GAMES WE PLAYED
By
Dottie Maxey Dewberry

            "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  This old saying brings to mind the games that we played when we were young.

There was always some type of round ball game, whether it was marbles, Country Jake, or Horse.  Cards games were and are still being played; although, they may be played on the computer.  Bicycles are still in, just way more expensive, and the rides cover tens of miles, not just a trip down the gravel road to a friend’s house.  There were some games that we played that didn’t require any balls, sticks, cards, etc; just a bunch of kids and open space.  This is what I would like to describe and maybe someday, a young person will read this and want to play.          

Back when I was a kid, going to school at Artesia-Mayhew High School, recess was the favorite time of the day. When the bell rang, all of us would fly out the door heading for the playground. It never mattered what game we played; someone would spontaneously start out playing some game and we would all fall in. One such game was Sling the Statue, a rough and tumble game.  To do this, the “it” person would grab each participant by the hand and arm and start twirling the player around and around.  After a few twirls, the “it” would let go.  The “player” would have to remain upright and in some pose.  After all players had been slung and they were still holding their pose, a winner would be declared.  

Lunch time, or dinner as we say in the South, was just a longer recess.  Lunch would be flung down our throats, and we would fly to the playground. Many of our games evolved from one game into a game with a twist.  One such game was Freeze tag, which was another “It and Players” type of game.  In this game, “it” would chase after each player.  When “it” tagged the player, he or she had to freeze in the position he or she was in when he or she was tagged.  After all players were tagged, “it” would pick a winner and then this person would be “it”.  

For the past 36.75 years, I have taught school, mostly in the junior high, but occasionally in the elementary in Oktibbeha County and in Lowndes County.  Over the years, I have seen many changes in children and in their play.   But back in my day, there was never enough time to play and with never a thought to fighting.  The Fox and the Geese was a wonderful game for a big group of kids, plus it was great exercise. It also taught team work, good sportsmanship, and friendly rivalry.  When the bell rang, we hit the playground running, because recess was so short.  To play Fox and the Geese, divide all of the players into two sides; each group will line up on opposite sides. They will be the geese.  One player will be chosen as “it”, who will stand in the middle of the playing field between the two groups.   At a given signal, the players must run to the other side without being caught by the fox.  If a goose it tagged, he or she becomes a fox. This went on until all of the geese are tagged and become fox, or maybe because the bell rang and we had to go back to class.  We ran back to class too; none of this lollygagging around.  More than likely the word tardy had not yet been invented.  

Believe it or not, we did have swings, see-saws, sliding boards, and merry-go-rounds, but we preferred the games of team competitiveness.  Those swings, sliding boards, and merry-go-rounds were for the little kids. Just give us some game where, maybe, we could break an arm.

Red Rover, another rough and tough game, was a great game for a group of boys and girls to play.  Elect or appoint team captains; they will then choose players from the group.  After everyone is chosen, the sides form a long straight line opposite each other about ten yards apart. The players will hold on to each other forming a human blockade. The teams will face each other.  One side will call: “Red Rover, Red Rover, Send (name a player) right over”.  This person will run full force toward the opposite side trying to break through the line.  It would be good for the players on either side to double grip each other’s arms at the wrist.  This way is stronger than simply holding hands.  If the runner breaks through, he or she gets to take one player from the opposing side back to the runner’s side; if the runner fails to break through, he or she has to stay on the opposing side. After playing for a while, the team with the most players is the winning team.

This is good for building strong muscles, especially the heart.  

Another activity that we enjoyed that required lots of muscles was the wheel barrow race.  To play this everyone partnered up; the lightest was the wheel barrow and the strongest was the driver.

    The wheel barrow would lay face down on the ground; the driver would walk up between his partner’s legs and grab them by the ankles and lift them up. The wheel barrow would raise the front end using his or her arm muscles.  At a signal, the race was on to see which team could cross the finish line first.  If the “wheel barrow” was heavier than the “driver” could handle, the driver could grip the partner at the knees; this took some of the weight off the wheel barrow’s arms.          

Kick the Can is a strenuous game to play with a large group. The game requires lots of running and endurance. After “it” is chosen; “it’ will hide his or her eyes and count to one hundred or recite some verse or the other. “Last night, the night before, twenty-four robbers came to my door, I let them in; they hit me on the head with a rolling pin. How many times did I get hit?” Then count.  While “it” is counting, everyone else will hide.  “It” must hunt for each person, when “it” sees a player, “it” calls his or her name and races back to BASE. The player that was found has to race back to the BASE, trying to beat “it” back to the Base, which is a can that the player must kick.  If “it” gets back first, then the found player has to stay at the base in captivity. If the player beats “it” back to the can, then everyone goes free, and “it” has to start over again trying to capture everybody.  A “kicker” (no pun intended) to this game is that a “hider” can sneak out and kick the can and everybody can go free if “it’ doesn’t see it happening and beat him or her to the can.   This is a wonderful game to play at dusky dark with a group of friends and family.  

This game was one that our teacher used on rainy days as it could be played in the classroom. Red Light is a simple little game that is a good game for small children, but some big kids will like it too.  To play this, the group will all line up in a straight line, side by side, on one end of the room.  “It” will be on the other end of the room.  “It” turns his or her back to the line, whenever he or she chooses he or she says “Green Light”. This is when the players on the line move toward “it”.   Then “it” will turn quickly, yelling “Red Light”; whoever is caught moving, has to go back to the starting line. Those that are not caught moving stay where they are.  The first person to get to “it” without being caught gets to be “it”.  Everybody wants to be “IT”; just to show you were the best.  

Another game that we had great fun playing at school was “Mother, May I”.  To play this game line up all of the players on one end of the room.  The “it” or “Mother” would stand on the other. For each player, “Mother” would tell him or her to take some type of step: giant step, baby step, jump, hop, slide, or maybe a number of these steps.  Each player must ask: “Mother, May I?”  If they forget, they lose their turn.  The first player to reach “Mother” becomes the next “Mother”. This will teach politeness and the difference in the words may and can.

Simon Says is another tricky little game or maybe we were all a little slow.  The players would line up on one end of the room and Simon would be on the other.  Simon would give a command; such as, “put your hands in the air”. The players that do what ever was commanded are out of the game.  If Simon says: “Simon Says, put your hands in the air”, then everybody must respond.  Those that don’t are also out.  Simon Says is a fast game of commands and quick responses. Players must respond quickly and must pay attention or they will be out of the game. The game teaches “following directions”, which is essential to learning. 

Speaking of “it”, there are several ways that “it” could be chosen.  One way was to count potatoes.  Everyone stands in a row with their fists held out in front.  One person goes down the row and bumps each fist as he or she quotes:  “One potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, more”.  When the word “more” comes, that hand is put behind that person. The recitation continues until one player has both hands behind himself or herself.  This person becomes “it”.  Let the game begin!!

If there are only a few people, like maybe six or seven, a good soft ball game to play was called “Country Jake”.  There is a controversy in the neighborhood that this game is correctly named Country Gate. To play Country Jake, there is a catcher, batter, pitcher, and a few outfielders.  The pitcher throws the ball underhanded toward the home plate. If the batter hits the ball, the fielders must stop the ball, without error.  The fielder, who stopped the ball, must throw the ball to the pitcher, who must catch it.  If the pitcher catches the ball, he or she moves up to catcher, the catcher moves to batter, the batter becomes a fielder.  If the pitcher does not catch the ball, play is resumed. If a long fly or ground ball is hit, the fielder may holler “Relay”.  The fielder throws the ball to another fielder, who throws the ball to the pitcher.  If there are no errors, the players move up: fielder, pitcher, catcher, batter, as described above. Occasionally, the batter would hit a long, high fly, and a fielder would catch the ball, then the batter and fielder trade places.

This was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon with family or friends.  I haven’t seen this played in a long time; I hope someone will see this and want to play.

As the seasons changed during the school, the games changed accordingly. A game that would develop good posture was the eraser game. Over 50 years have passed since I’ve been a student in grade school.  Back then we had gray erasers, today we still have gray erasers.

Like I said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  To play the eraser game, one person (“it”) draws a square on the chalk board (black, now green), puts initials of a classmate in the square, and then places the eraser on top of his or her head.  The person whose initials are in the square must first erase his or her initials, and then place an eraser on his or her head and begin chasing after “it”.  The object is to tag the “it” without losing the eraser.  If the chaser’s eraser falls off, then “it” puts someone else’s initials in the square and the game continues.  If “it’s” eraser fall off first, then the chaser becomes “it”.  Desks should be moved around to allow for running room.  Be prepared for lots of laughter.  As a student, this was a great way to get your boyfriend/girlfriend to chase you.  Besides being good for posture, it was good for agility, too.

Children of today, more than likely, have never seen a plow line, but in my day this was the source of great amusement.  This was our rope; there wasn’t any money for buying “store-bought ropes”.   There are so many games and rhymes that go with jumping rope.  First there needs to be two throwers, one for each end of the rope. The first thing each player must do is “run though”, which means as the rope goes up, run in and jump once as it comes down to the ground and then run out the other side as it goes back up. Each player does this.  The next time, the player will jump two times, etc.  If a jumper fails to jump, then the jumper gets to “throw the rope”.  Sometimes everyone will decide to play “Hot Peas”, which is a jump rope game.  To play this, a jumper runs in and recites: “Peas Porridge Hot, Peas Porridge Cold, Peas in the pot nine days old. “Some like’em hot, some like’em cold, some like’em in the pot nine days old.”  H-O-T-P-E-A-S.   Then the “throwers” would swing the rope as fast as they can, if the jumper misses, he or she is out.  The next jumper takes his or her place. Sometimes the jumper may recite: “Up the ladder, down the ladder, A B C; up the ladder, down the ladder, H O T”.  Then the throwers will throw fast as they can.  

Sometimes a jumper may chant: “Cinderella dressed in yellow, Went upstairs to see her fellow. How many kisses does she get?”

The jumper then starts counting for each jump.  When he or she misses or fails to jump, then he or she is out and the next person takes his or her place.

Recently, I was asked to host the church’s Fall Festival at my house.

Not being sure what this entailed, I planned everything: food, games with the appropriate props, prizes, etc. Since there wasn’t any budget, whatever happened fell to whomever I could get to supply in the way of food, but the games were right up my alley.

I cut a brand new plow line and made ties for the three-legged race; garbage sacks were used for the sack race; cheap toilet paper was used for the mummy wrap; a couple of bags of marshmallows for the “marshmallow eat-off”; a sack of balloons for the water-balloon toss; a loan of shovels for the pumpkin relay; plus several more games for the older children.  The game that all of the children got a kick out of was the tire race.  The local tire center loaned me several old tires. All of the tires were lined up in a row-up on the treads. 

Each child lined up beside their tire; at the given signal they all had to roll the tire about 25 yards, then go around a barrel and back to the starting line.  I was amazed how much the children enjoyed an activity that most of the older adults had played as children. As I said: “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

One great-grandchild of one of the elders said it was the best party he had ever been to.  This was the ultimate in compliments.  

I am sure there were many more games we played that did not bankrupt our parents. Of course, there were no K-Marts, Wal-Marts, Dollar Generals, Dollar Trees, etc. nor money for us to spend on frivolous items. We did have yo-yos, hoola hoops, pick-up sticks, tea sets, pocket knives, and dolls. Maybe there were some other things that I forgot; such as firecrackers, Roman candles and sparklers. These were things that we got for Christmas, plus clothes and socks.  I do remember my brother, Larry Maxey, making yo-yos for us. He would go up to Daddy’s shop/tool shed and cut out the two shapes and round off the edges; put a piece of dowel in the middle after he drilled the two holes; then get the string off of a feed sack, and we were in the yo-yo business. There were several yo-yo tricks:  around the world, walk the dog, and some I have forgotten.   Daddy would make us hoola-hoops out of a section of water line connected together with a stick.  He also made us whistles out sections from a cane-fishing pole.  We also made whistles out of the metal banding that comes from around stacks of lumber- the ones with the holes in the center every-so-many inches apart. Cut off a strip about two and one fourth inches. Bend the piece so there a hole in the center of each one inch section.  Insert in between your lips and teeth. Place your tongue in the slit-fold and blow.  With a little practice, you could call the cows home, because it will be so loud. All of us liked loud whistles.

Another thing that I remember about whistles was called “blowing your fists”. I’m not sure if I can describe this exactly. Take your right hand and cup all four fingers together so they are squeezed with all the fingertips tight together.  Then, place these fingertips in the vee made with the thumb and forefinger on the left hand. Wrap the left-hand fingers around the right hand fingers.  Bring the two thumbs together leaving an oval hole in the middle.  Bend the thumbs so they form a right angle; put your top lip of top of the thumbs and blow downward. With some practice this will create a really loud sound.  Make sure there is not a hole at the bottom of your palms.  With practice you can flap the fingers on the left hand and it will create a hooting sound.

There are places that it is not appropriate for this whistling-like at the “picture show”.  (A picture show is the same as the movie theater.) The boys were threatened with dismissal from the “picture show” for “blowing their fists”.  The lady never thought that one of the girls would do such a deed. This will be our little secret.

Another very inexpensive toy that we had was called the “spinning jenny”.  To make one of these requires a nice size post (bigger than a fence post), a 3’ X 12” X 12” board, and a spike, which is about 16 inches long.  The post is placed securely in the ground.  The spike is driven though the center of the board into the top of the post. A child will hang from each end. The object is to spin the board around on the post.  This is lots of good fun.  

In our dairy barn, there was a feed room, in which, was loose feed-pellets, but some of it came in sacks-all neatly sewn up with a good stout string. If you pulled the correct one (the right one), the strings would unravel all the way across the top, which gave us enterprising kids something to play with that didn’t cost us a dime.  Now, if you put the two loose ends together and with the correct “motions and twists” you can tie them in a knot. I may have a good grasp of the English language, but I can not tell how to tie this knot, I just know how.  Anyway, tie the strings together with a good knot-however you do it. There is any number of string tricks that you can entertain your friends.  Just to name a few: Jacob’s ladder, cup and saucer, witch’s broom, crow’s foot, “cut off your fingers”, “cut off your arm”, “cut off your head”. The saying “a picture is worth more than a thousand words” would be appropriate here.  I can not describe how to do these tricks; I learned them from my parents, uncles, teachers, and anyone that knew one.  I have over the years taught my students some string tricks. I’m just trying to passing on some Southern tradition, which is good clean fun.

Believe it of not, one can go on the internet and get diagrammed pictures of string tricks.  www.alysion.org/figures/introkids.htm

Jacks were little metal asterisk-shaped objects that came twelve to a set with a small red rubber ball. This is a great game for two or three to play together.  We played on the floor in the school building; sometimes it would be on the concrete apron out in front of the school.  Playing the simplest game starts by throwing the jacks down on a hard surface.  The next step is to throw the rubber ball into the air. The player will pick up one jack without touching the others and then catch the ball after it has bounced once on the floor.  This is continued until all jacks are picked up.  The game continues by picking up two jacks at a time, then three, etc.  If the player touches another jack or misses the ball, he or she loses his or her turn.  There are several more games with jacks: over the fence, in the chicken coop, around the world just to name a few. This game obviously would be good for eye-hand coordination.

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