Play Stuff

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!) Punchball ball

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.Banana Bike

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.




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14 responses to “Play Stuff

  1. Loved this post, Jali. It’s funny how little some things change over the years. I played most of the same games that you did. However, I think those days may be seeing their end due to PS3s and the X-B0x. Still, I’m encouraging my 4 year old to go out and play like my mom and pops did me.

  2. Lex

    I just came in from a jog around the lake and weight lifting at the gym. I smell pretty bad, but it still doesn’t compare to what we smelled like when we came in at the end of a day playing outside in the summer!

    This was great! Life before video games.

  3. C

    We played chinese jumprope – or I did with my Asian friends but I was always taller so I beat them all the time.

    We also roller skated with those metal wheel roller skates.

    I never played anything like RCK – my mom would have kicked my ass if she had heard about that. My parents were so strick we couldn’t as much as glance over at a boy with out a good eye lashing (that’s a whippin stare from my mom)

  4. Yooo!!! We did the same thing with the bike cross country trips. I was in Rockland County, so we didn’t really have any limits, except we wouldn’t go to Memorial Park cuz that’s where the crackheads were. We also played this game called Butts Up. You would throw a tennis ball against a brick wall and the other guy had to catch it. If they dropped it then they had to stand against the wall with their butt up (hence the name of the game) while everyone threw a tennis ball at them. It sounds pretty sadistic now that i think about it. LOL

    Okay, I’m done blogging in your comments.

  5. Wow such creative games. I remember packing lunch and walking into the wilderness. I remember slipping into the sewer pipes and wriggling through the neighborhood. I remember many many games of hide and seek.

  6. Oh wow, I had a banana seat bicycle and so did my best friend who lived across the street. I can’t tell you how many miles we put on those things. I was talking to her the other day (yes, we’re still best friends, going on almost 25 years!) and I asked her, do you remember getting tired or panting? And she was like, no, I don’t. sigh, what energy we had as kids! We did a lot of pretend role playing stuff . She had a large hill in her backyard and we would “dig for gold” make mud pies, be archaeologists, mountain climbers in peril, etc. Good times. 🙂

  7. katrice0321

    Of course, I remember the hand games! Remember “Twee Lee Lee”?

    We rode bikes and skated around the apartment complex.

    We also played a lot of Four Square and did a little hopscotch too.

    Kickball and dodge ball were my favorites because I could beat everybody back then!

    Sadly, though I could “jump in” with the best of them, I always got fired at Double Dutch for being double-handed or some such nonsense that basically meant I didn’t have the rhythm to turn the ropes correctly.

    Hey, do you remember jumping games involving two big white PVC pipes? I can’t remember what that was called…

  8. ha. our lyrics to miss mary mack were:

    she asked her mother, mother, mother
    for 50 cents, cents, cents,
    to watch the boys, boys, boys
    pull down their pants, pants, pants…

    (and then i don’t remember the rest). what can i say, we were pervy little girls. lol

  9. Man, this makes me nostalgic. I remember playing some similar games, and also stuff like Red Rover/British Bulldog, and a million variants of tag and hide-and-go-seek. I hope this stuff isn’t being entirely replaced by video games and such.

  10. We played freeze tag, hide and go seek, rode bikes everywhere, street softball, caught lightning bugs in jars with holes poked in the lids, and I spent a lot of time in the woods, wading in the brook catching eels (and releasing them,) and reading in my tree house. Somewhere in my archives is a post about setting the golf course on fire. My parents never knew (or cared) where I was until dinnertime. Those were the days.

    My little cousin from Brooklyn taught me to play Mumbledypeg which involved a buck knife that he hid in his pants. Those city kids were tough.

  11. bitchtasm

    Yeah we used to play similar games. All the way in OZ. I guess some games are universal.

    We also used to roll down hills for fun. That rocked when you were 6. We had this great hill for rolling down at my first primary (elementary) school.

    We also used to have a game called british bulldog. Basically its like dodgeball but played with tennis balls and the objective is to pelt people with the Tennis ball to get them out. Much ouchness and usually only played by the older boys.

  12. Wow, but WOW Jali. Nicely done on the trip down memory lane. My brother and I LOVED to play punchball. Same rules as baseball but without the lumber. I guess I didn’t know my strength then because I was the kid who would punch the ball over the wall in deep left field. It was good for me to come up to the batters box and I would watch the outfielders take a few steps back to get into position in case I popped one! I loved those days and like a previous poster mentioned, these games are lost to the video games of today. Beautiful post luv. -lol@ Mary Mack… Yeah, I was the kid peeping the young honeys 😉

  13. I lived ina town of 500 souls, if you counted the dogs and horses…my yard was lined with huge pecan trees and one of the things we did when it was really hot was stand along the sides of the yard in the shade and throw frizbies to each other without having to get in the sun. We also played basketball and rode horses when we were not working in the cotton fields. We had a portable roller skating rink that came to town in the summers and there was the snow cone stand down town.

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