ST. LOUIS, March 12, 2015 — “Back in the good old days,” entertainment for children often consisted of very simple, unsophisticated things like games.
A summertime game we played was called the “water balloon war,” where the ultimate weapons were balloons filled with water. We chose sides and had a water balloon fight, with the objective of conquering the enemy’s fort. It was harmless and very refreshing when you were soaked with water during those hot days.
Winter was great for snowball fights. This involved a lot of the kids. There was much preparation for this “War of Wars.” We built forts made of blocks of snow. After the snow forts were made, we made our respective flags: “skull and crossbones,” “stars and stripes” and many other designs. Now came the preparation of the ammunition. There were several rules: No ice balls and no rocks could be embedded in the weapon of war—the snowball. Another rule was that we had to fight from our respective forts. When a snowball hit a person, he/she was eliminated. The winning team was the one that had the most players left at the end of the game. The end of the game was determined by loss of daylight, time for chores or just exhaustion from the exercise and the cold.
This game was played at school recess, weekends (time permitting) and sometimes after school as the fort structures stayed until they melted.
This might make our younger readers might think that the children of the ‘30s and ‘40s were violent. On the contrary, we were not violent. Those two games consisted of balloons and snowballs and our homemade rules. Now, once in a while one would get hit with a snowball in the face, and that did hurt, but I can’t remember any injuries. The hit just stung like heck due to the coldness.
In the summer, catching fireflies could occupy an entire evening. Parents would sit out on the porch and watch the children catching fireflies (sometimes called lighting bugs). We would get a fruit jar and punch holes in the lid and then go on the hunt for the ever-evasive bug. At the end of the evening, the bugs were released to become the challenge of being caught again, and everyone enjoyed the light they gave off.
How about spinning in a circle, getting dizzy and falling down? We did this just for giggles. How about playing marbles? You would draw the circle and try to shoot your opponent’s marble out of the ring, resulting in your owning the marble. There were marbles that were considered to be the “shooters” that could make you the keeper of many bags of marbles. Many little thumbs got very sore.
How about step ball—hitting the ball on the front steps to score runs? Each player was allowed three outs. An out was to miss catching the ball as it flew off the step. We played nine innings. It is my understanding that one the greatest St. Louis Cardinal shortstops, who is in the hall of fame, played step ball as a youngster. In retrospect, it was a fantastic game for developing hand and eye coordination.
Remember bottle caps? This, as a rule, was played at the neighborhood tavern. A converted broom handle became a bat. The good pitchers could make those bottle caps do magical things. The curve and the drop were the prevalent pitches, at least in my neighborhood.
Cork ball was another favorite. We had leagues of cork ball teams. Bats, gloves and balls were made for the cork ball players. These games were played at the neighborhood taverns and other playing areas.
How about Indian ball? Two markers designated the inbound playing field. Grounders that were missed were a hit. Grounders caught were outs. Fly balls dropped were hits. Fly balls caught were outs. A ball hit over the outfielder’s head was a home run. And the game was played for as many innings as the players wanted. We played with a softball and regular bats. I remember the parks were filled with many Indian ball games being played. What a delightful time! Certain games drew a lot of spectators.
Finally, do you remember the game called “king of the hill”? That was not a game for me, as I was not that big and the “big boys” would send me rolling down the hill. The object of the game was to try to rush “the king” and try to end his reign by sheer numbers. It was a lot of fun.
The problem today is getting the children out of the house. Back then, the problem was the exact opposite. It was hard to get kids back in the house.
Today there is not as much participation in outdoor games, except in organized sports with some overbearing coaches and some parents demanding that their children be champs. Whatever happened to just playing for fun?
Today we have a new game called couch potatoes. I miss those games of yesterday, which brought so much joy to the families and communities. That’s a time and place I am from.