As the battle rages across the US over the fate of Confederate monuments and Rebel flags are being furled up tucked away in attics where they belong, it’s time for this Yankee to come clean.
I was once a proud, Confederate flag waving Johnny Reb.
For a brief few weeks in the spring of 1961, the South rose again albeit on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y.
Thanks to a much asked for birthday present from a well-meaning cousin, I was the proud owner of a genuine Johnny Reb Cannon, one of the most requested toys for mid-century tots above and below the Mason Dixon Line. Elated I embraced my role as a suburban secessionist, proudly waving the Dixie flag that came with this toy cannon.
This is one retro toy sure not to make a comeback.
But in 1961 the Civil War was on everyone’s mind, (and no not because of the Freedom Riders that traveled down south that spring to fight segregation.) Just in time for the big Civil War Centennial that year savvy toy company Remco the makers of such fine toys as “Mighty Matilde Atomic Aircraft Carrier” turned back the clock with a George Wallace approved homage to “States Rights”- The Johnny Reb Cannon,” billed as the most famous cannon of all time.
In the gauzy spirit of revisionist history of the time, when whitewashing was applied in broad stokes, the Civil War had been recast in more romanticized “Brother vs Brother” story line; each side fighting for a “just” cause they believed in. Confederate soldiers weren’t traitors or proponents of evil slavery but were brave and handsome, their leaders noble and true.
The truth is I was won over to the Rebel’s side by a TV commercial with its uplifting snappy jingle sung to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah Hurrah!” My heart, to my parent’s amusement was in Dixie. Besides which, those damn Yankees didn’t have anywhere near the same fun toys as those Johnny Rebs did.
With nary a thought to traitors or slavery, I fell in love with the Ol’ South and ready to fight for it’s Lost Cause.
Despite Remco’s gender equal sounding tag line- “every boy wants a Remco…. and so do girls,” it was clear I wanted what the boys had. The Johnny Reb commercial featuring sentimental girls in period costume waving dainty hankies to cheer the brave boys off to do battle or dressed in their Clara Bow best to help out on the front, didnt appeal to me. Neither role was what this little rebel wanted.
No, I wanted to be where the action was, the power, the thrill of a smoking battlefield. With just a tug of the plastic lanyard on the 30 inch cannon and pow…plastic cannonballs could travel 35 feet, clearing any field in my northern suburban development. Print ad’s boasted “You don’t have to wait till you see the whites of their eyes before shooting with this long-range 30 incher!”
However in the midst of battle when one of those authentic looking plastic cannonballs accidentally dinged my parents Plymouth, I had to surrender my Johnny Reb to Mom. Despite my protestations it was a Lost Cause.
What our cleaning girl Willie May actually thought of a little tow-headed blonde girl waving a Confederate flag around the house as she electro luxed our living room, I can never be sure. But the roll of her eyes and the sly smile on her face when my parents confiscated my cannon and tossed away my flag said it all.
At least in my suburbia, the South would not rise again.
Copyright (©) 2017 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved