Memories of presents past

As parents wearily gather up wads of tattered wrapping paper and young toy recipients carefully scrutinize and evaluate their new acquisitions, I wonder which items will become treasured keepsakes among the family archives?

It's doubtful many of the fad products from the recent past can generate enduring emotional connection from their owners. When kids in the distant future rummage through Grandma's attic, I don't think they're going to find a lot of Cabbage Patch Kids, Teddy Ruxpin talking bears, or Star Wars characters. Well, maybe the sheer volume of Star Wars action figures ensures that a significant portion of these will get tossed in boxes and stored by accident.

The dangerous period for mementoes usually starts during college, when people feel the urge to toss out seemingly trivial artifacts of their earlier lives and focus on what's ahead. That's the emotional stage I was at when I discarded my toy version of the modified Winchester that Chuck Connors carried on "The Rifleman." He used to spin it around like a six-shooter, a trick I could never duplicate because the barrel always hit me in the chin.

I also decided to jettison the plastic bolt-action machine gun just like the one Vic Morrow used in his weekly role as Sgt. Chip Saunders on "Combat." Happily, one item did survive my purges. It's a black wooden cane with a gold plastic head that's stamped, "Bat Masterson." Gene Barry starred as the dapper frontier lawman from 1958-61. That's a short run by today's standards, which might lead some people to think that not many toy canes were sold, and perhaps mine is a valuable collector's item. They'd be mistaken.

A friend recently tipped me off to an eBay online offer for an original Bat Masterson US marshal outfit in the original box. It could very well be the only one of its kind in existence, which should have sent the bidding into overdrive, right? The final selling price was just over $150. Obviously I will not be sending my daughter to college on the proceeds from my cane auction.

I do think there is a certain mythic similarity between Bat Masterson and the Star Wars saga. Bat used his cane as an instrument for dispensing justice in the same way Jedi Knights rely on their lightsabers. Kids growing up with the special effects wizardry of Hollywood filmmakers must find it almost impossible to envision a time when boys watched a guy on TV sporting a derby and a cane, and wanted to imitate him. I just tell them it was in a galaxy long ago and far away.

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