My earliest toy that I can remember was a stick. I could use it to draw a line in the sand or straddle it and gallop off into the sunset. When my younger brother, Jean, got old enough, to play with it was still with sticks and sand. However, he started talking to a make-believe friend in Kansas City, and I couldn’t persuade him that it wasn’t real. Therefore, I turned to my older brother, Lynn. I was always a little bit afraid of him until high school and I found I could throw him.
As little kids, he and I played in the chicken coop even though we were forbidden to go in there. When we came down with the chickenpox I held my breath for fear Lynn would say where we had been playing, but our parents never seemed to connect the two things. Now that I’m much older and a little wiser I think maybe we did get the chickenpox from those chickens.
Later when we became more dexterous with our hands, we played jacks. Oh, we knew it was a girl’s game, our brothers often reminded us of that. It was fun and required a small bit of skill. I never did get into a mumble-d-peg game. (a game of throwing knives into the ground seeing how far you could stick it.) I didn’t have a pocket knife until later in life. No one seemed to want to lend me his knife for that game.
Then there was hopscotch. That was fun also. If you played on a dirt field, it was easier to see when a person stepped on a line. It took some time to complete the course and before the game was over, we were either fighting about some error one of us made or our attention span just wouldn’t stretch far enough. So, we headed off to stop Indians at the pass or catch the bank robbers.
When we could get the material to build stilts that were the best fun. We would race, jump, or balance on one stilt to see how long we could stay on them without stepping down. I always admired those circus guys that walked around on stilts ten feet tall. I watched and waited—sure one of them was to lose his balance and I wanted to see just how they’d come down. I didn’t realize how much time they spent on stilts. With us, it was an hour one day and maybe we wouldn’t be on them for another week.
There was usually a dog we could play tag. We could always get one to chase us. Once we tied many inner tube rubber bands together, put one end around Queenie, and tied the other end to a post. Queenie sure didn’t know what to expect and we doubled over with laughter to see the funny expressions as she tumbled back. We could never get her to chase us again as long as that elastic rope was tied around her.
When there wasn’t anything else going on there werewooden scraps of lumber laying around. Pieces of 2 by 4’s would make fine cars and without wheels, they made excellent road graders.
Along about the time we were playing jacks we also learned how to shoot marbles and spin tops. Both of these games could be heart breakers if I got into the wrong game. With marbles it was “keeps” I thought I was pretty good and let a boy talk me into one game. I lost all my marbles at a time that they were hard to come by. Fortunately, that boy was the son of a store owner and scolded his son for playing “keeps”. Instead of making Lonnie give me back my marbles; he brought out a little sack of marbles from his store. He gave them to me with a lecture about playing for keeps.
The top spinning game was just plain fun. Spin the top, catch it up in your and let it spin itself out. Spinning a top required two actions. The string had to be wound just right and then the throw had to be done in such a manner that the top would be spinning just as it reached the b=ground. Most tops had a tiny metal ball at the point to reduce friction and keep it from wearing out. Some boys would replace that round ball on the bottom with a sharp spike about a quarter of an inch long. Then came the real skill and heartbreak. I’m not sure what it was called, but one boy would spin his top and while it was spinning another boy would try to hit it. With the sharp spike on the end, hitting the spinning top often meant that the top would be split or at least have a chunk gouged out.
Most of the time playing at that age meant learning the use of the body and mind, getting along with other kids and learning that even in games there were losers and winners. It seemed to make the job of growing up a little more pleasant.