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about me children competition cooperation family fighting fun games memory violence

Childhood Games

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Somewhere in the middle of the last century when children played outside with little or no adult supervision, my brothers and sisters and I played a variety of games whose origins I have forgotten. Here for posterity I will recall and explain them as best I can.

The earliest game I played with my older sister, Marsha, is one I don’t even remember. It became family legend, though, because of how Marsha described what we were doing. I was maybe 2 or 3 years old, and Marsha was a year and a half older. We had an imaginary playmate we called James John Willum. We had recently been to a cookout that my mom and dad called a weeny roast. A few days later while Mom was doing dishes she noticed Marsha and me carrying armloads of sticks and dead leaves past the kitchen window. Wondering what we were up to and perhaps fearing we were making a mess, she came outside and saw us holding sticks over a pile of brush. She asked what we were doing, and Marsha replied, “We’re weesting roanies with James John Willium.”

Like many children in the early sixties, we had tricycles. Perhaps unlike most children, however, we did not merely ride them. Sometimes we flipped them over and used the pedals to spin the wheel as fast as we could. Somehow, this activity led to imagining that we were making ice cream. We would hold an imaginary cone close to the spinning wheel to collect the ice cream and then hand it to a playmate who would carefully lick it, checking for drips as they did so. I never heard of anyone else turning a tricycle into an ice cream maker, but we did.

As our family grew, we added games that required forming teams. Two of our favorite games were Red Rover and Lemonade. I don’t recall ever learning these games. They were not games we played at school as far as I can remember. Our parents may have started them with us. I don’t know.

For Red Rover, there were two teams. One team would hold hands and form a line facing the other team. Then they would call out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send [name] right over.” The named person would then run headlong into the line and try to break through it. If they managed to break through, they could select one of the opposing team members to join their team. If not, they had to join the opposing team themselves. Play would continue until everyone was too tired to keep it up, it got too dark, or we were called in to supper. There was never a clear winner, and, despite the inherent violence of the game, few injuries. Each team had a captain who would advise other players where the weakest point in the opposing line was or whose name they should call. If two smaller kids were holding hands and saw a bigger kid barreling down on them, they would offer very little resistance. Nobody wanted to get hurt, and nobody wanted to let anyone get hurt.

The other team game was Lemonade. It was a kind of combination of charades and tag. Two teams faced each other. The first team would decide on a profession to mime, then they would approach the other team. On seeing them approach, the other team would yell, “What’s your trade?” To which the first team would respond, “Lemonade.” Then the second team would say, “Go to work and show your profession1We might have used a different word. My memory of this is hazy..”

The first team would begin miming the profession they had chosen while the other team would yell out guesses. As soon as someone yelled out the correct guess, the whole first team would run away with the other team in hot pursuit. Anyone tagged before they reached the predetermined safe boundary would have to join the other team. Then play would begin again with the other team becoming the first team.

As with Red Rover, there was usually no clear winner, although sometimes the game would end with only one team. I can imagine adults would have found it highly entertaining to see children miming occupations such as bus driver or postal carrier, to say nothing of accountant or project manager.

One game I played with my brother Mark, I will call Ketchup Wars. I’m not sure how it started. Mark was always good at miming or playing a part. I’ve written before about how good he was at dying. He was also good at throwing gobs of ketchup. We always started small, with just a dollop of ketchup, maybe less than a teaspoon. He would toss it to me, and I would catch it and throw it back. With each pass the amount of ketchup would grow until we were lobbing huge masses of the stuff and getting splattered from head to toe with imaginary ketchup. I would throw a baseball-sized gob, and he would catch it like a baseball catcher with his hand in front of his chest. He would stagger backwards a step from the impact, and return the throw with imaginary ketchup that was now the size of a bowling ball. We played until the ketchup grew to such a quantity neither of us could lift it any more.

When I think back, I realize that most of the games we played required no equipment of any kind. Sure, it was a bonus playing Good Guys and Bad Guys with soft pellet guns. There was never any argument about whether or where you had been shot. But when we didn’t have guns, we just used our fingers and had just as much fun. Most of the games were more about cooperating in imagining a world rather than competing for some prize or achieving a goal. Fun was the goal, and we had plenty of it.

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about me quick thoughts

When the Way In is the Way Out

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When I was a little bitty dude growing up in Ohio, I was very inquisitive. I asked lots of questions, and my mom answered most of them. One day while we were out driving somewhere, I saw a sign that said “No Outlet.”

“What does ‘No Outlet’ mean?” I asked.

“It means there’s no place to plug in your coffee pot,” she responded.

My mom and dad both laughed and then explained that it meant the same thing as “Dead End.” From then on whenever any of us saw a “No Outlet” sign, someone was sure to comment, “No place to plug in your coffee pot.” It became a standing joke.

That was more than 50 years ago.

I got to thinking that if “Dead End” and “No Outlet” were really interchangeable, then one would surely have supplanted the other over those 50 years. It stands to reason that if they mean the same thing, one must be newer or somehow more preferred than the other. It would slowly but inexorably overtake the older, less preferred sign. Personally, I favored “No Outlet” as the more preferred sign. It seemed newer and less likely to remind drivers of death.

After 50 years, however, I still see both signs. Sometimes there’s a “Dead End” sign, and sometimes there’s a “No Outlet” sign. This led me to reflect that the signs must differ in some way. Maybe the signs have different applications depending on the circumstances or environment.

In fact, a quick search turned up just such a difference encoded in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a publication used by street and road engineers to decide what kind of signs and traffic control devices to use for various situations. According to the Manual, the DEAD END sign may be used at the entrance of a single road or street that terminates in a dead end or cul-de-sac, while the NO OUTLET sign may be used at the entrance to a road or road network from which there is no other exit. So, technically, the “No Outlet” sign has wider applicability, since it could always replace a “Dead End” sign. But the “Dead End” sign could not always replace a “No Outlet” sign since it always applies to a single road.

Dead end implies the possibility of a living end, which also formed a phrase from my childhood. When Mom encountered some surprising innovation, she might say, “Well, ain’t that the living end.” It was on par with, “What will they think of next” or even just, “Wow!” I suppose most roads lead to a living end, but only a few lead to dead ends. That tends to give one a fairly positive outlook on the universe. Even if you make a wrong turn, you can turn back and get out the same way you got in. You can change direction and be fairly certain of reaching a living end instead of a dead end.

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about me footwear

Shoes

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When I was a kid, I got new shoes once a year at the end of August. My parents would pack us all into the station wagon and head to the shoe store where our feet would be measured for new shoes. Since we were growing children, and the shoes had to last—hopefully—a year, I always got shoes that were too big, with room to grow. Occasionally, when my parents had more cash, I would also get a pair of dress shoes for special occasions, but they were a risky investment when I was growing fast, so I didn’t get them until the pace of my growth had slowed. So I sometimes had two pairs of shoes: one for everyday use and another for dress-up occasions.

Now I have seven pairs of shoes, each with its own purpose. I have summer work shoes, comfortable and lightweight. I have winter work boots, heavy and warm. I have hiking boots for traipsing over rough trails in the Minnesota wilds and mesh walking shoes for urban rambles or paved trails. I have an old pair of work shoes for projects that might damage my shoes. I have a pair of dress shoes that I will use any excuse not to wear because they are uncomfortable. And finally I have a pair of slip-on house shoes for wearing in the house. I might have more shoes than my wife.

As a child I often went barefoot in summer. The soles of my feet grew callused and tough, and I could walk on gravel without discomfort. Now I wear shoes nearly all the time unless I am in the shower or in bed. My feet are tender and require coddling, so I pamper them.

It’s odd to me that as I have aged, I value comfort more at a time when I experience more pain that seems to have no specific cause. As a child, pain was always immediate and specific. Once it was addressed I forgot about it. I can still forget about pain, but if I think about it, I realize it hasn’t subsided. Pain forms more of the background of my life than it once did.

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