I was reading a blog about neighborhoods, children, and the outdoor games they used to play, and I had an amazing flood of memories dump out of somewhere. When I was a child my father was a farmer, so we were country folk. Not a lot of neighbors and almost no kids my age around with which to play. But when I was in the first grade, we moved to “town”. That would be the community near our farm that had all of 50 people in it. A fairly stable town, I’d say. Ten years later the population was 55. So, obviously, everybody knew everybody else.
Our house was right at the edge of the town. If I walked out our front door, I had the whole community at my feet. But no matter where I went, you can bet that somebody knew where I was and what I was doing because my mother often gave me a full report when I got home.
I had one really good friend (what they now call a BFF), and he was a year older than me. I was a bit shy when on my own, but through him, I played with various ages of kids, both younger and older. We’d run around the neighborhood (which was everything on the “good” side of the railroad tracks), playing a complicated game of team tag or team hide-and-seek. As we got older we’d play the same games while we rode our bicycles through the streets, cutting across yards and hiding behind outhouses converted to tool sheds.
But the game I remember most vividly was called “Annie-Annie Over”. You had two teams, one on each side of a house, and you threw the ball back and forth across the roof while yelling “Annie-Annie Over”. Although I remember playing the game, I don’t remember all of the rules. Thank goodness for the Internet:
You call out Annie-Annie Over and throw the ball over the building to the kids on the other side. If they catch the ball they can sneak around the building and throw the ball at you or catch you and tag you. You have to keep an eye open for them coming and beat them to the other side of the building. If you make it then that is your side but if you are tagged then you are on their side. There can be an even number of kids on each side to start with. When there are three-four kids on a side they can split up and some go each way and then you don’t know who has the ball. If the ball is not caught then they can wait a moment to try and fool you and then holler out Annie-Annie Over and throw the ball back. If the ball doesn’t go over the building, the throwers can yell ‘Pigtail!’, and then try to throw it again. The ball must be caught in order to run around the building after you. When the last kid on a team is tagged then that team wins.
The way we played it, the ball had to bounce off the roof to be a valid throw. (That kept big kids from throwing the ball into the next county, I guess.) Also, the ball had to be caught before hitting the ground. The game was played on the honor system. Because nobody had yard lights and the town didn’t have street lights, we’d play until it was so dark that no one caught the ball anymore. Then the game just kind of ended. There were no winners or losers, although we all knew who was good at it and who wasn’t. I believe this was the first “team” sport I ever played. And probably the most fun.
Whenever I wanted solitude, which was often, I walked out the back door. In that direction there was nothing but farmland and pasture for miles and miles. Trees lined the many creeks that ran though the countryside. It was 50 miles to Dallas (the nearest big city) and you could walk the whole way there and never come out from under the shade of trees. It wasn’t a magnificent forest — it was mostly trash trees (shrub oaks, Bois d’arc, Cottonwood, etc.), but to me they were Sherwood. They’re all gone now, of course — the price of “progress”. But as a kid I loved to walk under the trees and just be.
There was a “swimming hole” at a wide spot in a creek. It was only a couple of feet deep, but that was enough for us to play in. Some older kids hung a rope from a tree limb just to make it more dangerous. Sometimes we’d build a fort or a club house — we had no idea that we were “trespassing” on private property. And no one ever yelled at us for it.
When I got older, I learned to hunt in those same woods. Later, when I came back from the war, that’s where I learned to not hunt as well…