There’s a Dennis the Menace doll in my spare bedroom closet.
My father gave it to me 51 years ago. The Dennis the Menace Doll, which collectors claim can fetch as much as $120 today, has quite a story behind it.
My mother wanted to name me Robert so all three of her sons would have the same initials — Richard, Ronald and Robert. My dad, though, put his foot down. He didn’t want people in Lincoln to think I was named after that “blankety-blank” Robert Tofft. (You guessed it. They settled on the name “Dennis” from the comic strip, which was my dad’s favorite.)
Robert Tofft happened to be the patriarch of the Tofft family that owned Tofft Hardware. It was an upstart hardware company that opened for business in Lincoln in 1891, some five years after Wyatt Hardware first opened.
As luck would have it, my mother worked for Robert Tofft before she met my dad. She ended up working at both Wyatt Hardware stores — first in Roseville and then in Lincoln.
Back in the hey-days of hardware, Wyatt Hardware was top of the heap. In Roseville, we had the lion’s share of the miscellaneous hardware business involving Southern Pacific workers who needed an item that the railroad company stores didn’t stock. In Lincoln, my dad will tell you we were the Cadillac and Tofft Hardware was the Chevrolet. We had sporting goods, Tofft didn’t.
It was back in the days when sporting goods also meant Converse sneakers. There were no Air Jordans, no fancy athletic shoe stores. Wimps went to Gallenkamps in Roseville Square and bought Keds. Real guys went to the hardware store and purchased either black and white or — if they were show-offs — white Converse canvas sneakers found on shelves beneath the fishing tackle right next to the cases of ammunition.
Dad bought me the Dennis the Menace doll for my fifth birthday. He thought it was funny. Sometimes he would tease me unmercifully about it and customers would laugh. I didn’t like being teased and usually ended up crying by the huge bins of nails next to the rolls of chain in the backroom. The teasing ended when my mother would sternly say, “Fred B. Wyatt,” and nothing more.
You knew mom meant business because adults only utter middle names when they are really mad.
I was too young to understand the razzing. I just remember never wanting to play with the Dennis the Menace doll. I wanted to throw it away. Instead, my mom tucked into the back reaches of a closet.
Most of the time when I was at the store, I pestered my father to let me help. At first, I was given a feather duster to keep the paint cans clean. That wasn’t enough to keep me occupied. Soon I graduated to items in the front part of the store. After one particular day when I dusted the Pyrex and dishware with a stern warning to be careful, my dad gave me a nickel.
I remember I could hardly wait to go across the street to the Brown Mug when my dad usually had lunch. It was my favorite place to be with Dad.
It was a typical ice cream fountain with the wonderful smell of vanilla and the icy feel of real leather in cushy booth seats that you literally sunk into. The Brown Mug was always cold and the milk shakes always perfect.
Flush with my new earned wealth, I was determined I was going to pay. I insisted on the bill. My dad played along, as I put the tag on the counter with my nickel and peered over the smooth, marble-like edge.
I had finally arrived. I was working just like my dad and paying my own bills.
I’ve always associated the Dennis the Menace doll with the bad memories — and the good ones — from the family store in Roseville.
I can’t help but wonder what dad would be thinking now if he were alive and realized people are willing to pay $120 for a Dennis the Menace doll.
Go figure. A doll I couldn’t stand after a round of unmerciful teasing by my dad I’ve kept for years that now I wouldn’t part with for $1,000.