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Childhood Games and Mort Reichek

In a recent email, Australian Peter Tibbles, who writes the Sunday Elder Music column on this blog, recounted some of the games he played as a kid, noting not only the universality of them, but the differences from country to country and even city to city within countries. I suspect there were differences from neighborhood to neighborhood too.

Peter mentioned Kick the Can and Hide and Seek. The name of the latter, in Australia, was shortened to Hidey and It was He down under, although it sounds odd to me think of a kid yelling, “You're He.” “Also universal,” wrote Peter, “was the way the kid sped up the count towards the end.”

“Then there was Hopscotch (that’s Hoppy to us – nothing to do with the cowboy),” Peter continued. “Marbles of course (for some reason called allies – pronounced as the plural of alley)...We didn’t 'skip rope,' we played skippy.”

We played all these games in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, with the American names Peter references and I'd forgotten we always sped up the Hide and Seek count toward the end just as Peter and his friends did. Marbles was just Marbles in my neck of the woods, but a particular kind of marble was called an alley.

More boys played Marbles and Kick the Can than girls, and few boys joined the games Mother May I, Simon Says and Hopscotch which they considered too “girlie.”

Most fascinating to me in Peter's note was description of the Australian version of Jacks which they called Knuckle Bones:

”This is because where I was in the country, it was always played with the knuckle bones of sheep. Later they had plastic versions. Not for us the wimpy American version with a rubber ball. We threw one of the bones in the air, did whatever and had to catch the bone before it hit the ground.”

Wow. I'm pretty sure we would have proved Peter's “wimpy” point by finding real bones too creepy to touch.

In his email, Peter made the distinction between these “kids' own games” and “big games” like tennis, baseball, football and cricket, but Mort Reichek, who blogs at Octogenarian, contributed a wonderful post to The Elder Storytelling Place early last year about New York City street games he played in the 1930s and '40s.

Stickball was his version of baseball, played with a broom handle and Spaldeen, sewer grates marked off as the bases.

Mort and his friends also played street versions of football and basketball altering the rules considerably to suit the confines of his block near the Grand Concourse in The Bronx. I consider these a sort of hybrid of Peter's “kids' own games” and “big games.” You can read Mort's story here.

While I am writing about Mort, I want to bring you up to date. Last October he suffered a terrible auto accident involving “instantaneous acceleration” in his driveway in New Jersey resulting in at least two back surgeries and many months of rehab which is now continuing in Florida. In a recent email, Mort told me,

“I am indeed now in a Florida rehab/long-term care facility. Quite a difference from what we used to call 'old folks homes'...I am making progress on the walking front. Unfortunately, little on my other problems. I am still on a feeding tube and and still plagued by bladder and bowel issues.

“During operations to rebuild my spine, a small bone spur was evidently pushed into my throat. It blocks passage of food and water and thus the feeding tube.”

Like many of you, I miss Mort's excellent blog and his contributions to The Elder Storytelling Place, and wish him as swift a recovery as possible. Mort has occasional access to a computer at the rehab and checks his email when he can. You can write to him at

And when you've done that, how did your childhood games compare with those mentioned today?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: The Mother's Day Present


Thanks for the update on Mort, Ronni.

I remember most of those games. My children played them. Not long ago I introduced my 4 and 7 year old granddaughters to - jacks, marbles and pick up sticks. They did not know about these childhood games. At an early age they are introduced to computer and other little technical games that grandma cannot play. It is a different world for children today.

Unlike Ronni's experience, in our neighborhood (Kansas City MO), Kick the Can and Tag games were evenly divided between the sexes. In fact, I don't recall any of the outdoor activities' having been divided into male/female. And everything took place in the middle of our street (a one-block-long, dead-end street).

We also played work-up softball in the middle of the street, or, if our parents played with us, in the long (several city blocks), narrow (one city block) park at the end of our street (bounded on the other side by a streetcar track, beyond which was a goodly-sized cemetary), where we also went to sled when it snowed.

At an earlier age, when we lived next door to the two-room-plus-auditorium school house in a tiny town (Milo MO), where we could gather larger numbers of girls and boys, we played Red Rover and Simon Says.

We’d play kick to kick with the football. I guess that’s the Oz version of your throwing the football to each other (throwing is not permitted in our version of the game).
Play cricket in the street with a garbage can for the wicket.
Hit the tennis ball against a wall. Actually, where I lived there were three (grass) tennis courts across the road where the local kids could play (except for the centre court which was kept for “real” players). Due to the climate we could play tennis most of the year.

I grew up in the Midwest, KC Mo mainly. For a boy, the most common item was a toy weapon. There were the cap guns, of course, but there were also homemade rubberband guns (the rubberbands were launched by a clothespin mounted at the near end of a stick). There were also slingshots which could have tremendous force & could be very accurate. The most popular kid in the neighborhood was one who set up a BB gun shooting range in his garage. We played cowboys & Indians & war a lot. How I turned out anti-gun & anti-war is a total mystery.

We played a game called Sardines in Savannah, Georgia in the late 1950's. One person hid and everyone else looked for that one person. When he or she was found, the person doing the finding joined the hider. After a while one of us would realize that we were the only one still looking and we would find the group all smushed together under an Azalea bush lie a bunch of sardines. This game was played at dusk so you could hide better.

In my northern Wisconsin hometown, we often played a game called "Ante, ante, I over." (no idea if this spelling is right, but the words sounded like this).

We designated two "captains" from whatever collection of boys and girls was present. The captains alternated selections of teammates. One team took up positions on each side of a garage with a v-shaped roof.

One team's captain yelled "Ante, ante, I over" and bounced a tennis ball on the roof to send it skipping over to the other side. It had to bounce on both sides of the roof to count. The opponents tried to catch the ball before it hit the ground. They got the ball to serve if they caught it or the server had misfired; the other team scored a point if neither of those things happened.

I mentioned this game to a group of a dozen elders in Michigan when we got on the topic during a meeting. Not a soul had ever heard of it.

Anybody here remember playing the game? We played it a lot in the 1940s.

Like Gabby, we played "Ante, Ante I Over" on the garage at my home in Wisconsin. I will have to check with my Michigan friends to see if they remember it. We also played all of the games previously mentioned. In the summer time when the street lights came on it was our signal to call it a day.

How about one called, "Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam, May I Cross Your Border?" One person was Uncle Sam. The rest of the kids stood on one side of the "border"--the memory that's floating up is that we used the one-block, dead-end street I grew up on for the border. The kids chanted "Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam, May I Cross Your Border?" Uncle Sam would say, "Not unless you're wearing the color...GREEN" (or blue, or red, or pink, or whatever). The kids wearing it could run across the border. What I remember most vividly is pulling at the waistband of our pants to check the color of our underwear! I have no idea of winning or losing this game; I think we just did it til we got tired of it.

We played "Red Light, Green Light," too. One kid would be the leader, with his back to the rest of the kids. The idea was to chant "Green light, green light, green light, RED LIGHT!" and, on RED LIGHT, spin around to catch anybody moving. That person had to go back to the starting line. If somebody made it past the leader during the "green light" part of the game, he or she "won" and got to be leader.

This was in South Buffalo (NY) in the 1950s and early '60s.

I played most of those games, had forgotten about jacks. I used to go to a park called Peninsula in Portland and my cousins and I would play hide and seek at night in the rose garden there. Can you imagine letting your children do that today in any big city park with only their moms sitting on a lighted park bench to watch for trouble?

I had never thought about the fact that I don't see my grandchildren playing any of them although they are not playing computer games either. I guess it's a new world of ideas even for children. (I still have my can of marbles.)

Thank you so much for the update on Mort. I miss his blog, too. I am happy that he is in a warmer climate and that should help him recover faster. That bone spur in his throat sounds terrible. I will write him and wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks for the e-mail address.

We played hide and seek often; both genders joined in. Hop Scotch and Jacks were favorites of the girls while the boys played marbles. 'Tag, you're it' was a boy and girl game.

It's too bad that today's generation sit in front of a computer screen all day to play games. No wonder childhood obesity is a major problem.

Growing up in South Philly a half ball was game was always going on. They would cut a "pimple ball" in half and take the mop handle from Mom's cleaning cabinet as the bat. My favorite was "Dead Box". It required particular skill using a beer cap. We would draw a box in chalk in the street or pavement and the skull and cross bones was in the middle. Each person had their own brand of cap and you would shot, similar to marbles, for corner points or sides, but you would lose if you landed in the "Dead Box". I always remember that game because you could play against the boys. Those were the days....we just didn't know it.

At my school in Toronto, we played allies (marbles). We had a special variation, based on the lines in the concrete of the school yard, kids would sit with allies on the ground between their legs and call out, "three allies from the first!" or "a purie/biggie from the second!" or any of a myriad variations on the theme, the numbers referring to how many lines back you had to shoot from. It was like a huge bazaar every spring and fall in the school yard. Until some kid would go up the fire escape on the side of the school and dump a big bag of allies into the yard below, thereby causing a riot and subsequently causing the school principal to ban allies for the rest of the season.

We would lug all sorts of crap (yes, mom, I'll now confess to where your old steel pressure cooker went) to back pastures and build forts. It's a wonder we didn't die of snakebite, we would have been at least an hour from an adult to help. We have pretty elaborate construction! Equal play between boys and girls, small town and there weren't that many of us to play.

Luckily, we were never stupid enough to try to start a campfire.

We would also fling dried up cowchips like frizbees, usually at each other LOL.

Thanks for the update on Mort. "instantaneous acceleration" - was he driving a Toyota?

When I was a child I played marbles with a friend who was so clean she washed her marbles after the game.

To this day she is a fuss budget and neat as a pin.

Jump Rope and cat's cradle with string here. G reports that they didn't have a lot of neighborhood games growing up in Lahore. They flew kits, played soccer, and played with clay. He doesn't remember playing games in the compound.

Good to have news about Mort. I really miss his writing very much.

Childhood games in Reno were hide-and- seek, hopscotch, jacks, marbles (for the boys), Mother may I. But I mostly remember playing with my cats!

In addition to most of the above, how about Red Rover, or Statue? We played those in the small town in WV where I grew up. We also had Snipe Hunting. Anybody ever been conned into going Snipe Hunting? And we played tag in the city cemetary after dark, when we could get away with it. This was pre-TV, so we had to find loads of things to keep us occupied. Played lots of Monopoly on rainy days, too.

We played stando against the school wall with a rock hard rubber ball. We were fascinated with Davy Crockett paraphernalia. I had a set of plastic cowboys, horses, barns. We made up stories in the sandboxes behind our houses.

Scrub, or pickup baseball was another after school activity. My bro loved throwing "sucker balls" that the batter would miss, then the fight was on.

We took off for the golf course, found golf balls, stripped them, hit them with baseball bats, slid down the golf course hills on mom's white enamel cookie sheet.

Man that thing could fly.

We tied an empty wallet with fine fishing line, stretched it behind some trees and watched people try to pick up the wallet, but we yanked on the string and laughed.

We were little hooligans.



Does anyone from the New England area remember the game "Swedish" We hit a ball against a wall and counted 1, then hit the ball,clapped twice and counted 2, then hit the ball underhanded with the heel of the hand and did it 3 times, etc. Each time we advanced we had some other action to do such as putting your hands together and hitting the ball with the tips of your fingers, or throwing it around your waist or under your leg. Very creative and still challenging.

GAMES I REMEMBER from the 50's - Red Rover; Simon Sez (Eng. & Hebrew); Hop Scotch; Red Light; Jacks; Hide and Seek; Giant Steps; Catch; Old Maid, Fish; Checkers; Playing School.


I grew up in Chicago in the 60's and early 70's and we played a game called Dr. Rhody. All I remember was it was sort of like Red Rover and we would sing ..."Here comes Dr. Rhody, Rhody, ......ratsie, tatsie, t, i,o..and the other side would reply, "What are you coomin' here for, here for here for?".......I cannot find this game ANYWHERE!!! I have been googling and asking people and noone seems to know the game. Please help!!!!

I was raised in Connecticut and played Swedish all the time. I remember it as you describe it Sheilahalet , hitting a ball against the wall of the projects where I grew up. We played it all the time. The ball we used was a large one, not a tennis ball size. I cannot recall all the steps, but I think it went up to 10. I remember one was we threw it up and had to twirl around and catch the ball before it hit the ground. Another we hit it with a closed fist palm up. When you were successful and moved on to the next number you had to start from one and get them all again. So the early numbers were always repeated as you moved forward to the next number. Such a shame all of these great games will be gone with our generation.

does anyone remember a game, I greww up in Brooklyn, that if you didn't have a ball you would use a cut off tip of a brrmstick and have it lean against trhe curb. The idea was to hit the peg so that it would go straight up then hit that with the remening broomstick.Does it have a name.My relatives thinks I'm nuts.

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