My hand shook as I handed it to him.

“Thank you, young man,” he said. Then, to my mother, “I think I’ll be able to sell it, now that it’s complete again. Thank you.”

As we turned to go, he said, “Young man, do you believe you’ve learned your lesson?”

“Oh, yes sir!” I said, nodding faster than a bobblehead doll. “I’m never going to steal anything ever again!”

“I was just about to institute a policy that would bar young people under the age of nine unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. But I want you to know,” he said, looking at me, “that you are always welcome to come here by yourself. We need honest, good-hearted children like you.”

I didn’t feel particularly honest or good-hearted, but I did feel relieved, and grateful my mother insisted I face the music.

And I must have learned my lesson pretty well. I mean, I’ve never appeared in front of Judge Judy, have I?

Categories: Family, Humor, Psychology | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Colorforms Sunshine

  1. Ram Venkatararam

    Well, obviously you’ve learned from your early criminal behavior and just become more skilled. No one’s caught you since!

    Thanks for the post. Well done.

    p.s. been there. I can’t remember what I stole but I sure remember the collar grabbing mother

  2. I, too, had a colorforms set. Loved it. It is still one of my favorite toys and I haven’t seen it for years. I think it was lost in a flood. I remember there wan an umbrella in it and a raincoat. I hope the cut-outs used them well and stayed dry and safe.

    I learned what toys I wanted from Bob Mcalister on Wonderama. He sometimes shilled for Toys R Us, if I remember correctly. We had one at Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge New Jersey, close to Edison’s lab. One of the first malls in the US, I was in the Peanut Gallery when the Howdy Doody Show came to town after it was taken of the air.

    Frankly, I never liked The Howdy Doody Show and still will watch Shari Lewis any chance I get.

    Alek stole something once. He was four. Or five. It was a Spice Girls magazine and he took it from Books-a-Million. We were in Jacksonville, or Orange Park, selling roses, as that was how we made our living then, and, in the back of the Metro, we see him looking at a magazine. Apparently he secreted it under his shirt as we took a break earlier that day.

    We lived in Gainesville and we took him, he next day, to that same store in our town (after talking with the manager) and he was scared appropriately as he manager put him to work FOREVER to pay for the stolen goods. We came back for him in ten minutes.

    Incidentally, Shari Lewis made my daughter cry. But that is a Hanukkah story and not to be told now.

  3. I can’t believe you brought up Bob McAllister. The first play I ever wrote, in grade school, was about a kid who was selected to be on Wonderama, and Bob hosted a quiz segment which the kid, of course, won handily. A adored that show, but I remember Bob from the earlier Bob McAllister show which originated in Baltimore, and started watching Wonderama back during the Sonny Fox years.

    I was on Romper Room twice (you remember that story, of course) and once on the Pick Temple show. He was a cowboy who also had a peanut gallery, one of three longtime DC kids’ TV fixtures, along with Ranger Hal and Cap’n Tugg.

    Now, how can I wait nine more month to hear how Shari terrorized Sef?

  4. Mali

    This was just adorable. No photos of you as a six year old?

  5. indigo bunting

    I had completely forgotten the existence of Bob McAllister. But as soon as you said the name (and as I grew up in a nearly suburb of Baltimore), it came rushing back.

    Have you seen this?:

    Haven’t had time to watch all of it yet.

    Incredibly story incredibly told. I got teary at the end.

    Two things: Oddly, yesterday, not even knowing you had blogged again, I had one of my “OMG, Marguerite is no longer with us physically” moments. I mean, sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible.

    The other: I try to let it go, but I find it really disturbing that you watch shows like Judge Judy. (At least it IS JJ who, at a glance, appears to have a brain. But the whole court TV thing really, really freaks me out.)

  6. Mali: Lots of photos around somewhere, none scanned. Maybe someday.

    Indigo: Great video. Hard to imagine today’s kids knowing the number of medals an Olympic wrestling team won, or who their coach was.

    Judge Judy and ravishing Marilyn Milian on The People’s Court are definitely guilty pleasures, but it doesn’t feel creepy as much as cathartic. People anger me so continually that it really is helpful to see some of them get their comeuppance. And it’s better than getting a gun and going off on a stupid store clerk or a lousy driver. Call it my daily stress releaser.

  7. So glad to be reading you again. And this was an especially wonderful post.

  8. indigo bunting

    Maybe it’s because conflict, etc., makes so unbelievably uncomfortable. Ick. But I get what you’re saying.

  9. According to my lovable 101 year old Nana, Sheri Lewis is a 2nd cousin and I loved Lamb Chop. I remember my colorforms all being piled into the box (I wasn’t very neat). You made me cry, thanks for the memories.

  10. poietes

    I loved Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop. They were one of my favs.

    I remember Colorforms also, but never had them.

    The toy that I stole was a slinky. Mine had quit slinking, so in my 8-year-old mind, I decided that rather than telling my mother, I would just trade the bad slinky for a new one.

    I hid the old slinky on my arm under my coat, and made the switch that way. I wasn’t caught, and believe it or not, my mother never knew.

    The only problem was that once I had it, I couldn’t play with it because I felt absolutely wretched. Still haunts me today.

    Whem my daughter was young, about 7 or so, she stole one of those rings that sit on the counter of dollar stores in the foam displays.

    My mother saw it and told me about it. I was at work. I told my mother to take Alexis right back to the store and to give the ring back and apologize.

    Ooh, the mean things that mommies do.

  11. Deloney

    Great story. The last two singles I nicked were “Eleanor Rigby” and “Mother’s Little Helper” in 1966.

  12. Shari Lewis: I had forgotten about her. Thanks a lot. It’s like carbon dating, isn’t it, the things we nicked…..

  13. poietes

    Carbon dating is a perfect analogy. We should put all of our nicked things in a time capsule.

    Imagine how reflective of an era it would be.

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