Recently my husband and I ate dinner in a restaurant at which a young boy and a man that I assumed to be his grandfather were also eating. The man and boy were seated at a table next to ours. The boy entered the dining room with his head lowered and with his eyes and fingers locked onto some kind of electronic game. He scooted into his chair and spoke his order to the waiter without taking his eyes from his game. I did not watch the boy constantly as I ate, but in the times that I looked his way, I never once saw him stop playing the game or make eye contact with his grandfather, who tried to engage him in a conversation.
When I was a little girl, there were no electronic games. My siblings and I had to entertain ourselves in other ways. Some of those ways might seem boring and even foolish to today’s kids, but they kept us out of our mom’s way and actually seemed like fun at the time. We did not play any games at the dinner table, either at home or on the rare outing to a restaurant for a meal.
I suppose that every little girl of my generation played with paper dolls. These were usually bought in a book form. The dolls were on the cardboard cover of the book and had to be cut out. Their clothes, hats, shoes, purses, etc. were printed on the pages inside the book and also had to be cut out. Each clothing and accessory item had paper tabs that bent to the back side of the paper dolls in order to keep them in place. This toy was entertaining enough but eventually the tabs got torn off of the clothes, and the dolls’ heads bent forward and had to be stabilized by having a popsicle stick taped to the back.
Most of the time when my sister and I played paper dolls, we cut them from our mom’s Sears, Montgomery Ward, or Alden catalogs. In fact, on the day that a new catalog came in the mail, my sister and I sat down and “marked” our dolls. Pam put a “P” next to the dolls she chose and I put a “D” next to mine. Once the catalog was out of date, we proceeded to cut out our dolls and play with them.
At Christmas time Pam and I played a fun matching game using the Christmas cards our family received in the mail. Mom used Scotch tape to fasten every card to the facings of the doorway between our living room and dining room. We usually received 50 or more cards so they eventually stretched across the top and down both sides of the extra-wide doorway. After we had gotten 10 or so cards, Pam and I challenged each other to a memory game. Using a fly swatter as a pointer, she or I tapped the front of one of the displayed cards. The other sister had to state the name of the person(s) who had sent the card. We never tired of this game, which grew more challenging on an almost daily basis, and we became whizzes at matching cards to their senders. Scoff if you wish, but it was fun.
Another matching game that we played required the use of Mom’s spice drawer and a blindfold. One sister opened up tiny, metal cans of McCormick’s spices, held them to the nose of the blindfolded sister, and she identified the spices. Now that’s entertainment! To this day I am not likely to add cinnamon to a recipe when I intend to add ginger. My nose alerts me to the mistake instantly.
When we had enough kids for group games, we played Ante-Over, Red Rover, Hide-and-Seek, and an improvised game called “Bouquet.” In this game, all participants except one claimed a “chair” in the yard. The chair was usually an overturned bucket, a big tree root, or a particular clump of clover in one general area of the yard. (We had a yard, not a lawn.) The player who was “It” stood in front of all the seated players and told a long, made-up story. At some unexpected time in the story, “It” interjected the word “bouquet.” That was the signal for all players, including “It,” to find a new chair. Whoever failed to find a chair was the next one to be “It” and play continued. Yes, I know this game sounds a lot like Musical Chairs, but we weren’t allowed to take real chairs or the record player outside so we worked with what we had.
We also played endless games of Mumblety-Peg, which involved a knife. We used one of Mom’s duller paring knives and of course the younger kids were not allowed to play. We often played Flying Dutchman, Simon Says, and Mother, May I? We were forbidden from playing more games of Blind Man’s Bluff after a blindfolded boy walked into a tree and bloodied his nose. In addition, we skipped rope while singing rhymes such as “Sally’s in the Cellar Wishing for Her Feller” and “Cinderella Dressed in Yella.” We also hula-hooped, played hopscotch and rode bent-over saplings as horses. After a rain we mounded moist sand around our bare feet and built “frog houses.” We girls put on fashion shows. Stepping grandly across the concrete banisters of our front porch, we modeled elegant, “pretend” evening gowns and pointed out specific features such as spaghetti straps, empire waistlines and ruffled hems.
Kids I played with were rarely bored and rarely clean. We argued over rules but usually managed to work out our differences without biting, hitting, or pulling hair. Many of the games we played had not cost our parents one red cent and none of them required the use of a plug-in or batteries. Kids today can have their PlayStations, X-Boxes and DS-es. I doubt that any child today has more fun than I had playing the games I have described above. I will make one more observation. Whatever game I was playing, I stopped playing it and gave my full attention to any adult who spoke to me.