• MJ Rodriguez

Oh The Games We Played

My parents were fun parents, and as we were growing up, we laughed a lot.  We still do when we get together, which is not often enough. We always sat around the table and ate together as a family, and since there were so many of us (11 out of 12 were home at one time), our large table was full.  After the blessing was said, we shared stories from our day or any other topic that happened to arise.  Dad had a great sense of humor and loved to play and have fun with us.  Mom was funny as well, and they always enjoyed a good laugh with their kids.

When the older kids married and had families of their own, we went about once a year on outings or a mini vacation to a nearby river for a camping trip.  Over a campfire, we cooked fish we caught and cleaned, fried potatoes and Jonnie cakes or biscuits baked over coals in an iron skillet.  The menu usually included vegetables from our garden such as corn on the cob, tomatoes, cucumbers and whatever happened to be ready to pick at the time.  We slept under the stars on the ground or in the back of the pickup truck on old quilts and blankets Mom had packed. Sometimes we made what we called Kabobs.  In foil we wrapped browned ground beef, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash, added a chunk of real butter, salt and pepper and cooked it over live coals from the campfire.  Each of us could add whatever vegetables we liked, and in a short while, we each had a delicious, nutritious meal.

We loved to play in the water, and one favorite place we went was a small river where the water was waist and chest deep for a ways up the river.  The water was cold, and we would float watermelons in the edge of the river under the trees that shaded the water.  Then we would play—on tire inter-tubes, beach balls and anything else we could find to use for water toys.  Later, we cut and ate cold watermelon as we wrapped in towels and warmed up in a sunny spot on the bank. The river was great for fishing, and we enjoyed catching and frying the fish we caught.

Because of the size of our family, we had few store-bought toys with which to play, so we made our own toys and games.  A favorite game was walking on stilts.  We made these out of straight saplings which we cut from the woods. We fastened a small piece of wood a few feet up the sapling for our feet.  Balancing on a fence or the side of the house, we mounted our stilts and walked around the yard and up and down the road.  The higher up we mounted the foot rests, the more challenging it was to keep our balance and walk around.

We also enjoyed the board and ring game.  On a flat narrow board or stick, we fastened a board crossway that was about a foot long.  We would toss a ring which was approximately a foot or more in diameter on the ground to start it rolling, and we kept it rolling by pushing it with the tool we had created. Races and contests made the game fun, and we spent hours playing with our toys.

Since I was raised in the middle of seven boys, one favorite game was cowboys and Indians.  The hilly woods around our house was perfect for hideouts and shoot-outs, and we kept in shape easily as we ran over the hills and through the trees.  We also swam in the creek that wound around through our neighbors’ land and ours.  Across from our house, a red sand bank rose beside the creek, and we spent hours playing there.  Some games we played were somewhat dangerous and were stopped when our parents found out about them.  A small bridge crossed the creek just up the road from our house, and at one time, a sapling grew from the creek bed so that the top reached just a little above the bridge and just a few feet from it.  We would jump from the bridge, grab the top of the sapling on the way down, and swing to the creek bed.  I guess no one missed the tree, because none of us were hurt doing this.  Another time a cable had been hung from a limb so that it swung just above a bridge on the gravel road.  We would jump up, grab the cable and swing out over the creek which was far enough that we would have been injured had we fallen.

One time we housed Shetland ponies for a man who wanted the boys to break the horses. The boys rode those ponies all over the hills, teaching them to scoot under fences so they could take them anywhere.  Once they brought a live rattlesnake home in a toe sack on the back of a pony. They put the snake in a dresser drawer upstairs in their bedroom while they worked to build a cage for it.  Mom heard them hammering and investigated, and immediately the snake was removed from the house.  Another time the older boys had the youngest one to climb a tree so they could cut it down with him.  He rode the tree to the ground and had skins and bruises from head to foot when he landed.

We worked hard and played hard, and my childhood was filled with laughter and fun.  Being poor was probably a blessing in disguise for us, because we learned to be creative and imaginative.  We have lots of stories to share with our children and grandchildren.  Live was good for us, with plenty of good times helped us endure the hard times we sometimes encountered.

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