I feel fortunate that there are several objects from my childhood that I have been able to pass along to my kids. There’s something wonderful about being able to read Goodnight Moon to them from the copy I held as a child. They have many of my old books, some old toys, a bit of jewelry…. But my favorite plaything from back in the day is the pachinko machine.
I don’t know how many people are familiar with what that is, but it’s
sort of a Japanese pinball game. Ours is a model from the early 1970’s
and it looks like this:
The other cool thing about the pachinko machine is it’s completely
mechanical. It doesn’t plug into anything so you can stick it anywhere,
and there is something fun about watching kids gather around it instead
of a video game. Pachinko is so low tech compared to most of what my
kids’ friends have available. It’s simple and vaguely hypnotic, and it
has anachronistic touches like an ashtray built into it.
My mom got it as a gift from her brother John when we were little,
and my brothers and I spent a lot of time playing it, jamming it,
opening it up, and jerry-rigging it to go again. When Ian and I bought
our house almost ten years ago I asked mom if I could have it since it
was just gathering dust in the basement. My mom’s always looking to
clear space in the basement and was fine with my taking it off her
hands. I played it a little, jammed it, fixed it….
Then I had Aden and
put it up high where little hands wouldn’t find little balls to put in
her little mouth. When Aden and Mona were each old enough we’d let them
stand on a chair to play it, and eventually we brought it down to the
floor so they could share it with their friends. By the time we had
Quinn the girls had jammed it and whacked it too hard for me to fix
anymore. I didn’t have the time or parts to effectively deal with it.
It sat collecting photos and post-it notes on the front of it like a
small, broken refrigerator.
But the internet is a magical thing. I can’t imagine trying to live
without it anymore. It saved me on more than one occasion during Ian’s
last deployment because it was so hard to get out while pregnant and
carting around little kids. To be able to open my laptop and have the
world there was amazing. If in the middle of the night Aden wanted to
know what a turkey vulture sounded like (they have no vocal chords–not
pretty) we could Google it and instantly find out. If I wanted a
particular book I could order it. Netflix kept me supplied with movies
to watch during late nights up with the newborn. I found a contractor
to do work on the basement online, and a doula on Craigslist, and I
could have gifts sent to friends that I couldn’t get out and see.
Obscure music and peculiar toys and even our treadmill I ordered
online. With a little practice you can find almost anything. Including
pachinko repair people.
There is a nice couple down in Texas who have a sideline of repairing
vintage pachinko machines like mine. I shipped it to them, they fixed
it, restocked the supply of balls, and now it works beautifully. They
even repaired the wiring so with a nine volt battery installed it lights
up when you get a jackpot. I’d never seen it with the lights working
before, so now it seems new even to me. When I was a kid it would have
been impossible to track down a pachinko repair person, especially if
you had to look as far away as Texas. I love that with a few taps on my
keyboard I could know in a matter of minutes whom to ask.
So now I sit with my kids on the dining room floor and we shwoosh and
plinkita plink plinky plink and Quinn says things like, “So close!” and
“I got it in that flower, mom!” and Aden reminds them all to take turns
and Mona still manages to jam it up occasionally, but it’s an easier
fix now that everything has all its proper parts. In those moments at
the pachinko machine with Aden, Mona, and Quinn, I don’t just get to
experience things through my kids’ eyes, I get to have kid’s eyes of my
own again. It was worth the cost of shipping to Texas.