I had a pretty great childhood. I think, like most people who are fortunate enough to say so, it was because of all of the great experiences I had. Things I did with my family. Things I did with my friends. Things I did on my own. All of these memories are, well, memorable because I was learning something. Doing something new. Trying something different. Exploring some place I hadn’t been before.

It is our experiences that stick with us and make us who we are. Sure we are all fond of something we had as kids. A particular toy. Our first bikes. Some are nostalgic for a particular game console. But we mostly remember what we did with these things rather than the things themselves.

That being said, I was not deprived of a few cool toys even if I like to think that I wasn’t spoiled. We were solidly middle-class, and I most certainly didn’t get everything that I wanted. But what my parents did get me was always high quality.

My earliest toy memories are of Tonka trucks. They were huge from a boy’s perspective, out of solid metal, and looked like construction equipment. They were the best. Dump truck, cement mixer, and tower crane amongst others. All were indestructible and designed to take into the sandbox. Though my brother and I were supposed to bring them into the garage every evening, they were forgotten often enough that they had to endure all weather and still they lasted, only a bit rusted for the wear. Looking back, we were probably always just a moment away from needing a tetanus booster while playing with them, but we had a blast.

And that is what I really remember. Not the details of the trucks themselves, but the hours moving sand in the back yard. We built small worlds in that sand box in the shade of the mimosa, learning how to salvage scraps of wood or pipe from dad’s workbench to put together projects, and then with the garden hose learning just how catastrophic the flow of water can be to a foundation. And I remember playing with my brother. We weren’t the best of friends when we were young. Although we were often antagonistic, building something together seemed to be where we could see eye-to-eye. They were our toys. It was our sand box.

And it wasn’t just mom and dad. Grandma got us the absolute best Christmas toys. For each of her gajillion grandkids she always got each of us one knocked-it-out-of the park gift. My godmother also knew a quality toy when she bought me my first Lego set.

File photo of the author

6380 Emergency Treatment Center. And though I remember almost every brick of that set, what I remember most was putting it together. Over and over. I remember the fun of building it for the first time. I remember the challenge of putting it together from memory and sight when I lost the assembly guide. I remember using the same pieces to build a police station and then a fire station when I realized that the color scheme would be better for it. I remember taking it to school for show-and-tell and explaining how I wanted to be an engineer when I grew up because I liked to build things.

My Lego collection only grew over the years, my parents recognizing a quality investment, I assume. And I was so grateful. Space ships, race cars, pirate ships, and pneumatic cylinders and gears, all being turned into something new over and over again.

These experiences served me so well. My desire to build new things never stopped even as I packed the Legos away into the attic so long ago. Creation takes new forms today: writing something new, compiling some new code, even trying a new recipe. But an offhand comment recently served to remind me both of some long-forgotten memories and why I have the best wife.

I think we were at the neighbors’ one evening and I saw the bucket of Legos on the living room floor. Their daughters love them and I was talking with the father about how great Legos are because they are timeless. He explained to me how some of what they were playing with were his when he was a kid and he was now passing them on. We reminisced for a while on our favorite sets and I smiled broadly as I explained some builds I had tried that I had nearly forgotten.

I didn’t think twice about it or that anyone else might have been listening until Elise gave me a Lego train set for Christmas.

Giddy with the excitement of a Lego geek, a train geek, and just a geek

60197 Personenzug / Passenger Train. They added another digit to the set numbers, but otherwise, some decades later, the joy of putting together a Lego set remained the same. I was surprised (but should not have been) that Elise picked up on that idea from an offhand conversation and combined two great loves from my childhood for a Christmas gift: Legos and trains.

So there I sat on the office floor at the convergence of some of the fondest childhood memories, gratitude for such a thoughtful and loving wife, and a pile of bricks with a huge grin on my face. Some things have changed and some have stayed the same. Did you know that they give you a brick puller now?

Why didn’t Lego provide a brick puller when I was a kid?