I remember summers when play was my only responsibility in the world. I was a very conscientious child so my play was charged with that extra ooomph. I played like it was 1999. I gave play my all. Play was my life.
I wasn’t alone in my quest for excellence on the playing field (the streets and sidewalks on my block). We were a devoted block of children. We were determined to play hard and play well for every single day of our summer vacation.
Play was so important to me that there were days that even the siren call of the Mr. Softee Truck couldn’t distract me from my duties. (the fact that my allowance was withheld for certain infractions made it a bit easier to ignore at certain times)
On 200 street in Hollis Queens there were the games we played and then there were The GAMES.
Anyone on the block was welcomed to play our regular games like “Chinese jump rope*” (we never used the corny rope our parents bought us- we made our own with rubberbands!) or “RCK*” and when we played punchball in the street (first base the tree) we called on everyone to participate. We even used one kid as base sometimes, depending on our mood. (Hi David!)
The GAMES were “skelly” (this is how we said it and we used jar caps instead of bottle caps) and “doubledutch” but the hippest game on the block those days were the intricate hand clapping games usually played with a partner, but sometimes with up to four people. There were words to the accompanying songs to learn, but more importantly the moves had to become second nature to anyone who wanted to be part of the block’s ‘in crowd”. Here’s one of the basic songs that used a very basic hand clap move:
- Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack All dressed in black, black, black
- With silver buttons, buttons, buttons All down her back, back, back
- She asked her mother, mother, mother For 50 cents, cents, cents
- To watch the elephants, elephants, elephants Jump over the fence, fence, fence
- They jumped so high, high, high They touched the sky, sky, sky
- They never came down, down, down Until the fourth of July, ly, ly, ly, ly, ly
Songs like this were cool for beginners and the “pros’ played this as a warm up, but if you messed up just once, no matter what your previous achievement may have been, you’d be relegated to the sad position of onlooker for the rest of the day. You would not be permitted to voice your opinion or judge anyone else’s game. You’d be a “non”. (oh, the horror – just saying the word brings back very painful memories. Non.)
In order to play skelly you would need to have your jar cap inspected by the game owner (the kid with the chalk always owned the game). If your cap passed the initial inspection you would be conditionally approved to play. Final approval was determined by the other participants and there was no strict rule – sometimes you’d be in – sometimes you’d be called a “non”.
We had a bike club on the block too. We rode our banana seat, stingray bikes all over the neighborhood. Our limits were Farmer’s Blvd and Francis Lewis Blvd. (bus route streets), but everywhere between these main roads were game. We had a president, Jimmy who decided where we would be riding for the day. We would pack provisions (a bag of Onion and Garlic Lay’s chips and a Devil Dog) (as if we were going cross country) in the front baskets of the chick bikes and set off in a group. Riding “no hands” was expected of everyone, and the slow riders were left behind.
If it was too hot to run around we would sit on someone’s stoop and play “That’s my car”. To claim a car as your own, you had to be the first to shout out, “that’s my car” – that’s it – the whole game. We amused ourselves for hours playing this game and I can crack up any of my girlfriends if I use the phrase today.
As a kid I believed that all children in every neighborhood played the same as we did. I was shocked to learn that my cousins in Delaware played differently than we did. They actually tied string to Junebugs’ legs and swung them around. Disgusting.
As a teen, I graduated to handball. Going to the park and “running” the court was everything back then. Running the court meant beating every challenger and playing all day. We played with a ‘pinkie”, the same type ball we used for punchball and the greatest move was ‘the roller”. A roller hits the wall at the point where the wall meets the floor and rolls back – there’s no comeback from a roller. Score!
What games did you play on your block? (With your play-play cousins)
*RCK stands for Run, Catch Kiss. It’s a game somewhat similar to tag that we played, sometimes intentionally falling so that our pursuer would catch, and then hopefully kiss us. (If Gerard ever reads this:NO I’m not talking about THAT time – I really did fall!!!!!!!) The game is played at twilight.