The toymaker made people happy – little people and big people alike. From sunup to sundown he worked in his shop building the most magnificent and beautiful toys. He loved to hear the dancing laughter of children when the toys came to life in their hands, the chuckles and excited chatter of teens and young adults as they punched buttons and twisted knobs on the more sophisticated toys, and he especially loved the sweet sing-song laughter of the elderly when one of his toys sparked a picture of simpler more romanticized times in their lives. Each toy was created with pride and love, and his hand painted work showed the skill and precision of a master. No toy received more attention to detail or color or imagination than another – each one was a magical masterpiece. He finished each by passing his skilled, though crooked fingers, across its surface and explored each crevice and joint to ensure it was as he visualized it should be. In the final test, he pulled it close to his face and inhaled deeply. The smell of paint mixed with the aroma of the molded material or hand carved wood whispered the color to him as well as its readiness to belong to someone young at heart. To the blind toymaker, every toy mattered to someone, but most of all each and every toy mattered to him.
No one knew how long he had worked building toys; they only knew he had made them for a very long time. However, he knew exactly how long he had been making toys, and more important, he knew time was catching up to him. Over the years, he learned to work around the arthritis that curled his hands into painful claws, and he learned to deal with the loss of his sight, but there was no working around time. He was old, and he needed to find someone, an apprentice, to pass his work to before he was called away. So, early one morning, he closed his shop for an hour, something he rarely did, and posted fliers around town announcing interviews for an apprentice. The only stipulation was the applicant must be young at heart and between the ages of thirteen and medium done, which meant not too old or overdone.
On the day of the interviews, the street in front of the toy shop overflowed with apprentice hopefuls from thirteen to ninety-two. Having once been a youthful ninety-two, he was pleased to see, Herb Gomm and Phillip Heygate, in the crowd. He knew them well. Since the day their fathers brought them in the toy shop for the first time, they were two of his most loyal customers. The spirit of play still showed brightly in their eyes. In spite of their well-seasoned youth, he would have been proud to have either as an apprentice.
The interview consisted of one question, “Why do you want to be a toymaker?” Herb Gomm said, “To make toys for my grand and great grandchildren,” which was an excellent answer, but a toymaker cannot show partiality, so he was sadly turned away. Phillip Heygate said, “So I can say I accomplished at least one worthwhile thing before I die.” That was also an admirable answer, but he was, nevertheless, sent on his way. The toymaker told the toys watching the interviews from the shelves that Phillip was a tad too morbid to be a toymaker.
Unfortunately, interview after interview was always the same; some very good answers, but never the right one. “Why do you want to be a toymaker?” the toymaker asked over and over and at times even pleaded. The responses always strayed just a little off the mark – “To get rich,” Marlo Simpson said; “So I won’t have to buy toys,” said Bilbo Snider; “I need a job,” pleaded Melvin Moses – but though each of the hundred plus answers had some merit, none of them appealed to the toymaker enough for him to want to share his knowledge and shop with any of them. The day grew long, tiresome, boring, and ultimately disheartening.
Finally, tired and disappointed, he called the last person to be interviewed into his shop. He shook his hand, and though he could not see him, the size of the hand and smooth tight skin told him this candidate for the apprenticeship must be very young. The person also had a slight whiff of wet puppy about him, which aroused the toymaker’s suspicions even more. “Are you sure you are at least thirteen?” he asked. “You feel and smell awfully young.”
There was a long pause. “I am twelve,” the candidate said softly and honestly.
The toymaker’s heart ached, and he slumped onto the bench at his work table. A tear hung at the corner of his eye. Was there no one worthy to be his apprentice he thought? “Thank you,” he said, “but I am afraid the position is no longer open.
“Have you filled it?” the boy asked.
“No,” said the toymaker.
“Then it’s not fair,” the boy said.
“Why is it not fair? It’s my interview!”
“I stood in line all day, to see you,” said the boy, “and now you say the position is closed, yet unfilled. How can that be fair when I have yet to be interviewed?”
“What is your name young man?”
“Thomas,” said the boy. .
“Well, Thomas, you say you are twelve, so I must assume you can read.”
“Yes sir, I can.”
“Then I am confident, since you are here, you must have seen the fliers I posted around town. The fliers clearly stated you must be at least thirteen for the position.”
“So, what,” the boy said, “what does age have to do with making toys? I know as much about toys, probably more, than anybody you have interviewed. Who knows more about toys than a kid?”
“I understand, but . . . .”
“Sorry, I wasted your time,” the boy interrupted. He turned and reached for the carved dragon head door knob to let himself out.
“Why do you want to be a toymaker?” the toymaker asked.
The boy stopped and turned around. “I love to hear people laugh,” he said.
The old toymaker’s heart warmed and the light of hope sparkled in his eyes. He dropped to his knees and grabbed the boy. There was nothing selfish in the boy’s answer. His response was perfect; a credit to a true toymaker. He squeezed Thomas with a hug that he normally reserved for his biggest most loveable stuffed animals. He held his new apprentice close for a very long time!
Thomas proved to be a fast learner. Within a few years, his creations rivaled the craftsmanship of his mentor. The two of them created toys so eloquent and masterful that people regarded their work as treasured art. Their toys became highly collectable and ownership became competitive. Soon people started to debate which of the two toymakers was the greatest. The codillywogs argued in favor of the steadfast old toymaker saying he mentored Thomas and therefore was the greatest. The lidollywogs argued in favor of the contemporary genius and diversity displayed by Thomas in his creations. As for the two toymakers, they simply did not care. As long as people laughed and enjoyed their toys they were content. They thought it shameful people could not leave well enough alone and be content as well.
However, the people were not content. Arguments over craftsmanship soon turned to which toymaker’s work had the greatest impact on society and culture. The two toymakers shrugged and asked why it mattered. But, it mattered to a lot of people, and soon the codillywogs were up in arms that the old toymaker’s work was not given the credit they said it deserved. The lidollywogs countered Thomas was more deserving of recognition since his work embraced the diversity of society compared to the simplistic traditional design of the old toymaker’s work. Truthfully, the work of each toymaker was rich with merit, and their work mattered equally, but the people were convinced there could only be one that mattered. Anything else was not good enough. They lost touch with what truly mattered.
Angry voices of condemnation and protest on both sides of the issue filled the media and the streets. The codillywogs yelled the old toymaker mattered, and the lidollywogs responded louder that Thomas mattered. A few level headed people pointed out that both mattered, but they were quickly shouted down and ridiculed as unfeeling and insensitive. All that mattered was what the codillywogs and the lidollywogs said mattered. The toymaker mattered, Thomas mattered, but not both. The people hardened their hearts as to what truly mattered.
One night, the codillywogs gathered on the south side of town for a peaceful demonstration in support of the old toymaker. The lidollywogs responded by gathering on the north side of town for a peaceful demonstration of their own in support of Thomas. As peaceful demonstrations often go the crowds grew restless, and the two factions converged in the middle of town where the toy shop stood. Within minutes, angry words echoed in the street, and a rock crashed through the front window of the toy shop. The codillywogs blamed the lidollywogs for disagreeing with them on what mattered, and the lidollywogs blamed the codillywogs for not knowing what mattered. Both groups fought long into the night, each convinced they knew what mattered and the other did not. The next morning, the toy shop lay in smoldering ruins, and the two toymakers were missing.
The authorities sifted through the ruins fearful of what they might find, but the old toymaker and Thomas were not in the ashes. All they found were melted tools and two toys, one from the hands of each toymaker. The two toys were fused together from the heat of the flames into a hideous charred, bubbly mess. The grotesque figure was put on display in the town square as a reminder to all people of the night the toys died and the toymakers went missing. The codillywogs and the lidollywogs hung their heads momentarily in shame, but neither had learned what mattered.
The nation, emotionally and spiritually shattered, mourned the tragic events. The media flooded the airways with noncommittal investigative reports on who was right and who was wrong about what mattered. The codillywogs and lidollywogs met under their spiritual umbrellas and through prayer justified their actions by what they coerced themselves to believe mattered. Without the toymakers, there were no new toys, and as the old toys broke and disappeared, the laughter of the children stopped, but no one thought that mattered. There were no new buttons and knobs to push and turn and entertain the teens, so they began to wander and search aimlessly and recklessly for what mattered. With no toys to open windows to their pasts and offer them a sense of peace and belonging, the elderly retreated to their beds to die because that was all they had left that mattered.
Far away on a south sea island, three figures sat facing the sea with their toes buried in the sand. “Do you think they will ever understand what matters?” Thomas asked.
“Not until they truly want to,” said the old toymaker. “What do you think?” he said turning to God.
A tear rolled down God’s cheek. Without a word, he stood and motioned the two toymakers to follow him. Together they walked along the edge of the surf packed sand, two sets of footprints trailing after them. They walked to where the beach dropped into the sea, and there they turned left. The old toymaker, Thomas, and God were never heard from again, and with them they took what really mattered – The Toys.
©Jack Linton, July 11, 2016