Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Can I go outside and play?

When people my age, like me, talk about "playing outside as kids" I find that today's youth look at me like I'm crazy. Kids at Alcatraz equate playing outside as kids as committing acts of vandalism or beating up other kids. My own kid doesn't even have fun memories of going outside to play with all the kids in the neighborhood and using nothing but his imagination. I remember him wrinkling his nose at the idea of going out to play.

Back when I was a kid, oh yes, this is a back in the day story, we were outside all the time. We were outside in all seasons, even in the wintertime.

In the winter we would go sledding, make snow forts, have snowball fights, make snow angels. We would even walk the 4 blocks to the city park so we could shoot down the most awesome hills on our plastic disc sleds.

Spring, summer and fall were a completely different world. Sometimes we would play house or school in the old barn. Or just make believe of some sort since it had a loft which could be a tower in a castle or the surface of the moon or anything else. We played Barbies on the side porch . We played basketball on a slab. We chased each other with sticks fashioned as guns or swords, yes, even us girls. We rode out bikes everywhere for all reasons or no reason, even if we had nowhere to go. Hell, sometimes we just played in the dirt or laid in the shade under the spirea bushes. We climbed the cherry trees in the back yard and ate the sour fruit until we were about sick. We sang songs, did dances and made shows as la Rooney/ Garland style out on the back stoop. We played in the sandbox. We rode our skinny plastic skateboards down hills for speed- tiny boards with no grips and rainbow colored plastic. We put pennies on the train tacks then hunted their squashed flattened selves in the weeds near the tracks. We flattened cardboard boxes and played our boom boxes and we learned then practiced break dancing.

When it rained we still played outside, unless there was lightening. Otherwise we splashed in the puddles, ran through it, stood under rain gutters that flowed like mini Niagara Falls onto our heads, raced drinking straws in the street gutter, and even rode our bikes in the rain to splash each other, enjoying the mud that would flip up our backs due to the fender -less bicycles. We could turn open umbrellas upside down, let it fill with raindrops, and with a friend, the two of us holding each side, would fling the water on an unsuspecting fellow neighborhood kid who happened by.

But as dusk approached, that was when all the action really began. At the gloaming, when the fireflies flashed their lights, when we could hear the misquotes wings humming their night songs, that was the world where we, the kids of the neighborhood, reigned as kings and queens. The Game began.

One porch was Base. Usually it was the neighbor's house rather than mine because they had two porches. We used the east porch so no one inside the house would be bothered by our antics. As the dusk rolled in, we all knew it was time, and came out of our homes, flocking to the porch like homing pigeons. There were about 14-18 kids at any given time. Friends of friends, new kids moving in and the old out, we call came together, the darkness our beacon. The Game continued and evolved, kids out growing the Game, younger ones old enough to finally play. The Game went on for years, different players, but always the same Game.

Someone was declared IT, usually by their own shortcoming. Everyone would scream "not it" and the last person to yell was IT. And if there was a discrepancy, one round of rock/paper/scissors was the final defining factor, no arguments. IT counted to 100 and everyone scattered to a hiding place. The length of the block, only the north side, was fair. The Jones's had the misfortune of living on this side of the street and after a scathing run in with Mrs. Jones we felt it would be in our collective best interests to make their house, yard and property completely off limits. Everything else on that side for one block, was fair game, from the curb to the ally. If you were found across the street, you were automatically made IT.

When IT hit 100, the hunt was on. If you were physically tagged before you got home to base, you were the new IT. If you were IT you couldn't guard the base- you had to go on the hunt. No fair calling "all-ie all-ie in free" unless someone was hurt. A call of "all in" meant someone new was IT. Or we would all make it free to base and we would start again. This went on well into the dark night, for hours- at least until 10pm!!! We hid and then when found, ran for our lives, with IT hot on our heels, feet pounding, the scattering and a flurry of frenzied bodies all racing for safety and freedom. Hot breath on the back of your neck as you were 20 feet, 10 feet, 1 more foot to reach the mecca. Sometimes you made it, other times... the role of IT was bestowed upon you, in your sole possession, your temporary cross to bear. And the only way to shed it was to haul ass during the next round.

We all had our favorite hiding spots. Sometimes we hid alone, sometimes we hid with a friend. But, if you hid together, it was every man for himself if you were found together.

Our parents ended the Game nightly. The sounds of our parents' cries, a cacophony of our names being called blending into music carried on the humidity of the night air, brought the Game to a close each evening. We all just emerged from our spots like spirits rising from the graves and trotted to our homes, calling our "see yous" to each other. If you were in mid chase, then the summons home signified your lucky day: you were no longer running for freedom or you were no longer IT.

The gloaming was gone. The streetlamps were aglow, casting their hazy halos on the dark pavement below. We went home to bathe, to bed, to watch TV, we all went home to do something different except we ALL went home to wait. To wait for the morning sun's first light to free us, so we could take over the outdoors, to go out and play, to do it all over again.



Bragger said...

I remember the days of playing outside. Roller skating in the trailer park, exploring the woods, climbing trees.....

Jimmie Earl said...

Those were the days when the commercial said, "it's nine o' you know where your child is" we really did know. Those were the days that when it rained, most of that 14 to 18 kids turned up at our house because we had the only VCR in the neighborhood. Your mom fixed Kool Aid by the gallon and pop corn by that HUGE mixing bowlfuls. Ah! Those were the days.

Anonymous said...

The good old days Mag... We played a similar game called Reliveo...

Teena said...

This is a delightful childhood story, I hope our children will be able to have fond memories like this of their own. <3

Wiley said...

Ah, the halcyon days of youth. Whatever happened to imagination - does it even occur to Gen Y they can have fun without an iPhone? I doubt it. And yes, I know this makes me sound old, but in this respect old is good. And Gen Y is giving me the dirts this week (and I have even more admiration for you as a teacher, Maggie!)

Curley said...

You paint some very vivid pictures in my head. I remember those days of playing outside with all the neighborhood kids. The fun we had.