Thursday, March 17, 2016

Play, Now and Then

Playtime is important, and not just for children. But aschildren there is often LOTS of playtime. At least that has been true for my family for a few generations. Those of us raised in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries at least. Before then everyone in the family had to work on the farm to make it work for the family to survive. But even then, children were known to play, even if the adults had little time for it.

I don't know much about my great-grandmother's [Angeline Hutchinson] playtime. I know she helped on the farm and went to school whenever the weather permitted them to make the trip to the one-room school house. . She said it was hard to get a school teacher and when they did he seldom lasted the whole term.Her father taught them the rest of the term. They had few toys. Her mother [Lucinda Tatman] made rag dolls for her and her sister and her father Isaiah made cradles. And they each had a china doll. They were taught to sew the clothing for their dolls. And their father made them each a sled to use on the many hills around them in Vinton County.

 I know even less about my grandmother Lucinda's playtime. I know she and her family always lived and worked on farms in Vinton and Madison Counties. Their father worked at sawmills that would frequently move to areas that still had plentiful trees, which meant that the family moved frequently. So I imagine that their siblings were their most constant playmates. I know that she went to school in a one-room schoolhouse. I would guess she had rag dolls like her mom had had. And they played tag at home and at school But there were always chores to be done first and they were very poor. She always loved school, worked hard, and managed to go to Teacher's College in Athens for nearly two years to get a certificate. Then she taught in one-room schools around Madison County.

My mom [Mary Elizabeth "Betty] and her sisters lived in town in Columbus, so they didn't have farm chores. They had household chores, though. They played jacks, marbles, hopscotch, jump rope, sidewalk skates, Red Rover, Run-Sheepy-Run*, Mother May I, London Bridge, Tisket-a-tasket, and leg races. They managed to play outdoors a lot with the neighborhood kids. Their favorite places to play were the three vacant lots across from their house. 

One summer they helped themselves to a couple of garage doors from the houses being built nearby, dug a big hole for a cave, placed the doors on top for a roof. They sometimes had a fire and roasted potatoes, apples, or anything else they could bring from home. They climbed trees, built forts, climbed around inside houses under construction - until one of the neighbor kids broke an arm when she fell from a rafter.

She said they walked all over town, as they had no car and couldn't afford the streetcar. They went swimming in a "swimming hole" called Yellow Banks on Sunbury Road, until their mom found out and forbade it. They didn't know how to swim and it was know for its under current. 

My mom said she had a several dolls, getting a new one each year for Christmas, and she loved sewing clothes for them and playing house with them. They had games to play in the house, checkers and Parcheesi. I don't think she ever had a stuffed toy until she had kids of her own.They made their own scooters with a couple 2' x4's and the wheels from a pair of old roller skates.  

When I was little I always had dolls and my mom would sometimes make clothes for them. The Christmas I was three years old I got the doll I named Mary. She was bigger than my other dolls. I still have her and she wears one of the baby dresses made for my cousin and worn by my older brother, as he wore mostly hand-me-downs from his female cousin. My dad made a cradle for her. I still have that too.

I had a big black and white teddy bear that I had for a long time. And when I was about six I got a metal doll house that had furniture in it. My mom had crocheted rugs and bedspreads for it and I spent many hours playing house. We lived in a two-story frame house on Sullivant Avenue on the west end of Columbus. It had a big front west-facing porch across the front of it and a rose trellis against part of it to give it shade. So it was a great place to play on summer afternoons. My little girlfriends and I would take our dolls and play house for hours there.

In the back yard my dad had built a large sandbox under a grape arbor on the front of our garage. It was another favorite place to play. I loved the cool damp clay on bare feet on hot days. We built roads and tunnels and buildings and ran toy cars around in it.

In the evenings all the neighborhood kids would play on the front sidewalks and front yards. We played hopscotch, jump rope, Blind Man's Bluff, tag, hide and seek. I remember us standing in the yard and turning ourselves around and around until we were dizzy and then throwing ourselves in the grass and watching the sky go round and round. We were only allowed to go to either end of our block. And when the street lights came on it was time to go in.

I was probably about nine when I got a bicycle. I wasn't allowed to ride it far, but it was really a thrill to make the wind blow my hair. We'd use a clothespin to fasten a playing card to the bike so the spokes would make a noise when we rode. 

Sometimes after dark my mom, my brother and I would play table games. We played checkers, Chinese checkers, Parcheesi, and, when I got older, we played Monopoly. We also played Canasta, Go Fish, Rummy, and War. Sometimes my brother Jim and I would have a game of War last for days. We'd each take our stack of cards to our bedroom at night so the other one couldn't steal any cards.

We seldom went to movies and we didn't get a television until I was six or seven. I remember going down the street to a friend's house to watch Howdy Doody. I don't remember ever going to a restaurant until I was probably eight or nine and we drove to Colorado. We didn't eat out otherwise unless you count eating with family on Sundays or holidays. My mom got a car when I was about ten and we'd often take Sunday drives and pack a lunch. Unlike today, travelling didn't include many restaurants or even hotels along the roads. We were lucky to find a gas station for a restroom stop.

My childhood was much different from my ancestors. While we didn't have much money, we managed with what we had and our lives were less physically taxing. My dad was in and out of our family and often gambled his paycheck before he got home. So it was hard on my mom. She finally went to work full time when I was nine, which gave us some financial security. But as a child I didn't understand about all that and resented her being away from home so much of the time. In reality, we wouldn't have survived without her working.

Now kids play on computers and don't spend enough time outdoors. I see kids and adults almost everywhere looking down at cell phones or hand-held gaming devices. The kids spend lots of time on digital games rather than board games, yard games, or even on playgrounds. We used to see and hear kids running around outside playing chase or hide and seek. I am grateful, though, that many still play baseball and other sports outside. And many families have swing sets in their yards. I just hope the children are getting enough fresh air and exercise so we don't end up with a generation of dull-eyed, flaccid people.

Through the generations the games and playtime have evolved while staying essentially the same. I'll bet you have played at least one or two of these activities yourself. What's your favorite childhood playtime memory? What do you see children in your neighborhood playing? Would you share it here?

*Find out how to play run-sheep-run at


  1. Never knew you went to Colorado as a child. Why? I loved the sandbox we had at the Manor! Or should I say "sand tire"? Big truck tires are perfect for that sort of thing. I also loved that giant tree at the street end of the "1" building that we could sit under and watch the cars go by.
    Loving the stories! Keep 'em coming!

  2. My girls have always said our "poor days" were the best of their lives. I think it's pretty relative--if you don't have a lot to start with, you don't miss it!

    I don't have a lot of memories from when I was little or even prior to my surgeries. But I do remember that Aunt Shirley had a box of blocks in a closet. I always liked building toys like Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys. I also remember a tall doll house and using Spic-n-Span to "mop" the floors of it. I still love the smell of that cleaner.