Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Games People Play

Growing up, we didn't have many toys. That's one of my poor girl stories I always tell my kids. They say "Yes, Mom we know, you only had a soap dish with a hole in it."

I had no Barbies, but my sister had two and wouldn't share. I had no cars, but my sister had two Matchbox cars and wouldn't share. Do I sound bitter?

We would get an occasional board game for Christmas. We had Monopoly, but I never liked it because it was endless and I always lost to my sister. We had Sorry, Trouble, and Don't Spill the Beans, which had a pot and you loaded one kidney bean at a time until it fell one way or the other. It was a rather pointless game and eventually the beans were scattered thoughout our perpetually messy, shared attic bedroom. We also had Yahtzee and Probe, which was some kind of language game.

I had a few dolls. One early one was the Drowsy Doll, she had pink polka dot pajamas and sleepy eyelids. If you pulled her string, she said eight different things, like. "I'm tired," or "Mommy, cover me up." My mom gave it away thinking I was too old to play with dolls. I was heartbroken.

I was sent a Finnish doll from my grandmother in Finland. She was dressed in traditional clothing and had brown curly hair and looked like my mom. But I wasn't allowed to play with her as she was just a decoration.

Then I had another pretty doll with blonde curly hair. She was a favourite. One day I came home to find it, too was given away. This time to a daughter of a co-worker who was visiting. I was heartbroken again, and angry, too. As if I had so many toys I could stand to part with them!

One of my favourite Christmas presents was around the age of eleven, when I got a chalkboard on a stand. At this age we played school a lot and wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. That Christmas Eve night, I stayed up late playing with it. At the time, I thought it must have been expensive, but it was more that we were poor.

In the bathtub, I had no toys. I used the soap dish as my boat. Unfortunately, it had a hole in it, so it became a submarine. Maybe that's when my love for submarines began! I'm trying to gain insight here, people. Stay with me.

We didn't have any craft games, either, except my sister had a Spirograph, but I wasn't allowed to use it much. We had colouring books on rare occasions. My sister was given a paint by numbers set as a gift, but I never had one. Man, the more I think about it, the more deprived I feel. I feel cheated all over again.

Since we didn't have much to play with inside, there was this place called Outside, and there was a lot to do out there. We had a large group of kids in the neighbourhood and most of us could play outside until the street lights came on. That was the signal, whether my mom was home or not. Usually she worked in a restaurant in the evenings.

We played kick-the-can on rare late nights, or hide-n-seek with a two block limit. It was a drag being "IT". That meant we would roam through laneways behind houses or cut through people's yards. I guess we weren't very sensitive to the idea of private property.

We also played Red Rover, Green green red, Mother May I?, Frozen Tag (Statue), Simon Says, British Bull Dog, and War. I loved War. Maybe I was a closet megalomaniac and loved the power.

We didn't have much in the way of sporting equipment. My sister had marbles. If I ever had them, I lost them to her in a game. We had a rubber ball, which occupied us much at home and school, playing sing-song games against walls, like Meemies-Tabapsies. We also had a game where you put the ball into the foot of a leg of old panty hose and stood with your back to the wall and banged it around at various points around you as you sang a song. At least, we were only allowed to use old ripped up panty hose, but other kids would buy new ones for that purpose. We also played hop scotch if anyone had chalk, or we'd use a stick and play in the gravel driveway.

I asked for a skipping rope, but only ever got a single skip rope. The girls at school would have the long ropes for double-dutch and we spent many recesses occupied with those games, particularly in grades 5-8. Our other favourites were dodge ball and clapping games like Concentration or Categories. We also made cootie-catchers, but I don't recall if we had a name for them. They were the folded paper things that had numbers and answers in them and they were the deciding factor in disputes, or the answer to any question posed to them.

For baseball, my sister had a glove. I only had a glove from Finnish baseball, or pesapallo. I hated standing out, but having such an odd thing when every one else had a regular baseball glove certainly did that. It had a pocket that sat at the top of your fingers, so you had to try to miss the palm of your hand to catch it in the pocket on top. If the ball hit the palm of your hand it would hurt, because there was no padding on it.

I think we had, or my sister had, a frisbee, which she occasionally shared. She also had a hula hoop and kerplunkers, which were large marbles attached by a string at the top and you let them smack against each other. It was kind of a dangerous toy. She also had a slinky, silly putty, play-doh and a yo-yo. Are you sensing a pattern here, as well, or is it just me?

I had some hand-me-down skates and cross-country skiis. I had a mediocre bike. Whenever the police constables would come to school to do a community safety check, my bike would always fail, but I couldn't afford the upgrades, like a light, or a basket, or extra reflectors. Of course, helmets weren't required back then, but I can recall several incidents where one would have been useful.

The neighbourhood kids would play outside all summer, playing baseball on the street, instead of in a park. We would yell, Car! like kids who play street hockey. We would lose our ball to the neighbourhood crabby lady, who would come outside in her dressing gown, and if it landed in her yard, she'd confiscate it and say, "It's mine, now!" But we would get her back by 'knick-knocking', as we called it. Late at night, we'd either knock on her door or ring the doorbell, and then run away. Mischievous, I know.

We also had a deck of cards and our mom taught us several versions of Solitaire, and Rummy 500. With our friends, we played Go Fish, War, and many other games whose names I don't recall. A deck of cards was cheap entertainment.

I think we needed less entertainment than kids today. We had to use our imaginations. Also, it helped to have such a large group. We didn't seem to fight or need an adult to direct us. And we had that great place called "Outside" that was always available. In winter, we'd go tobogganning or skating at the local homemade rink at school or at the park. We occasionally played in playgrounds. We preferred to play group games with the neighbourhood kids.

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