TOYS THROUGH TIME. Put some jogging shoes on your imagination, because we're going to take a dash backwards to long ago. Actually, to lo-o-o-ong ago.
We're going to visit some kids way back in time. They didn't know anything about Barbie or toy cars. They'd never seen Christmas trees, either. But they had fun, just the same, playing with wheels and whistles, dolls and cradleboards. Naturally, no one really knows who owned the toys listed below. So, we're going to pretend. The boys and girls in these stories are all make-believe, but their clothes, customs, and homes are true to their times. For starters, we'll peel away about 4400 years from the calendar for a visit back to the city of Kish in Sumeria (a piece of Iraq today).Skip to next paragraph
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Ready? Zaboosh. We're standing outside a mud brick house, peering through a tiny window covered with wooden grillwork. We watch. Even though the room inside is dim, we can see that the father is angry. His words are stern. But his son says nothing, merely looks downward, watching his toes wiggle. The boy's name is Zabaja. And he wants to play with his new toy. But like many boys in many places throughout all times, he hasn't done his homework.
In Sumeria, only the rich go to school. And the price of undone homework is high: The teacher whips with a stick. So when Zabaja's father leaves, the boy takes a tablet of wet clay from the bench. Slowly, he makes wedge-shaped characters with a reed writing tool. Over and over, he copies his lessons.
Then he stops, eyeing the toy that sits in the corner. It's a chariot crafted from clay, no bigger than a bowl. Zabaja thrusts his tablet aside and begins to play. His chariot has a splashboard to keep the miniature driver from getting speckled with mud on the make-believe battlefield.
Outside on the alley-wide streets, real soldiers march by, their metal helmets and spears of copper flashing in the sun. They're friendly soldiers. And knowing this, Zabaja pays little heed. He's used to soldiers because his city is constantly at war with neighboring cities. Unconcerned, he rolls his chariot along the bench top. He's proud of its two real wheels. After all, wheels haven't been around all that long. And to have them on a toy is something special.
Yes, his city has wheels and writing, metal tools and big temples. But lots hasn't happened yet. Jesus hasn't been born; the Atlantic Ocean hasn't been crossed, and the moon is thought to be a god, not a place for spacemen to visit. There's no pizza or soda pop, either. But Zabaja doesn't care. He has his chariot.
All set? Zaboosh. We're in Egypt - about 1600 years ago. Isadora is sitting on steep stairs, three stories up, in a narrow house. She's thinking very hard. Somewhere she has misplaced her doll. Where?
She had been playing with it when her mother called her to help bake bread. Now it's nowhere around. The doll is small and carved from bone. And it's Isadora's only toy. Maybe it's in the wall niche that holds the water jug? She looks. No. Or mixed in with the family's clothes? Isadora pulls out folded tunics and a purple shawl from a basket. Not a sign of her doll. There's almost nowhere else to look because the room has almost no furniture - a bench or two and a few floor mats to sit on, but that's all. The only decorations are the Christian crosses and symbols scratched into the white plastered walls.
Isadora and her family live in simple style. They're Copts. That's what Egyptians who've turned Christian are called. By this time in the fourth century, there are lots of them, clustered together in crowded settlements, keeping away from the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans who worship many gods.