If you ask my mother, my brothers and I had just about every toy that was ever made when we were kids. I guess we were pretty lucky, but every toy ever made? Nah. I can think of one or two that we didn’t have. But we really liked the ones that we got. Our all time favorite gift was Pops-a-ball.
I couldn’t find a picture of Pops-a-ball (I’m not sure that any still exist), but I think this will explain it. I’m sure you’ve seen these if you know someone who’s an avid golfer.
It’s a putting cup, so that you can practice your putting inside when you can’t hit the links. You plug it in and stand several feet away from it with some golf balls and your putter, and try to putt the ball into the cup. If you’re successful, the device kicks the ball back to you. Pops-a-ball worked on the same principle. The mechanism to shoot the ball back to you was at the top of a ramp. You stood several feet away and rolled a light plastic ball across the floor and up the ramp, kind of like Skee-ball. If you managed to get the ball into the hole, the mechanism would shoot it back to you. Not push it back across the floor. It would shoot the ball back to you on the fly.
The company that made Pops-a-ball (can’t remember who it was. Kenner? Marx? Wham-o?) advertised it heavily in the weeks leading up to Christmas one year, and every kid in the neighborhood wanted the toy. Especially the three of us. It was an action game that featured balls shooting across the room. What’s not to like? Naturally, my mother was less than enthusiastic. “No! Absolutely not! You are NOT getting Pops-a-ball for Christmas!” So we asked Grandma, and Mom told her that she was NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, to buy us Pops-a-ball. It was the same with everyone else.
Somehow, she forgot to tell her sister Alice. Alice had just gotten married, so she and her husband Dick had no children yet. They had no idea we were forbidden from having one. So imagine the horror when Alice and Dick arrived at our apartment on Christmas night and gave the three of us a Pops-a-ball. “Well, it looked like a lot of fun, Bunny,” Alice said innocently.
We took the ramp and the light plastic balls out of the box and figured out how to wind up the mechanism so that the balls would come back, set the ramp up and stood a few feet away. I rolled the first ball; unfortunately, we had a sculptured rug, and the ball got caught in the grooves and roll away. We needed a bare floor, and were told we couldn’t bring it into the kitchen, so we set the ramp up on a bare stretch of floor near the front door. We stood back a couple of feet, and somehow missed the ramp. We kept trying it from shorter distances, and finally got it to work from a foot away. One of us rolled the ball up the ramp, got it into the hole, and Pops-a-ball shot the ball back and hit him in the forehead. We knew then that we would have to roll the ball and duck.
A day or so later, we made the discovery that, if you wound the return mechanism tightly enough, tilted the ramp backward, and dropped the ball into the hole, you could get the ball to fly across the room and hit the Christmas tree. Kind of like a mortar.
By the time Mom caught us, we had shot several ornaments off the tree and shattered them. Pops-a-ball was removed to the basement and put on a shelf where we couldn’t reach it, and Mom called her sister. “Alice, when you have children, they’re all getting drums!”