Images of natural disasters prompt different reactions in different people; some are moved by aerial views of the big picture, while others respond more to the ground-level stories. To me, some of the saddest pictures are the ones showing people poking through the debris that used to be their home, looking for any belongings they can salvage. Sometimes you hear about major finds among the wreckage: a wedding dress, a photo album, a flag. Yet with devastation that total, even the recovery of a single report card, toy soldier or coffee mug can be a triumph; just something that proves you had a life, an existence, before the disaster. Things that may have had little value beforehand become all the more important when they are the only things left.  The toys on today’s post do not have quite that dire a history, and may not have stirred up that level of intense feeling, but let’s give them them a look and then a ponder, shall we?

Mrs. Eugenie Riggs donated a collection of toy cars and trucks, played with by her youngest son Barrymore at their home in Ashton. Shown here are two Dinky Toys: a gray Armstrong-Siddeley coupe, model 38e (probably) from the early 1950s and a black Simca 8 Sport, model 534-F, from 1959. We also have lots of farm toys, construction toys, animals, soldiers, even a plastic “space alien,” all owned by her four boys.  Many years later, Mrs. Riggs remembered which toys were the favorites of which sons; the cars belonged to the youngest (born in 1946), who “always liked these little things.”

These 1930s toy soldiers – 97 in all, representing a mix of manufacturers (and wars; there’s at least one knight) – came from three generations of the Jacobs family of Gaithersburg and Washington Grove. The donor, Charles Jacobs, said of them, “they were played with (and battered by) me, a young nephew, two daughters and three grandsons.”

“Earl,” donated by the Barth family, belonged to a young boy in Garrett Park. Judging by Earl’s condition, he was much loved – and probably toted around by his particularly battered left arm. His owner, Billy Hazard, died in 1918, only five years old. Mrs. Hazard wrapped the doll up and tucked him away, along with a brief but poignant note reading “Earl, the doll Billy had when he died.”

Toys like these – battered, beat-up, broken – might seem to be of little value, but it’s a matter of connection. Think about how your feelings would differ if you found a doll like Earl on the street; if you came across him in an antique shop, and he reminded you of a toy you once owned; if he was your own doll, discovered in a parent’s attic; or if he was one of the few remnants of your life that survived a cataclysmic disaster. I’m not saying we should cling to every piece of ephemera that crosses our path (well, I’m not really saying that) – but things are important to us, more so than we sometimes remember, and I hope you spare a thought for the potential meanings of the various objects you use, keep or discard today.

The idea for today’s blog came from this story about a woman who started a Facebook page for “pictures and documents found after the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.” (There is also a similar page for animals and pets.) This is such a lovely idea. I can only imagine – and not very well at that – what it must be like to lose your home and all your belongings. I’m glad to know that there have been some success stories, as people are reunited with heirlooms and mementos large and small.

One of the Jacobs family's soldiers, made by Manoil.