“I don’t want to grow up.” Toys R Us song
I don’t think it needs to really be said because I am the “lord overseer” of my own wrestling website, but I am still a kid at heart. Due to this fact, the Christmas season is my favorite time of year. Surely the presents and cheerful spirit and fantastic food don’t hurt that cause. To me, another giant factor of Christmas being my number-one holiday is spending time with family. Put all of these elements (childhood, Christmas, family) into a bowl and mix them up and I can’t help but think of my undying love of action figures.
Over the last year, I began to frequent flea markets that have an ungodly amount of new and classic wrestling action figures (along with a litany of other retro toys) and this has inspired me to start buying them again. It even went as far as Rich and I playing a couple of toy Royal Rumbles that have been used for drinking purposes which will eventually see the light of day on YouTube/this very website one day. Naturally, my splurging has led to the rest of the Swoggle Squad constantly throwing jokes my way about this habit (although they have benefitted a couple of times from my purchases, receiving some pretty cool gifts in the process). I take the jokes well and laugh with them, but deep down, I understand my reasons.
Initially, it was recoup the lost periods of time I got with them. As I got older, I became louder and more obnoxious playing with my toys. My mother had just married my father, who wasn’t used to my constant matchmaking in my room, and he wasn’t keen on hearing banging and yelling a large majority of the day. So, I was essentially bribed into stopping playing with my action figures under the promise of still buying them…but collecting them. I took him up on the offer just to appease my dad. Over the next couple of years, I got some cool toys that I still have that have never had the pleasure of being held in my hands and smashing another six-inch plastic figure in the head. Sure, I was 11 years old and I needed to grow up, but I wasn’t ready. I had so much fun living in my own world, using my bed as the world’s largest wrestling ring and creating my own storylines/characters. It was all I ever did to entertain myself.
But, I understand why it was done and I’m at peace with it. Plus, my father was great to me in terms of my action figures. He bought me one to collect every week and even made special trips with me to get particular ones I saw in the Sunday paper. I will never forget running to Hills, a department store based in the Ohio area that unfortunately went out of business over a decade ago, to buy the Dennis Rodman/Hollywood Hogan two-pack while my mother stayed home, glued to the TV…watching the coverage of Princess Di’s death.
However, the more I have thought about my action figures, the more I think about my grandmother. When it comes to being a spoiled grandchild, I could of taken first place. My mother was always great to me when it came to getting me what I wanted, but in those rare cases I couldn’t crack her, my grandmother was right there. The images in my head are still as vivid as they were when I was a diminutive Hulkamaniac.
I remember seeing the Hasbro WWF action figures for the first time on an endcap in K-Mart. I had never seen them before and my grandmother made sure that I got all of them that day. When I turned four years old, my mother and grandmother took me to Children’s Palace (the most baller toy store EVER). Once we got to the store, my grandmother told me I could have as many action figures I wanted. The aisles seemed like the size of Jack’s Beanstalk as I looked up and picked out one figure from every movie/TV show at the time. I already had all of the WWF figures, so I filled out my blooming federation with characters from T2, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Bucky O’Hare, TMNT and so many more.
Beyond just being the proprietor of my action figure collection, which had already grown to the size of the largest Rubbermaid Bin in existence, my grandma did everything she could to supply me with whatever I needed. I remember going to some weird trade show for made-for-TV products and seeing these really cool erasable marker kits. I was enamored with them and my grandma convinced my mom to let me have them. My grandma knew what I wanted them for. I used to use red markers or pens to draw on the heads of my action figures to indicate when they were bleeding in my matches. (I would even line the rungs of my classic LJN big, blue steel cage with red markers and then have one wrestler rub his opponent’s face on the cage, coming up with the proverbial crimson mask.) With these new markers, my wrestlers could be repaired after their matches. My mother didn’t think I needed them. My grandma fought for me.
What resonates to me the most, however, were my sleepovers. There was nothing like staying over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. On top of the amazing food and the plethora of card games and the quality time I got hearing all of our family’s stories, I knew that every Saturday night would end the same way. On the bed in the back corner of the living room, I would have the best toy Royal Rumbles known to mankind.
Making room on my grandparent’s permanently messy dining room table (I can still see all of those envelopes and Reader’s Digests), I would set out all of my thirty participants and then shuffle the same 30 flash cards. These cards were not bought to learn how to count. They were bought to serve as the numbers in my Royal Rumbles. After the drawing, I would grab the first two entrants and bring them into the ring.
Every two minutes, I would run from that bed across my grandfather, who never tripped me when he probably should of, into the dining room to grab the next entrant. This happened until one man was left standing (some of the winners I can recall were Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, who won the coveted “Saber” Championship, made from a blue sword from a Power Rangers Megazord).
Throughout the course of the entire Rumble, anytime anybody was eliminated or came into the ring, I would run over to my grandmother…who would keep track of the order of the entrants, the order of the eliminations, who eliminated who, even the duration of each participant in the match.
In the midst of watching her favorite shows (any of the PBS BBC shows like Keeping Up Appearances or Are You Being Served or Walker, Texas Ranger), she took the time to take meticulous statistics for my little Royal Rumbles. She would always calmly grab her miniscule piece of paper and scribble down my frantic information in the tiniest handwriting ever.
She never complained once.
She never told me she couldn’t do it.
She always clarified whatever I said to make sure she didn’t get anything wrong.
She always made little comments to act as if she was interested in what I was doing. A little “Wow, he lasted a long time” or “He didn’t do very well” meant the world to me. In my adolescent head, this was the most important thing in the world and my grandma understood that. She made sure to do everything in her power to reinforce that idea in me.
There are so many other memories of my grandmother’s house and action figures that I could literally write a book with all of them. Here is a brief list of other notable moments that will never leave me.
-My grandma asking my grandpa to fix an old, metal dinner tray so I could use it as a makeshift ring. I remember Arn Anderson and Owen Hart having a classic on that loud apparatus.
-The Rock winning a world title before he actually won one by knocking Stone Cold off that aforementioned dining room table onto the cold, hard floor below.
-Breaking several toys and my grandma telling my grandfather to “prep surgery” on them. Mankind’s head held almost 15 years with that super glue.
-Only bringing 28 figures over one night for a Rumble and my grandma scouring the entire house trying to find anything that could fill in for the evening. The surprise entrants that night? A hot dog with arms and legs that she got for free on an Oscar Meyer mail-in and a wind-up robot from some TV show or movie I cannot remember. The robot was surely worth some money…and I naturally broke one of its feet. My grandma shrugged it off when I told her.
Long story short, my action figures would never be as important to me if it weren’t for my grandmother. Sadly, she passed away in 2007 and I miss her just as much now as did when it happened. Now, however, with my reborn admiration for those wonderfully crafted facsimiles, all I have to do is open up my new Rubbemaid tub, look at the pile and imagine setting them up on that cluttered table. I can hold one in my hand, close my eyes and see myself zooming towards her recliner, leaning down to tell her who was entering the match. I read the manufacturer’s print on the wrestlers’ boots with ease because I miss squinting at her handwriting and trying to decipher what numbers were next to what wrestler.
Action figures bring back a time when I was innocent and had the whole world in front of me…and my grandmother was right there, doing everything she could to keep my a child.
So, this holiday season, if you are fortunate enough to have even a small memory or recollection of something that someone in your family did for you when you were a child, thank them for allowing you to have that fond feeling forever.
Then, go act like a kid one more time. Tis the season.