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Sounds of Childhood Games Still Echo
Memory is a many-layered thing. Last week’s piece was a catalyst that caused some readers’ recollections to rise to the surface of their internal ponds. In turn, their reminiscences set me off on another ramble down memory lane--sort of a boomerang effect!
Niece Barbara wrote that my column made her hungry and that my brother, Earl, didn’t pick corn until Toots had the water boiling. I agree with Father Tim in the Mittford books who puts corn in boiling water and cooks it for exactly three minutes. When I’d visit my sister, Christine, we’d drive to a farm south of Knightstown and pick out several ears of the best corn I’ve ever eaten. Alas, she has been gone these two years, and I’ve had no more of that corn just as my mother’s corn fritters are only a distant memory.
Montaigne, wrote that each of us bears the entire stamp of the human condition. I He was right. Put simply, if you scratch a Hoosier you’re apt to find a love of roasting ears or fond memories of clam bakes in a Down Easterner, just as our friend, Vadel, talks about the couscous of Mauritania.
Paula Nicewanger, Operations Manager of the Eastside Herald in Indianapolis was a big-city girl, having grown up in Indianapolis and is twelve years younger than I. She wrote, "We lived the same lives!" What a compliment to know that one’s writing resonates with others. That’s what writers hope for.
Paula’s favorite treat was her mother’s homemade hot chocolate sauce that was poured on toast and topped with a big pat of butter. Her family also ate polk salad. An "everyday" treat that Mother gave to Wanda and me was bread and butter with sugar on it.
Paula’s e-mail refreshed my own memories. She asked if I had played rock school. Yes, indeed! The little girls played it by the iron fence on the east side of the schoolyard. The "teacher" held out her closed fists. The student had to choose which hand had a rock in it. If she guessed correctly, she was promoted to the next grade and moved up. We played king-of-the-mountain on a big boulder that was near the elm tree that stood near the junction of the walks. Later, touchy-feely officials had it removed lest the kiddies be hurt.
Kids like a little danger: Paula wasn’t permitted to have a bicycle as her mother didn’t consider it safe for girls. However, she played a game called "Slits" with the neighborhood bad boys where they threw sharp pocket knives at each other. She still has a scar to show for it. Needless to say, her mother never knew about this game just as Mrs. Frazier and my mother never knew that Wanda and I used to swing down from a tree and balance with no hands on the top of a nine-foot-tall fencepost back at Zimmerman’s lot.
Paula also made hollyhock dolls. Wanda and I would pull out their stamens, and then skewer a stack of hollyhock blossoms on a toothpick. Another toothpick was run through the top of the pile, and a partly opened bloom was put on each end of it to form sleeves. We carefully pulled a section of the leaf off the bud end, and--hey presto!--there were two little eyes. The finished dolls looked like tiny Martha Washingtons with green wigs. Then we floated our dollies in saucers of water.
Oh, the games of childhood: red rover, Mother-may-I?, statues, hide-and-go-seek, kick-the-can, tappy-on-the ice box, softball, and Chinese tag . . . Why that name? Dunno!. When you were tagged and became "it" you had to hold onto the place where you had been touched while chasing the others. . . No wonder we weren’t fat--we ran off Ma’s big meals rather than sitting in front of a computer. Each game had a location set in concrete: the school steps for Mother-may-I?, Carey St. for kick-the-can, Auntie Kelly’s big tree for the hide-and-seek base, softball on the vacant ground by the Big 4 Railroad.
I still hear the voices of long ago in my mind’s ear: "Over the can with Mardella . . ." "You’re out, Rex Mattix . . . " "Five, ten, fifteen, twenty . . . " "You may take five dishpan steps " No matter how much time passes or what changes take place in my life, my old chums are all there within my interior being where they remain forever young.
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