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The Games People Play

1939

Ring Around The Rosie, A Tisket, A Tasket, and Farmer in The Dell…how the voices echo in my mind from Kindergarten, First and Second Grade.  All the words and actions are still there, just like yesterday. Then suddenly by Fifth Grade we were learning the Virginia Reel and Square Dancing and socializing with clod footed boys that stuck their tongues out at us at recess.

Doing The Maypole Dance, every spring, twisting and turning the long, crepe paper streamers around the flagpole on the playground and mother’s coming to watch, so proud of their children’s talent at braiding the brightly colored ribbons so adeptly around the pole.

By Sixth Grade we were kicking a basketball around in circles and sometimes kicking one another.  We called it Dodge Ball and we were on the edge of puberty, acting out aggressions long hidden in the classroom.

But on rainy days we played Simon Sez and Musical Chairs inside the classroom, pushing back the oak desks a few rows to make room, when we couldn’t play on the school yard.

Then on winter nights we might play Pick Up Sticks, Bingo or Old Maid, Checkers, or if there was time, a rip snortin’ game of Monopoly, learning the ins and outs of real estate purchases as we aced our friends into the poor house, breaking their bank and all the time gloating over having the good sense to purchase Boardwalk and Park Place early in the game!

Summer nights found us in the middle of the street, way after dark, playing Kick the Can under the dim light of the street lamp.  I can feel the back of my dress clinging to my skinny shoulder blades as I worked up a sweat, kicking that can further and further ... away from the light, into the scary shadows of the night.  How brave I felt.

Playing. Playing. Playing.

No television to scatter us to the sofa in the parlor to sit in the dark and grow soft, our shoulders slumped forward and our tummies popped out.  No, we played until our bodies were worn out and we were happy to be called in for a bath and bedtime.  Nobody was subtly trying to mold our soft little minds into silly putty.  No computer games of Doom stealing away the innocence of childhood and programming minds to kill.

We played hard!  We played long!  We forgot we were poor and sometimes hungry, and certainly not clothed to an inch of our lives.  Brand names were unheard of unless the ‘marker’ showed through on the flour sack material that my Grandma made my dresses from.  We forgot that our teeth protruded and we smiled anyway because we did not know better, because we had that good old American ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ moxy that we learned going through hard times.

We didn’t know then that the lessons learned through the Dirty Thirties were building character in us.  Or that we would always know the value of a dime and a dollar.  We weren’t aware that doing the flag salute every day and singing the Star Spangled Banner were teaching us to be patriotic and would help us win a war.  We didn’t know that seeing the Constitution and the 10 Commandments on the schoolroom wall caused them to become forever etched on our memory.

We just kept playing our hearts out, hollering ‘Olli Olli Ox In Free’, knowing that someday, we would have to be grown-ups like our parents, washing dishes, doing laundry, mowing lawns, going to work, raising children and paying bills.

We kept playing games as long as we could, because we knew in our hearts that we couldn’t be children forever.

Perhaps I have kept them all so fresh in my mind by playing them over again.  First with my children, then with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren!

Oh, the games people play!

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