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Two New Old Tonka Trucks
He toddled around the corner and into the living room where he stopped cold. His little mouth dropped open. And the light in Ryan's eyes rivaled the glow of the lights on the Christmas tree. What he saw there were two big shiny Tonka toys... a tractor, and a fire truck with a ladder. There were other packages too, mostly from his grandparents and one or two small ones from me. But those would have to wait. Because he only had eyes for those trucks.
I looked at Mike, who was looking at Ryan... and I couldn't tell whose eyes were brighter.
"Those are for you, Ry'..." I said.
That was all the encouragement he needed.. He ran to the fire truck, climbed on, and did three laps around the living room on top of the truck. Then he hopped off and laid down on his belly, pushing the tractor and making engine noises.
He's such a boy, I thought. Looking at Mike, I could visualize him doing the same thing when he was a kid.
Before long Ryan had both Tonkas upside down, examining every inch. He was Mike's son all right. In fact, in only a few minutes, Mike was right down there with him. Ryan wanted to know every detail of every toy he had. If the Tonkas hadn't been welded, he would've surely taken them apart to have a better look.
At two and a half, he was the perfect age for Tonka trucks. And as 33, Mike was at the perfect age to enjoy them with his son. I'm not sure which of the two of them had the most fun.
Eventually we had to remind Ryan that he had other presents to open. With each one, he seemed happy and excited. But what he really wanted was to just play trucks.
But there was something odd about those Tonkas, something Ryan wouldn't notice. Tonka is pretty famous for using standard colors on its toys, mostly school bus yellow. Ryan's tractor was navy blue and his fire truck was wine colored with a silver ladder. They weren't the ones you buy in the store now.They were the good old hard metal ones that aren't produced anymore. For weeks, Mike had sat in his lonely little trailer in the evenings, cleaning, repairing, and sanding those trucks to make them good as new. Then he painted them.And now he got the payoff for labor of love. Ryan was in kid-heaven.
It had been a hard year for Mike and Ryan and me. Only a couple of months earlier, I'd asked Mike to move out of our home permanently. We still cared for each other. But his alcoholism and all the bad things that came with it had finally succeeded in beating the life out of our marriage and I gave up trying. After the initial bitterness, we became friendly again. And because of Ryan, there would always be tender bonds between us, though our marriage was definitely over.
The breakup left both of us financially drained. I felt dismal after Thanksgiving when I realized that Christmas was coming soon and I had no money. I could manage to get a small tree, and maybe after that if I really squeezed I could come up with five dollars to buy Ryan a few hot wheels. That was it. But compared to Mike, I was practically rolling in dough. Of course, he would spend Christmas Day with us and share our tree. But I knew that he would be hard pressed to have even one extra dollar to buy Ryan anything at all.
It was depressing at best. I wanted so much to make a wonderful Christmas for Ryan. Not that he needed the toys, and not that gifts are the heart of Christmas. Ryan would be surrounded by love and celebration and the recognition of the true meaning of Christmas with or without presents. But I'd waited a long time to have a child. And I was anxious to experience the joy that parents feel when they put things under the tree that they know will delight their children.
One afternoon in early December I was on my way home when I heard a man on the radio say that he had a yard full of old Tonka trucks. He would sell them for two to three dollars each, he said. They needed a lot of TLC, but they were sturdy and fixable. Ryan had played with Tonka's at a friend's house and adored them. It was the perfect gift for him. And I knew the perfect guy to do the fixing up.
I was so excited, I didn't even stop to call Mike and ask what he thought. He was still at work anyway. I went straight to the address the man on the radio gave. It was just as he'd said. He had dozens of trucks and they all need lots of attention. I scoured the yard looking for the best of the bunch. Some of them had rubber parts that were broken and I wasn't sure how they could be fixed. Finally I found two that still had all their parts in tact. Still, they definitely needed work. I paid the guy four dollars and fifty cents, just about my total allotment for Christmas. He loaded the metal trucks in the trunk of my car and I drove down to the body and paint shop where Mike worked.
Just as he was getting ready to leave, I pulled up next to his car and told him my idea... we could give Ryan a joint present. I bought the trucks, and he could fix them up like new. I was sure Mike had sand paper and tools, though I wasn't sure about paint. When I opened the trunk and showed him the trucks he caught my excitement. He was excited partly because he would have a great gift for Ryan... a gift that took him back to his own childhood and boyish delights... and partly because he would have a cool project to fill his lonely evenings. I expected him to be interested. But he was more than that. He was thrilled.
As we stood there with the trunk open, Mike's boss came out to see what the excitement was. Mel had become a family friend and he loved Ryan. He was about sixty, but I guess guys of any age still love toy trucks, because he had to pick them up and examine them right along with Mike.
"What a great idea," he said, turning the tractor around in his hands. "Real metal, how about that! Tell ya what Mike. Feel free to use any tools or sand paper in the shop. You can even take some home this weekend. And when you're ready to paint, you can use whatever we have leftover from spray jobs. Ryan's gonna love these."
And I guess he was right. Ryan loved them at age two and a half, and he loves them now. He's eighteen, and he still owns those trucks. When he was old enough to understand, I explained to him how his dad had spent hours upon hours turning old trucks into new ones, just for him. Ryan doesn't play with them now, and his dad is gone. But he can pick them up at any time and look them over, and run his hands over their smooth surfaces. Someday he might pass them on to his own children. But for now, they serve as solid metal proof that he was the victim of a whole lot of love.