The Toyman and My Father
©2002, Tim Lightfoot

Notes on piece: They say that there is a double for everyone. Here is a case where a double caused....well, you'll see.
Living in an urban area, my wife and I look for any excuse to get out of the city and into rural areas. Such was the case on a recent trip to a small town in a southwestern state. While in this town, we decided to walk around and look at the different shops. Tucked away in the corner of a shopping plaza, my wife and I found a small toy store that we wanted to investigate. I have always been attracted to toy stores, not really for any particular items, but just for the good feelings that usually abound in them. As we entered this shop, we could tell that it was just a little different from the other toy stores we had been in. This store was tiny, being only about 6 feet wide by about 12 feet long. Hanging in every conceivable spot on the walls and the ceiling were all manner of toys. The only cash register in this store was a small, toy cash register. As we found out, all of the store’s transactions were carried out on this little toy cash register.

As we squeezed into the story, we saw that there were several children in the shop, smiling and laughing. The cause of their laughter was a large man with a huge grin on his face. This man appeared to be about fifty-five years old, with a middle- aged paunch and thinning hair. He had full jowls that made quite a double chin when he spoke. We watched him show a child of about eight a small toy slot machine. We were at first puzzled about why he had turned the slot machine away from the child when showing the toy. But the reason was obvious when he pulled the handle: the machine squirted a stream of water on the man’s shirt. With this outcome, both the large man and the small child laughed. We were touched by this large man who obviously enjoyed making children laugh and in an effort to please a child, had deliberately doused himself with water during one of the coldest times of the year.

After leaving the store, we began to talk about our experience with one of the other shopkeepers nearby. Being a little jaded by the current times, we were a little suspicious of any one who is so friendly to children and so eager to please. But in our conversation with the neighboring shopkeeper we found out that the "Toyman" was really a dedicated soul; someone who rode his bicycle to work every day of the week, rain or shine, just so he could sell toys. From other town residents, we heard several stories of the kindness of the Toyman and how during the summer, he would often be outside his tiny shop demonstrating some of his newest toys to anyone that would stop. One neighboring shopkeeper related how on many days, she would hear laughter outside, followed by a "crazy eyeball" rolling down the sidewalk past her shop. Everyone we talked to painted a picture of a genuinely nice person; someone who had truly found his happiness and calling in life. I was quite affected by this experience. I couldn’t figure out why I was so touched by the experience. Was it that I was suspicious of the man’s motives or, as my wife suggested, did he remind me of someone? I at first thought that I was just having a n urban dweller’s reaction to an individual who was being genuinely friendly. I was upset because I questioned how I, someone who was raised in the country among the friendliest and most honest people in the world, could be so quick to suspect someone who had given me no reason to suspect them. Is it our society that turns us against people and makes us think that every one is out for something? Why can’t we believe that people just want to do good? As I thought about these questions, I realized that while they were disturbing to me, they just didn’t fit my reaction. I then realized that my wife had been right and that the Toyman actually reminded me of my biological father.

My biological parents divorced when I was five. Whatever the circumstances were, my father seemed to never quite recover. My father always adored children and in his job as a pastor, loved working with the children of all of his churches. He always found that children were so enthusiastic about life and he loved to spoil them with toys. I know that in our monthly visits, he often bought us toys even when he couldn’t afford them, just so we would have a good time. However, over the years, my father’s continuing bitterness about the divorce led to a degradation of his preaching skills and he was ultimately left without a church. The church hierarchy did not provide much support, and as a result, he spent several years looking unsuccessfully for a job that might fit his talents. This fruitless job search left him further frustrated and bitter, always searching for a job that would make use of his talents, but always rejected because he didn't fit the "mold". In a way, I think the Toyman affected me because under different circumstances, it was my father I could easily see in that small toy store.

While the "Toyman" certainly fit my father’s physical description and actually looked strikingly like him, a small toy store would have provided my father the interaction and success that he hasn’t been able to find in almost 30 years. Additionally, in a toy store, I think my father would have found happiness, something I’m not sure he has had for many years. When I saw the Toyman, I was touched because here was someone who was obviously so like my biological father in visage, but unlike my father, the Toyman was someone who appeared to have everything he wanted.

My wife and I have visited this small southwestern town several times and may actually move there in the future. However, I've never been back to the toy store and I don't think I'll ever return. The sight of the Toyman fills me with a sadness because he is a reminder that my biological father might have been able to find the happiness he craved if he had just looked longer and in the right place. Since the day that we stumbled into that little toy store, the thought of the Toyman always reminds me to never stop looking for happiness. I just wish that it would have been my father in that shop.

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