the marvelous toy

Courtesy of Alexa, I have just revisited a vivid childhood memory that I think I have avoided for what might be decades.

I grew up listening to holiday mixtapes that my parents recorded in the early ’70s, late 70s, early 80s. These were the “classic” holiday faves via Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee, John Denver, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Gene Autry, Perry Como, Billie Holiday. A few “newer” artists like The Beach Boys, Elvis, The Jackson 5, etc etc. And that’s all fine and good until you get to the song that low-key traumatized me from as far back as I can remember.

I had to look up who the original songwriter was, and it turns out that “The Marvelous Toy” is a John Denver song. I had no idea until about 10 minutes ago. I don’t remember which cover was on my parents’ mixtape, but it might have been Tom Paxton? Anyway, I asked Alexa to play the song, the version I got is by Peter, Paul, and Mary. It’s not precisely the one I grew up listening to, but it definitely works for Excavation of Deeply-Buried Childhood Nightmare. I remember being *very* young and listening to this song at Christmastime and feeling utterly creeped out. Mainly by the chorus:

It went zip when it moved
And bop when it stopped
And whirrr when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was
And I guess I never will.

Anybody want to take a wild guess as to why this song and the imagery freaked me out?

PLEASE NOTE: As I voice-to-texted this post, the app transcribed “whirrr when it stood still” to “horror when it stood still,” and thus am I vindicated, see, because even the app knows.

So in my child’s mind here’s what happens: Dad brings home an item that has kind of a creepy description with button eyes and moving parts. Nobody has a clue how it works. Nobody knows where it came from. No one can identify or classify what this thing is, and it is in the gor-ram house.

Not only that, this unidentifiable thing sticks around long enough to be passed down to the next generation like some kind of cursed family heirloom that brings creeping, ominous horror into the lives of everyone who comes into contact with it.

It first marched left and then marched right,
And then marched under a chair.
And when l looked where it had gone,
it wasn’t even there.
I started to sob and my daddy laughed, for he knew that I would find
When l turned around: my marvelous toy, chugging from behind.

This stalking the kid from behind. And his father laughs.

Oh it’s a marvelous toy all right. Marvelously and utterly terrifying.

I’ve never known just what it is, and I guess I never will.


P.S. I love this song.

P.P.S. Because I’d tweet it if I could: The Sound of Music is NOT a Christmas/holiday movie.