The Games We Played.

croquetMaybe it’s the rain and the fact that kids are now going back to school that got me thinking about the games we played as kids, specifically the games we had to play as part of our educational experience, like kickball. It took me years to suss out that kickball was really just baseball with a soccer ball, minus the bats and gloves, and by that time it didn’t matter because I was in college, but that’s another story. I’m pretty sure kickball was invented because grade school P.E. teachers got worried about their jobs when they saw how much exercise we got when we were just allowed to run like heathens and do stupid stuff like throw ourselves off the monkey bars, which in those days went up to at least twenty feet and just had hard gravel around the base. Survival of the fittest was the playground rule. Maybe kickball was invented to give the school nurse at least one day when she didn’t have to re-set a broken femur or put ice on a cracked skull. And kickball wasn’t the only structured playground recreation we had. I remember some really weird games like “the pawpaw patch”. One kid would be “lost” and the rest of us would have to find him or her by running around in a circle pretending to hold baskets and chanting, “pickin’ up pawpaws, put ‘em in the basket,” because you don’t want to let a rescue mission interfere with your fruit harvest. At least I assumed it was fruit. I had no clue what a pawpaw was or why we had to pick them up. And if they were all over the ground like squash–although we never did play squash, which I think is like the kickball version of tennis–or watermelons or hobos I didn’t understand how somebody could get lost in the middle of a patch of them. Really all we had to do was stand off to the side and yell, “Hey, over here!” I would eventually figure out that a pawpaw was a papaya, but it still didn’t make sense because those grow on trees, not on the ground, and by that time it didn’t matter because I was in college.

Not a pawpaw. Or a fig, in spite of what the tiny letters in the bottom left corner may try to tell you.

Not a pawpaw. Or a fig, in spite of what the tiny letters in the bottom left corner may try to tell you.

The rainy day games were the worst, though. At least rescuing somebody incompetent enough to get lost in a pawpaw patch was exercise, but indoors our physical activity was severely constrained. So grownups pulled out stuff like “who can stay still the longest?” Or there was “Heads Up, Seven Up”, which I still hated even though it was at least more of a game with real rules. Seven kids would be picked to stand up at the front of the class. The rest of us would put our heads down and the seven would wander among us and tap seven different kids on the shoulder. Then they’d resume their positions at the front, someone would call out “Heads up, seven up” and those of us in our seats would look up, and those who’d been tapped would have to guess who tapped them. If a tappee correctly guessed the tapper he or she would take that kid’s place. The game would be over when we figured out this was a cheap way to keep us occupied so the teacher could sneak off for a drink and staged an outright rebellion, or it was time to go, whichever came first. If I was tapped to be a tapper I would, while tapping someone, whisper “The pearl is in the river” or leave them a note or something to give myself away. That way I could sit down again.

The worst, though, was “Simon Says”. The one advantage of “Simon Says” was that the teacher couldn’t sneak off for a drink but had to endure the boredom along with the rest of us, and was put in the even tougher position of having to think up things for Simon to say. And I always wanted to know who this Simon was anyway and why we should be listening to what he told our teacher, and, more importantly, whether we should tell someone our teacher was hearing voices. And sometimes we’d be told to do something without it being prefaced by “Simon says”. Most of the time that was automatic disqualification, but sometimes the teacher would forget. And there was always that one kid who couldn’t resist pointing it out: “You didn’t say ‘Simon says’!” Those kids are grown up now and working for the NSA. That makes me realize that I never appreciated the educational value of “Simon Says”. Really I resented games that tried to teach us because that seemed to go against the purpose of games. I thought games were supposed to be a break from learning, so even when the goal was to score points or the point was to score goals they should still be pointless. What I didn’t appreciate was the subtle subtext of “Simon Says”. It wasn’t teaching us anything practical. I’ve never had a boss set me to a task like compiling spreadsheets then fired me because they didn’t say “Simon says” first. Actually I’d kind of like to work for someone like that. Having a boss who hears voices could be interesting. Anyway I realize now that “Simon Says” was teaching us the most important lesson of all: question authority. Then again I was a child of the seventies, so pretty much everything was teaching me to question authority. It was a very confusing time because we were all being encouraged to be nonconformists, but how do you not conform when no one else is conforming either? And who was encouraging noncomformity in the first place? I suspect Simon was behind it.

 

11 Comments

  1. Sandra

    I love these posts that I can sink my teeth into…the pawpaw patch? That’s just all kinds of awesome, but it’s not something I’ve ever heard of, and I suspect in our Canadian climate, such a game has and would never exist because most of us in the 70s would never have seen a papaya (too expensive to import up here), and we spent about 10 months indoors, so we’re all very skilled at Simon Says. But in all seriousness, I love your style of writing, and your story telling ability is a gift.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The funny thing is here in Tennessee at the time I don’t think any of us had ever seen a papaya. Avocados were considered exotic. Maybe our P.E. teacher had moved from Florida, or maybe she’d read about the pawpaw patch game in a book and wanted to give us something different to do. Now that I think about it the game was like a more elaborate version of ring-around-the-rosie, which I loved when I thought it was about The Black Plague. I’m more than a little disappointed that it’s not.
      And thank you–I hope to keep providing posts you can sink your teeth into.

      Reply
  2. Chuck Baudelaire

    You didn’t play statues? One person would spin everyone else around by the arm, and you had to stay in the position you stopped in. First one to move got pummeled with a playground ball. Bleeding from the scrapes you got when you were hurled to the ground during the spinning process counted as moving. As I recall.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s hilarious, but we never played that. I have no idea why. What I forgot to mention and what I remember vividly was acting out scenes from movies we’d seen. I remember playing the Richard Dreyfus role from JAWS and falling off the top of the monkey bars. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt seriously, but I got the wind knocked out of me, and the shark hunt had to go on without a marine biologist.

      Reply
  3. Margot

    “The pearl is in the river”? You must have been a very interesting child. Did you grow up in Tennessee? That “pickin’ up pawpaws” chant sounds very familiar. We may have chanted that while jumping rope. I had no idea that there was a game that went with it, but it seems really strange that it would be hide and seek. Where would the kid hide? And how could you seek while you were chanting, holding pretend baskets and running in circles? “Heads up, seven up” was something we would yell for no particular reason–we just thought it was a funny thing to say. I had no idea it was a game, in fact I thought it had something to do with the soft drink called 7 Up. I grew up in California—isn’t it strange how things morphed when they traveled across the country before the internet?

    I had a very interesting teacher in the 3rd grade. If we were squirmy and restless she’d put “I Feel the Earth Move Under my Feet” by Carol King on the record player and would make us get up and dance. She also had us repeat that experiment where the kids with blue or green eyes got to have control over the kids with brown eyes. It was sad and scary to see my light eyed peers ban the brown eyed kids from using the drinking fountain and bathroom. And once she made us pretend we were POWs who were about to get released and go home. We had to write letters to our spouses, and she had us imagine things like our spouse had thought we were dead and had remarried or had just plain cheated on us and that our kids had forgotten us. At least she made us think, but it was a little heavy for 8-year-olds.

    Thanks goodness so many of these questions and mysteries were cleared up for you in college. I wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t gone. Sorry this is such a long comment. Your wonderful essay really made me think back to that time in my life, along with being extremely entertaining.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes, I grew up in Tennessee, and I’ve been told I was an interesting child. I had interesting friends too, which is how I picked up obscure lines like “The pearl is in the river”. It is funny how things morphed as they traveled across the country, and it’s kind of sad how the internet has removed that sense of localization. That’s countered by a lot of benefits, of course, and it’s probably a good thing that kids on one side of the country–or even one side of the world–can share ideas with others so easily.
      Your 3rd grade teacher really does sound amazing. I’m so glad you shared that. Playing POWs sounds a little heavy for 8-year-olds, but, really, it’s so cool how she made you think.

      Reply
  4. Gina W.

    I could relate to most of this story, but I never played Pawpaws. We too had the playground that was built on asphalt. It was Darwinian “survival of the fittest” in action. Our jungle gym was really tall and also caused the ambulance to be called at least once that I remember. You didn’t mention dodgeball, which we played in gym class. I’m not the athletic type and never have been so I think I was always taken out pretty quickly. My son is playing all sorts of new inside games at school that I’ve never even heard of. Oh, I just remembered “Duck, Duck, Goose”. When people hit you on the head for “goose” it seemed like they did it as hard as possible, the little shits… Man, this has opened an entire room full of memories that I will have to think about for the rest of the day..

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I thought about “Duck, Duck, Goose” but then didn’t write about it. I’m not sure why. That seemed like good training for labeling and singling out people. Yeah, there’s a ton of memories here. I thought about dodgeball too–training for sadists is what it really was, although in spite of not being very athletic I was pretty good at it. Or maybe I just wasn’t a high priority target. But I was really limiting myself here to games we played in grade school on the playground.
      We were also allowed a certain amount of random chaos when we were on the playground, and that’s when the real trouble happened. That was when a fight would start or someone would get their leg caught in the monkey bars and be stuck hanging upside down. Good times.

      Reply
  5. kdcol

    I remember the “seven up” game but the seated kids would put their thumbs up and the taggers would tag someone by pressing a thumb down. I remember having to tag along with my parents when they would get invited to friends’ houses. If we didn’t like the kids there at the start, by the end of the evening/night, we were all fast friends. There was much bonding over Red Rover, Simon Says, kickball, etc. Things just aren’t like that anymore.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s sad that things aren’t like that anymore. I don’t have kids so it’s hard to tell, but I always hope things haven’t changed that much. I guess computers have had a major influence over how kids play now, though. I remember bonding just from being out in the woods with other kids.

      Reply
      1. kdcol

        My youngest is actually at a church camp for the weekend, with NO electronics allowed (oh the horror!). I know he’s going to have a great time and get to know some of the kids even better. But interesting how that sort of bonding almost has to be planned now. Many kids aren’t going to give up their phones voluntarily.

        Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: