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Childhood games leave great, lasting memories

My own family had its share of Swift-made games. We walked around the farm playing the “Jingle Song,” which meant you had to take turns singing every word of a commercial jingle correctly. Illustration.

When I was in third or fourth grade, my parents brought home a thing of wonder.

It was Pong. The video game’s programming was laughably simple – probably something that a bright 9-year-old could do today.

Basically, we could play tennis, squash and racquetball, and the only options were racquet size and speed. Yet, we could play it forever. Hours were spent in our basement rec room, howling and yelling in front of our black-and-white Zenith TV.

We were convinced that was as good as it gets. Little did we know that gaming would explode into a pulsating, breathing, multi-dimensional, surround-sound world, which could allow you to play against people all over the planet.

But along the way, kids may have lost something. They lost the ability to use the most primitive of tools to create their own games. Some of these homegrown contests were barbaric. Others were wildly inventive. All demonstrated that, given enough freedom and time, children will find ways to compete, collaborate and entertain themselves.

Sometimes, their games will be “Little Women” – variety delightful (“Let’s put on a play!”). Other times, they will be more “Lord of the Flies.” (“Put Jane in the big chest freezer and sit on it until Mom heard her screaming!”)

My own family had its share of Swift-made games. We walked around the farm playing the “Jingle Song,” which meant you had to take turns singing every word of a commercial jingle correctly.

We played a pitiless game of “Chicken,” which consisted of a person (usually a gullible little sister) trying to hold her ground while someone drove a bicycle at high speeds toward her. (I had the tire tracks across my stomach to prove it.)

We traced letters on each other’s backs and made the “tracee” identify the letter.

Everything became a competition. Who could stuff the most Bubble Yum into her mouth? Who could read a comic book the fastest? Who could race across the street the fastest and put down all the flags on the mailboxes until an old lady came out and yelled that she was going to call the FBI?

We tried to turn mundane chores into games to lighten the load. When we were supposed to do dishes, my sisters and I once started challenging each other to see who could throw the most balls of bread dough up on the ceiling so that it stuck. (I don’t know if I’ve seen my mother ever get madder.) We also had raking races and “who can do their housework fastest” games. (I know. Nerds.)

When I asked Facebook friends to share their childhood games, the post blew up. I can’t even begin to share all their games here – which varied from delightful to dastardly – but here’s a small sample:

-- The “biting game,” which required biting each other to see who could endure the hardest bite.

-- The “who can punch the softest?” game, usually initiated by older brothers. “I fell for it every time,” my friend Nancy wrote.

-- The “Bet I can make you laugh first” game.

-- “Colored Eggs,” which involved a “wolf” approaching “eggs” (also known as siblings) on the front step and asking what color they were. When someone’s color was picked, he or she had to run away to a base and not get caught or that person became the wolf.

-- 4-H Ball Tag, which was inexplicably played on the rooftop.

-- Indoor sledding, which consisted of sitting in slippery down sleeping bags and sliding down the stairs.

-- Hot Lava, which involved spreading pillows randomly all over the floor, and then making the players jump from pillow to pillow. If someone missed, it meant they fell in the hot lava and died.

-- Kitten Racing, in which baby cats were lined up and coaxed to “race” each other in a straight line. (Talk about a hopeless pipe dream.)

-- Statue, in which all the kids would dance around until someone yelled, “Freeze!” That person would then walk around and name all the statues in their ridiculous frozen form.

-- Ante-I-over, which required standing on opposite ends of the house and trying to throw a ball over the roof.

-- All-Star Wrestling (Home Version).

-- Rock fights, which included using the lids of old Maytag washers as shields.

-- Make-believe games, in which kids played nuns, Miss America contestants, characters from “The Dukes of Hazard” or “The Gong Show,” hospital staff (with a wagon as the ambulance), restaurant workers (with real grilled cheese and PB&J served), Mandrell Sisters and the Six Million Dollar Man.

-- Games without names (but fun all the same): placing lit firecrackers in fresh cow pies; using a baseball bat to slam fallen apples into the nearby cattle pen; seeing how many helmet-less kids can fit on one bicycle.

It’s not as if this was a perfect world. Injuries were sustained, weaker players were bullied into submission, and the fun sometimes turned into a bawling, scratching brawl. Yet, judging from the number of people who waxed rhapsodic on this topic, many of these games taught us how to interact and negotiate.

And, alongside the scars they left on our knees, they left great and lasting memories.

Obviously, we had game.


Tammy Swift writes for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

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