Summer days of my childhood bring the most wonderful memories to mind. I came from a large family and always had a built in playmate. But playmates were not hard to find in the neighborhood, either. Morning would herald a new opportunity for creative play each and every day. With the exception of some rainy days, outdoor play was a way of life. We had no fears. We had no worries and we were very happy.
After breakfast, we would skip outside ready to get on with the business of the day… PLAY.
All any of us had to do was call out the name of a neighboring child and there were playmates a plenty.
Up and down the block we’d go, and out the door the kids would skip.
Roller skates (and don’t forget your skate key), bicycles, doll carriages, bats, balls, bottle caps, jump ropes, and chalk… These were the tools of everyday play.
Although it was nice to have a bike or doll carriage, it wasn’t really a necessity. Girls all had dolls and we’d practice being mommies half the day: talking to our babies, rocking them, pretend feeding them, and changing them. We’d pretend socializing with our other “mommy” playmates, in the way our own Moms would socialize, after a long day of housekeeping and childrearing. I think its how we practiced for life in the adult world.
Boys had bats and balls. If they didn’t have a real, store bought bat, it was no problem. Old broomsticks filled in nicely for a game of stick ball. Sewer grates served as home plate while cars or trees served as bases. Pencey Pinkey balls for handball or slap ball at the neighborhood park or for stoop ball in front of someone’s house kept a group of kids busy for hours.
Games of Mother May I?, Red Light, Green Light, One Two Three, Hit the Stick, Monkey in the Middle, and Duck Duck Goose kept little ones busy for hours at a time.
And chalk… Now chalk was a necessity. We’d draw hopscotch grids, and skully boards in the middle of the street. The boys would most often start the game going but we all got to play. We patiently waited our turn. We’d compare bottle caps filled with colorful, melted crayon wax and hardened into playing pieces. Who had the most colorful? The best caps? We’d often compete to win the prized cap of another. These were the tools of serious play.
Cars would infrequently come “slowly” down our street and we’d clear the way so they could pass. Then we’d run back out and continue our game.
We’d fight, and make up with no adult interference. And we’d play hard. The heat of the day would eventually draw us into our own houses to use the bathroom, grab a drink of delicious, icy, cold tap water and a sandwich and often after that, we’d sit and read the funny pages of the newspaper or turn to a good book for a little restful respite. Then the calling would begin once again, and out we’d run to play anew with our friends.
On hot summer days our Moms would begin to call us in one by one and we’d wash up for supper and Dad’s arrival home from work. Prayer was a staple at the table before we’d dig in and eat a hearty meal. And while we ate, we’d play. We played G-H-O-S-T, a spelling game or B-U-Z-Z, a multiplication game. From youngest, to oldest, we’d all get a chance to contribute with the youngest getting a little help from the older ones. After supper clean up we’d once again meet up on the side street for an all night game of tag or ring-a-levio, hide and seek, johnny on the pony, leap frog, “it,” or jump rope. Moms would bring their lawn chairs out and sit on someone’s front lawn until the arrival dark and likewise, mosquitos would signal time to go home.
Once in the quiet of our own houses, we’d wash up and get ready for bed. When our heads hit the pillow sleep came quickly. And with our deep sleep came dreams of outdoor calling: Maa—rr—yy, Eehh—ll—ehn, Rii—ch—ieee… and of Play, beautiful Play.