Tuesday, July 09, 2013
P is for Playing
All of us come into this world playing and continue to do so for the rest of our lives. Babies play with their toes and their daddies’ ears; toddlers play with toys and their grandmas’ whatnots; children play with their friends—hopscotch, dodge ball, red rover (I know these are old fashioned); teenagers play hooky and chicken and steal-the-boyfriend; adults play all sorts of “games” to capture their sweethearts and to advance themselves in the work world. The two types of play that are surfacing in my mind this morning, though, are two that I haven’t mentioned and are coming to me from my childhood. Both games were important in developing me into the person I am today at the tender age of 73.
In my neighborhood in New Orleans, a WWII housing project, we children didn’t have many toys. I always had dolls, and during the war, I had plastic airplanes that we played with, bombing the Japs (I know that’s politically incorrect, but that’s what we called them), but I don’t remember many other toys. Oh, yes, I heard on the radio once about a cardboard farm set that I could order, probably for a dollar or so, and I did just that. But I forgot to include the dollar. I received it anyway. That was surely “back in the day,” wasn’t it? After school, we skated and rode bikes on the sidewalks in our neighborhood, and on Saturdays we played in new-mown grass and on a jungle gym in the big, shared backyard. We also played all of the previously mentioned games—hopscotch, dodge ball, red rover—but the ones that I remember best are house and school.
I loved it when Donny Lockwood played house with us girls because he could be the daddy. If he didn’t play, I had to be the daddy because I was the tallest. How I hated that! Just because I was tall didn’t mean I had to be a boy. Sometimes we played with dolls for the babies, but sometimes we just let the youngest or smallest child be the baby. She would coo and gurgle just like a real baby, and we loved that. We prepared meals the way our mothers did, using leaves and flowers and dirt for the ingredients. The “garbage” flowers and leaves were the best because they were the biggest. I have no idea as to what these flowers and leaves really were; they were just the ones planted around our garbage area, a fence-in square where the garbage cans were located. The plants did their best to hide what was really there. We mimicked our parents when we talked to each other, with the daddy pitching his or her voice very low and authoritatively. Whoever was the mother had a high voice and always told the daddy what had gone on around the house while he was off at work. In the same manner, the daddy would report on what he had done at the office. He probably had the same job that his daddy had. Occasionally, while we were playing house, we’d stop for a while to use our spoons or little shovels to try to dig to China because we were convinced that if we dug down deep enough, we’d see Chinamen down in the hole. Inevitably during our playtime, we’d use the expression “Let’s plike,” being interpreted “Let’s play like.” We little Southerners didn’t do too well with some words. We loved playing house and could stay at it for hours. In the evenings in the summer, we’d play slinging statues and catch lightning bugs until our parents called us in for bath and bedtime.
We played house both inside and outside our homes, but the next game was played inside because we’d never heard of a school being outside. That’s right . . . we played school. And guess who was almost always the teacher! You got it . . . Sandy. This was probably the only game in which I was really pushy. I was the tallest, so I could be the teacher. This was one time that I didn’t resent being picked for something because of my height. Children back then didn’t have many books of their own. I really don’t know why. Maybe parents expected their kids to get books from the library. I did that, but I also had some books of my own. I wish I still had those books because inside each one of them I’d see a subject written: arithmetic (we never called it math or mathematics), reading, trigonometry (I read that word in a book one time and thought it sounded interesting . . . had a real ring to it), composition, history, and probably some others. I was a hard taskmaster of a teacher and made the students stay focused on what we were doing. My little wooden easel chalkboard with the alphabet at the top made my schoolroom look real . . . at least to me.
These two games have stayed in my mind through all of these years because both helped me to think about the future at a very young age. I knew that certain things were done in a family and certain things weren’t from playing house. The daddy was the leader of the household; the mother prepared dinner and took care of the children. Sounds old fashioned, doesn’t it? It is, but for me, it still applies today. Early on I found myself at the front of the classroom, giving instructions to children, teaching them what I knew best. I must admit that even back then, we spent more time on spelling and reading and writing than we did on arithmetic. Just a little foreshadowing, I guess.
We had a great time in our project. Games were important in our lives, and we played them to the hilt!