Happy Times

Tasha May recalls some of her fond childhood memories of the simple things.

A vampire awakens from several centuries of buried imprisonment, and walking through the forests of modern Maine, he espies through the midnight fog a vast, glowing, yellow “M” and whispers under his breath, “Mephistopheles.” The reaction of Johnny Depp’s character in the movie Dark Shadows to McDonald’s golden arches as the symbol of the devil is one shared by many. As such, when I am reminiscing with others about childhood memories, I am reticent to mention Happy Meals and the nostalgia I hold for them and what they contained. Many people will proudly profess that their parents never let them eat McDonald’s as a kid. But my parents did, and Happy Meals did indeed, as their name suggests, constitute a happy part of my childhood.

I remember the tiny packets of fries; the limited-time offer of Shrek-shaped, green ravioli; and the playgrounds attached to the restaurants. But perhaps my favourite thing were the Happy Meal toys. I recall my excitement over possessing a plastic treehouse from Tarzan, as well as the disappointment when the dog translator from Cats and Dogs only played a bark instead of translating – as I dreamed – the secret languages between animals. One of my earliest memories of all is when I refused to go to preschool, and my mother procured a McDonald’s plush toy Flying Ace (one of the various guises Snoopy assumes) from behind her back with the promise that if I went on my merry way to school that day I would receive it as a reward

Over the Christmas holidays I had to clear the attic in my house and, in doing so, was confronted with these toys. With my now sage eyes (at the ripe and wise age of 20), I was amazed to see how cheap and ill-made they were. And yet, despite this, I nevertheless felt an irrational sadness at having to toss out these worthless knick-knacks.

McDonald’s represents everything wrong with our culture that is fast paced, rapacious and disposable. But somehow my McDonald’s happy meal toys stand apart from that association. The power of nostalgia, the fact of having once valued something, is such that it transforms even the most useless of junk into something that makes you hesitate and feel a pang of melancholy before letting it go