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Not exactly a holiday gift but…

Fellow genealogist Jane E. Wilcox of New York posted a link to it this week on Facebook.

It may be one of the best articles of all time — the article entitled “The 5 Best Toys of All Time,” written back in 2011.1

And oh boy did it resonate with The Legal Genealogist.

All five of those toys… and especially the last one.

And the toys are:

• Stick

• Box

• String

• Cardboard Tube

• Dirt


Oh, yeah.


Now to set the stage for just how this resonated, I have to show you the conditions under which the memories evoked by this piece took place.

Dirty-faced kids

Yeah, that’s me, on the right, with the dirty face. Dirtier by far than my older sister Diana on the left who appears to be regarding me with some degree of amusement. Both of us reveling in summer heat and the shirts-optional status that being under the age of five accords even to girls.

Now… look at the dirt we’re sitting in.2

There around the farmhouse at my grandparents’ farm in Virginia where we spent our summers, the dirt was soft and fine and, in the absence of rain, dry and dusty.

And we used it as a toy all the time. In a very particular way.

The equipment needed was simple:

• One Coke bottle. Pepsi would do. But it had to be a bottle, not a can.3 And it had to be dry on the inside. Which meant that the contents had to have been consumed at least a day or two earlier. And it helped to rinse the bottle out — after consuming the contents, of course — so there was no sticky residue at all.

• One piece of window screen at least 4×4 inches square. Window screens at the farm, you understand, were not fixed items that were swapped out for storm windows. The screens didn’t even have their own frames. They were cut from large rolls and then stapled around the outside of the window.4 So there were always scraps of window screens around.

• Dirt. Dry and dusty.

And the directions for using that equipment were equally simple:

• Put the piece of screen over the top of the bottle.

• Scoop up dry dirt and strain it into the bottle through the screen.

• When the bottle is full, remove the piece of screen.

And now you’re ready.

Ready for what, you may ask?

For one of the most fun things a kid can do with this one of the five best toys of all time.

Find a bunch of cousins, stand in the middle…

And, holding the bottle straight out as far as you can reach, twirl around at the highest speed you can manage — coating everybody in reach with the finely strained dusty dirt from your bottle.

Repeat as often as you can get away with it.


Absolutely one of the five best toys of all time.

Maybe even the single best toy ever.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Best toy ever,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 14 Dec 2019).


  1. Jonathan H. Liu, “The 5 Best Toys of All Time,”, posted 31 Jan 2011, cited by Jane E. Wilcox, Facebook status update, 11 Dec 2019).
  2. I thought about saying “wallowing in” — but the photo does speak for itself…
  3. In my experience at the time, cans were for beer. Soft drinks came in bottles.
  4. Assuming anybody bothered for that particular window.
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