Monday, November 5, 2012

Red Light, Green Light

“Let’s start a game of ‘Red Light, Green Light’ ”suggests Hagar the Horrible in a recent comic strip.

My favorite Viking and his sidekick are stuck at the edge of a cliff as Hagar says this with their luck running out.

Rushing toward them are troops in armor and with shields. The forward thrust of the lances show the determined intent to stop in their tracks the norsemen arriving onshore or taking a hasty departure after one of their perennial raids.

Until Hagar calls “green light ” (by which time he’d be in his boat and sail set) the medieval defenders of the town have to stand stock still according to the rules of this old children’s game.

Hagar may be on to something. Perhaps warfare would be tamed if played as “Red Light, Green Light.” Perhaps uncivil actions could be transformed if turned into a children’s game.

The mutual agreement would be that you can’t proceed on “red light.” While you wait for “green light” you may decide how silly it is to continue.

There’d be time to realize, “What was I thinking of?" It may be possible the world can be saved by the light. For that we may have Hagar to thank.

It delighted me to see Hagar’s words. “Red Light, Green Light” comes right out of my past.

Although the name of this children’s game has been out of my mind for years it’s a game we played when young. It feels good to have the name back.

“Red Light, Green Light” makes me think of other games played through the early school years.

You forget over time how much of childhood is spent in the exuberance of games played out together. Being reminded puts you back there again.

“Red Light, Green Light” at my school was played on the playing field. It was wide open space where you could run, an important element of this game.

One person, designated as “it,” stands at one end of the field. The others line up on the other side.

“It” person calls “green light” which signals the kids to run forward. When the command changes to “red light” anyone who is still moving has to go back to the start line.

This is the basic premise of the game acquired by Googling it.

I don’t recall the particulars to "Red Light, Green Light" except how much I liked the game. 

At that age it’s everything to be fast and stealthy and totally absorbed in the spirit of play.

There was another running game we played. This game had teams. I don’t remember the name of the game. There was a pile of sticks, or maybe just one stick, at one or both ends of the field.

Players lined up on both sides. It was the job of the two teams to appropriate the stick(s) and bring them back to their side.

Of this game I remember crisp fall days. The sense of the game – the running and the required stealth – gladdened me. I was a good student academically but, equally, any break from my desk was a treat.

Pom-pom pullaway also went along team lines. "It" person (the games allowed everyone a chance to be “it”) stands in the middle of the play field and calls "Pom pom pullaway.”

The players, which are the whole classroom, run from one end of the play area to the other through the middle where “it” waits to tag them. If tagged, you stay in the middle to help tag the others.

Red Rover was another game we enjoyed. This game had the thrill of your name being called out.

The game has two teams of players. They stand across from each other with the play field in between.

The first team links hands and calls "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Sharon (or Linda or Debra or John) over."

The person called has to run to the other side. The point is to break through the chain of hands. If unable to do so the player joins the team. If the chain is successfully broken the first team loses a player to the second team.

The internet, as mentioned, is of great assistance in filling out the gaps. While I can recall parts of the play the game instructions are online.

“Mad as a Hornet,” posted on this site in November 2009 (and  included in the 2010 online book One Awesome Year), is the story of the school playground and the joy of recess.

“Anti-Over” was given considerable detail in this story. This game, which requires two teams, a ball and a roof, was a favorite recess game of mine.

We pronounced it “Anti-I-Over.” It was a shout tossed to the wind as the ball was hurled over the roofline to the team on the other side.

In the summer, with no teachers guiding recess play, we did very fine on our own.

In our big backyard, and at a distance from glass windows, we played a lot of kickball. It was a game fitted for the wide range of ages we were.

We developed very strong feet as the soft beach ball came in fast and the ball was kicked barefoot into the playing field. 

We also liked running games like those listed above. We ran barefoot all summer long.

“Duck Duck Gray Duck” and “Captain May I” were played in the summer when there was a small group of us.

“Duck Duck Gray Duck” was dandy when there were little ones, such as when company came and we had a hand in keeping them busy.

Players in this game form a circle facing inward. We stooped down which you can do when young and knees bend easily. 

Heads were tucked in slightly. We must have resembled drooping daisy petals to the person who was “it.”

“It” person walked outside the circle lightly tapping each head. When this player called “Duck Duck Gray Duck and tapped a head simultaneously a new “it” person had been found.

This person had to tag the first “it” person who meanwhile was racing around the circle to try to dive into the spot made empty by the newest "it" person.

Our long wide sidewalk was used for “Captain May I.” The Captain (usually one of the older kids) sat on the steps in a commanding degree of separation from us lined up at the far end of the concrete walk.

The game starts by the Captain calling one of our names and telling us the kind of steps we’re to take to progress up the sidewalk.

Truth be told, this wasn’t my best game. It started out exciting. You execute the baby steps, or giant steps, or frog hops or bunny jumps you’re bade to take. Maybe two or three such steps, leaps or hops at one turn!

You see yourself even with the Captain in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

The Captain, however, doesn't intend to end the game too quickly. Backward steps are directives that bail him out. You can’t go forward if you have to go back. That’s a serious flaw to advancement right there.

The Captain has the power to revoke the privilege of steps granted you. "Captain, May I?” you have to ask before you move. The captain usually replies “Yes, you may,” but can also respond with “No, you may not. ” 

If you forget to ask permission shame on you. Your turn is lost through your own carelessness. That's a sting as you watch two fancy dance steps being taken by the next person.

In the fall, as the days turned and it grew cold, our play came inside. Homework in the elementary grades was uncommon then. We didn't watch any afternoon TV.

After-school chores out of the way there was time for games or other activities. These were almost always done as a group.

We played Old Maid and other card games (game after game we played on Sunday afternoons or at other free times). We played anagrams and pick-up sticks.

Pick-up sticks is a game of colored wood sticks. The sticks were dropped from a height onto the living room carpet to land in a loose pile.

The goal was to remove a stick from the pile without disturbing the rest of the heap. The object is to pick up the most sticks.

As I recall, as we removed our first stick, we could use it as a lever to additionally extract sticks from the pile.

One couldn’t use hands to pick up sticks. If you disturbed the pile while removing a stick your turn was over.

This was an enjoyable game but now I consider those sharp wooden points dropped randomly on the floor, and the danger of sharp points all around, and wonder what games back then would now be regarded safe.

“Hide the Thimble” was very popular as a winter game for a long while.

Perhaps I’m remembering only a winter or two but it was everything while it was being played. It made afternoons between school and supper pass pleasantly.

A variation of “Hide the Thimble” was played at school for classroom parties, such as on Valentine’s Day, and at birthday parties. It must have been a commonly played game in those years.

At home we used Mom’s sewing thimble for the game. One of us hid it while the others closed their eyes.

“You’re getting warm” or “Cold, getting colder,” made with shivering motions to denote how far off course we remained, were the only clues given in our search.

Sometimes we were completely baffled as we checked out another corner, or shelf or under the table. "Tell us if we're warmer" we asked as we moved to a new area.

It was pleasing for the hider to hear this. It showed the ingenuity of the hiding place. 

“I spy” was the victorious cry when the thimble was discovered. Mom was patient as we tumbled all around her and this must have been a welcome shout. The game was over.

“Hide the Thimble” and all the games we knew got us quickly and happily involved. We were busy within our play and thought each game was the best game in the world.

Ro Giencke –November 5, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment