That Sucking Sound

I don't think it's just post-Boomer nostalgia and those Toy Story movies that make me fond of the Etch A Sketch. It is low-tech, nonviolent, portable, and bears theological wisdom as few toys do. A friend remembers the first time he etched away enough of the silver stuff so he could see the mechanism inside-how cool it was, and what a bummer, and how there's a parable in there somewhere. An Etch A Sketch teaches about the fragility of life, that what you create will rarely last forever. And something about forgiveness and grace: They are readily available, but we don't always want to accept them; they usually involve being shaken up, but the result is a fresh, blank slate.

When toy company Ohio Art announced late last year that they were moving production of the Etch A Sketch from their headquarters in Bryan, Ohio, to China, several friends offered me their condolences. I grew up a few miles from Bryan, in a rural county that might be close to nowhere. To explain where I'm from, I give a rote set of coordinates: "50 miles west of Toledo, 10 miles south of Michigan, 17 miles east of Indiana." In response to the blank stares I usually get at this point, I cite the area's famous products, both made in Bryan: The Dum Dum suckers that my late father made at the end of his 40 years as a cook at Spangler Candy Co., and, of course, the Etch A Sketch.

I have snapshots of myself posing with the giant plywood Etch A Sketch that is part of the annual Bryan town square Christmas decoration. Indeed, a company spokesperson noted that they might well have moved production out of Bryan sooner, but they took seriously the deep community connections the toy represented.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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