Hollyhock - A tall widely cultivated perennial Chinese herb of the mallow family with large coarse rounded leaves and tall spikes of showy flowers.

Andrew has decided that taking a bath is as good a time as any to do full inventory on all of his plastic. He must empty half of his accumulated toys into the tub on such occasions. I know, because when I go to take a shower later there are still remnants of sea battles strewn over the edge and along the bottom of the tub.

The porcelain is mottled with He-men in purple plastic breast plates and snap-on laster guns, and zappo-tanks the size of a candy bar that fold out into star fleet mini-fighters. Plugging up the drain might be a smaller-than-matchbox-sized, fire-red Ferrari sticking a bumper up just enough to stab my foot when I reach over to turn on the water.

Didn't things used to be a lot simpler? Seems like you could send a kid out into the back forty for the afternoon and he would content himself until dinnertime with whatever happened to be around. My brother Alan and I once created a whole city on the clay embankment east of George McDaniel's barn. Blocks of wood served as earthmover, truck, car, garage and inhabitants.

And there were hollyhock dolls, clever little creations from hollyhock buds and blossoms that looked so real you didn't think of them just as a toy for girls, but as a surprising oddity fashioned from summer flowers in little more than an instant. I'm sure there were girls who became as preoccupied with them as we did with our blocks of wood, lining them up on a window sill in patterned rows by color _ a red one, then a pink one, two whites and a red.

A tight new bud would make a small head over a flowing gown. An opening bud used for a head gave the appearance of a crown, so they looked like princesses, or queens, or ladies in waiting to princesses. They may not have had all the flexibility of contemporary toys, but our imaginations made for a good deal of adaptability.

I'm not saying that present kids don't have much imagination, that TV has turned them into zombies or anything like that. Maybe so and maybe not. I do know that Andrew and his friends concoct some real maneuvers for their store-bought stuff. Not long ago, they had strings strung from the upstairs balcony into the living room and were giving Luke Skywalker and his buddies zip-line rides into the fireplace.

I'm just saying that hollyhock dolls were kind of neat and that it would be too bad if everyone in a single generation slipped up and didn't pass the art on to their children or their nieces and nephews, and that as a result a fragile art form might melt into oblivion along with the California condor and the whooping crane.

One consolation in that scenario is that if we lose the whooping crane, it's gone. Period. Fortunately, no one has as yet forecast the demise of the hollyhock. So I am somewhat assured that if we do lose the art of making hollyhock dolls, there's a good chance that somewhere down the line some bright kid who hasn't been watching too much television will rediscover them and be hailed as a genius by every other kid in the neighborhood.