I grew up in the fifties, with few choices for TV programs, and little else to occupy our free time other than what we could devise on our own. Our parents tried their best to make sure we weren’t overly burdened with free time, as do most parents, but when we did have time we made the most of it. Summer evenings were the best time because we played games outside, after dark. We played Seven Steps Around the House, Captain May I, Simon Says, Red Rover and Hide and Seek. At least those are the ones I remember. I must have gotten to be the captain fairly often because that is a game I remember vividly. I always liked to tell people what to do (I remember wondering secretly if I was bossy. The answer to that is probably “Yes.” I’m a teacher today and have no problem telling people what to do!) and in that game I was the one in charge.”Go back! You didn’t say “Captain may it?””
I think Hide and Seek was played on special occasions, maybe in places bigger than our yard, because I don’t remember playing it there. I do remember being it and finally giving up and yelling in a singsong voice, “All outs in free! Or all -y all-y outs in free-ee!” I’m not sure if people even know today where that phrase came from. It seems to me that they say ‘allyallyoutsinfree’ as one big word, with no idea that it came from the game of hide and seek. That’s the dynamism of language, I guess.
I remember that Seven Steps Around the House involved somehow getting all the way around the house in only seven steps. Seven recognized steps, that is. In this game someone was the leader, and they turned their back and made a huge step. We would run up as many steps as we could before the leader turned around. I guess he or she turned around seven times. All I really remember of that one was taking huge steps as leader and running right up behind the leader when I wasn’t.
These games were loud and hilarious to us, and we couldn’t get enough of them. Every night until we heard our dad whistle for us we were out there playing. All the kids of the neighborhood were involved and having fun. At least I think they all were – I can’t think of any who weren’t out there with us.
This was very different from the athletic games we played at school during P.E. I forever hated those games. I wasn’t athletic, despite being a strong and active child. I rode my bike, roller skated, and ran around a lot. I was cooperative, loved to play with others, yet when it came to baseball or any other games we played at school, I wanted no part of it. From about second grade on, I was the kid who was always chosen last or next to the last. Looking back, I wonder why that was. Maybe it started because I couldn’t catch a ball. I was afraid it’d hit me in the face, I think. It didn’t occur to me to ask my dad for help. I didn’t care about it enough to get help, and at that time there was no little league or any other sports opportunities for girls aside from school intra-murals, so I saw no purpose in doing something I didn’t like. I was a decent hitter and runner, but forget catching. So I spent my time in the outfield, usually sitting down, making braided chains of clover. No wonder they didn’t want me on their teams!
In the winter we played board games. Sorry, Careers, Clue, Candy Land and Monopoly were our favorites. One Christmas we got the game of Life, and we played that a lot despite never really liking it. Too many little pink and blue kids to try to cram into that little car, and they were always falling out. It just wasn’t fun for us. We always defaulted to Sorry or Careers, or even Candy Land. Monopoly took so long, and Clue belonged to our friends so we didn’t play them as much.
The thing that strikes me about all these games is the need for cooperation involved in each one. We had to talk to the other kids, to cooperate and agree on the rules in order to play the game. Today our kids seem to spend a lot of time on devices with screens, playing games alone, or with virtual friends. There are plenty of kids living in my neighborhood, and I don’t see or hear them outside after dinner playing, ever. This is the age of play dates and being home by dark. It seems to me that maybe kids are missing out on learning to play well with others. Or maybe they are just learning it in a different way than we did.