Neighborhood games

Those who read my previous post about playing outside may have assumed that I always played alone. It is true that I often played alone–from solo baseball to solo croquet–but I was also part of a neighborhood cadre of eight children, from three families, who played together. Often our group expanded to include children from other families further down the street.

Our favorite game was “kick the can.” For the can we used a plastic ball filled with air. One player (who was It) guarded the can while the rest of us tried to kick the can. Those of us who were not It had to be hidden, though, because when we were spotted, It would touch the can and announce, “one-two-three on [name] who is hiding [location].” If the person who was It could spot the rest of us before any of us kicked the can, he or she remained It for another round. If one of us did manage to kick the can, he or she would then be It for the next round. No cumulative score was kept; each round counted as its own game. Success required darting from one hiding place to another, approaching the can; it often involved teamwork to approach from different sides, forcing It to choose which side to guard. It could wander anywhere to discover hidden players, but if It strayed too far from the can, one of the players was sure to kick the can and end the round.

We also played a game we called Army, which essentially involved splitting into two teams and reenacting unspecified military events from World War II. Half of us would be Germans and the other half Americans. Most of our loose scripting was based on what we had learned about the war from television shows and movies. Each of us carried a stick to represent a rifle. In this game also, the goal was to remain hidden from the opposite side while trying to sneak up upon them to shoot them. A clear sight of someone on the other team led to raising and aiming the stick and shouting “bang,” or, sometimes, “I got you.” A certain amount of honor was involved in agreeing to be shot and to die upon these announcements. If someone insisted, “you missed,” or, “you only got me in the leg,” the game was effectively over. Unlike kick the can, our desire in Army was to prolong the game and enjoy the maneuvers. I remember that the game fizzled, though, once one boy from down the street brought a new plastic replica of a gun that even produced sound effects when used.

I cannot remember ever playing Cowboys and Indians. Once we were all accomplished bicyclists one summer came to pass in which we designed a Cops and Robbers game, but I no longer remember the rules to that game. We did not try to split into teams for sports such as baseball or basketball. One boy in the group, who was in Little League, introduced us to a baseball-based game he had learned called Stealing Bases. There were two bases, fifty to sixty feet apart, and two fielders with mitts. They threw the ball back and forth. The rest of us (generally five or six, as I recall) would be on-base until someone thought that the throwing and catching might be challenged by a sprint. The hope was to inspire an off-target throw or a dropped ball, since a thrown ball is much faster than a human runner. I was more daring than the others, but I was also tagged out more often than the others.

Most of these games were played in the summer when school was out. Eventually we became too busy even to play in the summer, by which time we had friends at school who outranked our neighborhood friendships. I do not know the location of any of these childhood playmates. I doubt we would recognize each other any more if two of us happened to be in the same room (aside, of course, those who were siblings). As with the house in which I lived, all that remains of those times are memories. J.

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