Being Re-Gifted My childhood, Part 1

By Shawn Robare

I’ll be honest, for a guy who runs a site dedicated to his love of the 80s even I will admit that it’s weird how much of a void there is of personal vintage junk in my collection.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve acquired a bunch of stuff over the years that I cherish, but when I look over everything that I have, very little of it is stuff that survived with me through the decades.  Whether it was from my own collection purging, trading, damage, or stuff “lost” in moves (my parent’s favorite excuse for chucking my toys over the years), I only have a handful of things that have been with me forever.  There are a few kid’s paperbacks (Samantha Slade: Monster Sitter, the Lost boys novelization, and a copy of Which Way Batman), some of my sisters records, my Wicket plush, and this 5″ by 5″ square of what’s left of my original woobie…

I have a lot more of my stuff from my high school years, but I do regret not keeping a tighter grip on the stuff I had when I was a little kid.  Well, this past week I was given a couple of rare gifts by a friend (we’ll call him D) who I’ve known since I we were in the 8th grade together.  Over the years we’ve seen less and less of each other even though we only live about 15 miles apart.  You know, life gets in the way and junk.  D is about to have his second child, little D numero 2, and if I had to guess he is looking to clear out as much space as he can find to make room for the new arrival.  Well, he sent me a facebook message asking me if I wanted to take something off his hands.  That something just happened to be an Atari 2600 video game console and a bucket full of games and peripherals that have been gathering dust in his garage.  The thing is, and he knew this obviously, this particular Atari system (and 8 of those games) used to be mine before I gave them to him back in middle school.

I was never an avid gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but there were two game systems that I played a whole hell of a lot, the NES for the most part, but I, like so many other folks growing up in the 70s and 80s, was weaned on the Atari 2600.  I first bought the exact system, controller and the 8 games you see pictured with it below at a garage sale when I was six.  It was 1983, and we’d just moved to Orlando from Tampa.  I didn’t really have any friends yet, and it was kind of boring and lonely in the new house.  Heck, our cat Smokey who had just made the trip with us immediately ran away, so I was sort of in a funk.  One Saturday I ventured out into the neighborhood though, and there was a guy down the street trying to sell the last bits of stuff at a garage sale.  There was a table with the Atari inside a faux-wood paneled Game Center box.  I’d had plenty of experience with the system playing one that was hooked up to a TV in the rec room of a public pool back in Tampa, and for some reason I never imagined having my own at home.  I asked the guy how much it was and he thoughtfully scratched his chin and squinted at me (at least that’s how I “remember” his expression in my mind) before saying “Ten Bucks Kid.”  I asked him to hold it and I sprinted back home to beg for the money from my dad, who quickly relented.  I ran back, slapped the ten buck on the table (again, probably artistic license with my foggy memory) and stole home with the system held high above my head.

As I mentioned, the console had eight games included, Combat, Surround, Berserk, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Chopper Command, and the much maligned E.T. and Atari port of Pac-Man.  For some reason I never acquired any more games, and I was pretty content with these for the next three years until I scored my first Nintendo system.  Back in 1990-91 when I gave the Atari to D, I didn’t think much of it.  Heck, at that point I said had a fair number of my original childhood toys and never thought I’d miss the clunky wood-paneled beauty.  Fast forward 23 years and I can certainly attest to missing the ever-living hell out of it.  I mean, it’s not like I was lying awake at night wondering where it was, but from time to time when I’d see people blog or podcast about their vintage systems I would feel a little pain in my heart.  So when D asked if I wanted the system back after all these years I was pretty damn floored.  When I drove over to pick it up I did everything in my power not to point at it and say something stupid like, “There, there it is, that thing, those beautiful things that I used to have in my house back in Florida, look at it, it’s right there, that thing that I had when I was six!”  Those where statements that I made in the car on the way home though, just saying.

As soon as I got home, I immediately cleaned off a table, took out the system and very gingerly cleaned her up.  There was a massive amount of dirt and grime on it, but with a little warm water and a crap ton of paper towels I was able to get it looking almost like new.  To be honest, I have no idea if the system will even run anymore, and even if it will, if I’ll be able to hook it up to my TV (the vintage R/F switch is looking pretty rough.)  But really, this system isn’t so much about playing it as it is about just having it again, a little reminder of what it was like to be six with my very own copy of Pac-Man, even if it was a super shitty version of the game.  I remember playing Chopper Command, and having to flip a switch on the back of the actual console to change the rate at which my helicopter fired (short bursts or those long laser blasts.)  There was so much joyous frustration trying not to touch the walls in Berserk.  And to this day I still have no idea how the hell you get all the pieces to make the damn phone rig in E.T.

If I ever do get it running there was an included extra surprise of about 50 extra games that D had amassed over the years.  Here’s a few snapshots of what I would call the cream of the crop…



I can’t thank D enough, and to my amazement, there was another amazing piece of my childhood that came along with the Atari that I’ll be writing about in part two of this article later this week, or next.  Stay tuned.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a place of honor for the Atari in Branded HQ…

  • I can imagine exactly how you feel. I think I would feel the same way especially if someone said they could give me back the EXACT system and games I played with 25 years ago. My brother and I sold our Atari 2600 and games in a rummage sale like we also did with our Transformers, He-Man collections, and many other toys that I wish we still had. My parents did hold on to some of our toys & books which I have been able to pass on to my daughter or hide away to keep. That Atari 2600 represents an entire era of my childhood and it would be pretty special to have that back even it didn’t work anymore just as a physical reminder.

    • Shawn Robare

      OldSchool80s – Yeah, I feel super lucky that everything worked out the way it did, and it’s just another in a long list of times I’ve been humbled by have some cool friends for sure.

  • That’s so cool. I wish I had more of what I had as a kid, but unfortunately I was very garage-sale happy when I was younger and sold most of my stuff off.

    • Yeah, I was always one to trade up in my collecting as a kid, so I lost a lot of stuff that way as well…

  • Jealous. That’s all.

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  • leftylimbo

    Dood you scored! Congrats on being able to reclaim a long lost childhood friend. That’s too awesome for words.

    Did you ever get it working? You know I’m Mr. Atari freak forever, so let me know if you need anything to get it back on track!

    • I still need to get a power cord, so I haven’t checked it yet. Looking to do that soon…

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  • GPaters

    I was the only kid in my Junior High class who didn’t have an Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision, or any of the other game consoles of the time. I was obsessed with video games, so that never stopped me. I spent all of my time hanging out at my friends’ places. That, or I went to whatever mall or store had arcade games and pumped all my money into those machines. Seeing these images of the games that were on the market back then, brings me back to small-town Wisconsin all those years ago. It actually was a pretty exciting time to be a teenager, as we were on the brink of a technological explosion. The internet was still years away, however movies like “War Games” captured our imagination. Video games were still in their infancy, yet those of my generation had been weaned on “Pong”. Suddenly we were seeing graphics advance and games becoming more complex. Looking back, though, all of this seems so innocent and naive compared to the world teenagers live in today.