Children’s Games

John W. Pinkerton

Now, I could take the obvious route and tell the young folks of today how lucky they are to have all of the electronic games they have.  I’m not too sure about that principally because I really don’t know much about these games: I do know some are handheld, some are hooked up to TVs, and others are played on computers, tablet devices, and telephones.   Frankly, I have no interest in any of these games; it’s not that I think any of them are the works of the Devil; I’m just not interested.

It has been years since I last gave any thought to the games we played when I was a little fellow.  As a big fellow, I realize that I only have general and vague memories of how the games were played, but I do remember they were important parts of young lives when I was a youth.

Let me see if I can remember them: marbles, mumblety-peg, tops, yo-yos,  paddleball, and jacks.

Let’s begin with marbles.  The marble games, as I recall, were varied.  I do remember that the games began with the lag which  involved tossing a marble toward a line drawn in the dirt; the closer to the line the earlier the shot.  I think the simplest game was one in which a circle was drawn in the dirt, marbles were placed within the circle and knocked out by opponents who sent their shooters flying launched by the thumb.  Once you knocked someone else’s marble from the circle, the marble wasn’t someone else’s, it was yours.    I went to the internet to see what I could find about marble games:  I read the rules for ringer, and I guess you must be a child to understand the complexity  of the game.  There are other marble games that don’t ring a bell:  boss out (long taw), bridgeboard,  bun-hole, cherry pit, hundreds, and nine holes.  None of these ring a bell with me with the exception of nine holes which involved digging shallow holes in the dirt into which we attempted to shoot our marbles.  I do recall the term “keepsies” which indicated we weren’t joking.  It meant that we intended to keep our opponent’s marbles that we won.

Mumblety-peg was a game played with pocket knives.  We played this a lot in the school yard.  In today’s world, I don’t think this is played much.  Back then elementary boys were all “packing” a pocket knife: one, two, or even three blades.  Somehow we knew not to stab each other or recklessly throw the knives at our neighbors.  The worst damage I ever saw was no worse than a paper cut.  I’m pretty sure what we played was not Mumblety-peg in its purest form which involves tossing the knife to see how close we could come to our neighbor’s feet without actually piercing the foot.  As I recall we extended one blade fully with another blade extended at a right angle.  Then we would take turns flipping the knives hopefully sticking them in the dirt at the aimed place.  As I recall, we began by drawing a circle or a square in the dirt, and once a knife stuck in the circle or square, a line would be scratched across the circle along the north-south direction the knife had landed.  It seems that the quadrants drawn in the dirt became smaller and smaller.  I don’t recall exactly what caused someone to lose or win or what ended the game.  All I remember is that we really liked the game, and whenever one of the boys got a new knife, it was the talk of the mumblety players for a full day.

Tops were popular.  Spinning tops provided me and others like me with hours of entertainment.  As I recall one wound the string tightly around the lower part of the top, looped the other end firmly around one’s throwing finger and let her rip.  The harder and cleaner the toss was, the longer the top would spin, a thing of wonder.  Of course there was a competitive element introduced into the  spinning of tops.  While your neighbor’s top was spinning, you could fling your top with gusto at your neighbor’s top hoping the pointed end of your top would hit the top of your neighbor’s top causing a splintering of your neighbor’s top.  Exactly what the point of this was has escaped me.

Yo-yos were very popular at one time.  Originally they were made of wood, later of plastic.  Yo-yos require practice.  I guess everyone started with the gravity pull, then the throw down, the sleeper, the forward pass, walking the dog, around the world, around the corner, skin the cat, rock the baby, three-leaf clover, the breakaway, and the reverse sleeper.  Pretty complex stuff for a piece of wood and a string.  I ran across a top at a Christmas celebration a few years ago; like I said, yo-yos require practice.

Jacks or pick up jacks involves bouncing and catching a rubber ball while at the same time picking up the jacks, pointed little pieces of metal with six tips at right angles to one another, four of which are usually rounded with the two opposite tips pointed.  This configuration made them easy to scoop up with one’s hand.  It was a competitive game, but I don’t recall the rules other than whoever picked up the most jacks was the winner.  It was more of a girl’s game which they seemed to excel at which, of course, was enough reason for boys, for the most part, to steer clear of it.

Paddleball was also a popular activity.  It involved a wooden handheld paddle which had one end of a rubberband attached to the sweet spot on the paddle, the other end attached to a small rubber ball.  Of course one would paddle the ball which would be drawn back by the rubber band to, hopefully, be paddled again as many times as possible.  We were a simple lot.

You must remember that this was in the time in which a very small child might have his or her parents, in order to keep a child entertained, apply molasses to the baby’s hands and then give it a feather.  By the way, feathers were plentiful back then.

We also played checkers, Chinese checkers, go-fish, tic-tac-toe, and if your family was well to do, croquet.   Oh yeah, we spent a lot of time riding, racing, and in other ways abusing our bicycles and playing baseball and softball, but these are really not games or are not the kind of games I’m talking about.  The B-B gun also was a popular form of entertainment.  Most of us were trusted not to put our eyes out.  We also threw rocks and lumps of clay at each other.

When one realizes that the world of play was pretty much composed of string and pieces of wood and marbles and pocket knives and dirt and rocks, I’m not too sure the youngsters of today are missing much.


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