Friday, February 3, 2012

Playing Outside

We played outside every day when we were kids. I think we went out as soon as the sun rose and didn't come in until it set (maybe my mother planned it that way! It seemed she was always cleaning and wanted us out of the way, though I don't know how that was possible since our house wasn't that big. On the other hand, my aunts came over on a regular basis, so I do remember them sitting having tea and chatting it up.) The good thing was that the other kids in the projects were out at the same time, so we always had someone to play with -- even in the wintertime.  But summertime was my favorite, so this blog is going to be about all the games we played during those hot days.
We were never at a loss for things to do, and most of them cost little to nothing, like the hand clapping games. Sometimes just learning the clapping sequence took a whole summer, but we all knew at least three or four of the games, and it was our goal to get the person we were playing with to miss a beat. Now that I think of it, those who played instruments in the band probably got good practice with the hand games we took. Each game had a chant to go with it, like "Miss Mary Mac Mac Mac, all dressed in Black Black Black . . . " There were so many, that I can't remember them all. The most important part was that the words went with the clapping sequence. We didn't know it then, but that was early rap (LOL!).
I was always good at Chinese jump-rope. The "jump" rope was actually a huge elastic band that two people could stretch between them. We'd stand with the jump rope around our ankles, stretching it taut between us. Then one of us (or a third person) would take one of our feet and bring the rope over, criss crossing it and jumping over it so that it becomes a geometric shape. To manage the complicated jumps takes coordination and timing, and not everyone got it. There were some girls who were so nimble that they seemed to fly back and forth over the Chinese jump-rope and others who could barely manage a three-step sequence. I had my good days and my bad days, but the hula hoop, now that . . .
My father brought my first hula hoop home when I was 5. I had no idea what it was or what I was supposed to do, and he really didn't either. We stood under the big oak tree where my tree swing was hung, and he leaned against the tree, smoking the Camel always hanging from the corner of his mouth. "You're supposed to swing it around your waist," he said, pointing to the hula hoop. "Okay, Dad, how do I do that?" "Just kind of swing your hips," he said, then he turned and went up the stairs, leaving me to figure it out on my own. And I did. Pretty soon, I could stand there and hula hoop-it for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Right now, I'd probably be able to swing it three or four times, and that's about it.
One of my favorite things to do on a summer afternoon was to create hopscotch tables with chalk, especially if it was colored chalk. We would designate a "score" for each block and add them up as we hopped. Some blocks we'd hit on one leg, others we'd hit with two feet down. During the summer, you could see a set of hopscotch squares every ten feet or so. We'd draw them all over the playground and use them until it rained, then we'd have to draw them again. Each block would have a number, and you'd have to follow the numbers in order to go through the hopscotch correctly.
At night when it was cooler, the running games would start -- like dodge ball. When I think about it now, I realize how cruel that game was. If you had something against someone or didn't like what they did that day, you could take the ball and SLAM it against the person. The point was to circle a group of people around and have one person in the middle who would have to dodge the ball as it was tossed against them. If you got hit with it, you lost; and you knew if you had pissed off someone if they hit you with the ball so hard that you ended up with a huge red circle on your thigh. I can definitely remember going inside at night still aching from that game.
Speaking of group games, the easiest one to play was one whenwe stole our mother's clothesline and used it for a group jump rope. Two people would hold the rope and swing it for three of our people to jump in between. Sometimes this would become a huge cluster-mess, but other times, synchonicity would happen, everyone would jump simultaneously, and it would be like the event was choreographed. Those were the moments when it was exhilirating to be a kid.
After a day of all of this physical "stuff," the one thing I remember about the moments between dinner and bedtime was the nighttime bath (with my mother, your skin was rubbed so raw, it became bright red), then the clean-smelling, soft PJ's . . . ahhhh . . . it's definitely time to slide between the crisp cotton sheets and sleep!


  1. It's too bad that kids now aren't able to do this...or have these wonderful memories! Well written :-)

  2. Thanks, Janet! I, too, wish kids could still do this. Seems like we've lost the joy of being outside. Most kids don't even know what it's like to climb a tree!