The Old Paths: The games people play

“Summertime….and the livin’ is easy.” That’s what I thought when I was a kid. I didn’t care much that the fish were jumping or the cotton was high—just that school was out and a long vacation lay before me like the yellow brick road through the glistening Land of Oz.

Yes, there were tobacco fields awaiting my sweat and toil, but that didn’t dim my view of that glorious season which was bursting with promises of waterskiing at Belews Lake, weekend softball at DeHart Field, bookmobile visits every Thursday, homemade ice cream at Grandma Bray’s, the annual 4-H trip to Carowinds and oh so much more. Nearly every exciting opportunity involved hanging out with other kids.

And hanging out with kids inevitably meant playing games; kids and games go together like peanut butter and jelly—a very pleasant combination. I often feel sad that my own children probably won’t experience the joy of physically interactive games the way I did. Their games usually involve a TV screen and a PlayStation, a computer monitor and a gaming website, a handheld device and game cartridges.

Their games rely on technology, electricity/batteries and mental activity; our games relied on imagination and physical activity. Their games are often played indoors—ours, outdoors. Their games usually involve only themselves and maybe another person—ours, a large group of children.

Who remembers “Red Rover”? “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Leslie right over!” I hated it when they called my name early on because that meant the opposing team of kids holding hands probably thought I was too teeny to be able to break through the line. So I’d look for the two adjoining people who appeared to be weaker than other parts of the chain, and I’d run full-speed toward their clasped hands.

If the hands parted due to my not-so-brute force, then I could choose one of those two links in the now-broken chain to go back “home” with me to my team. If I was unable to break through the linked hands, my punishment was to become part of that “enemy” team.

It was just as bad when my team called for somebody to come running from the other side, because very often, they would make a beeline for me. Does anybody else remember the pain of wrenched arms when a big kid would try to crash through your link in the chain? OUCH! I don’t care that children have been playing Red Rover since the 1700’s; I never saw the charm of it.

But the youthful fellowship was fun nonetheless—more fun when we played games like “Mother, May I?” Oh, how I loved it when “Mother” would tell me to take five giant steps and then tell my rival to only take three baby steps. There were bunny hops, ballerina leaps, steps backward, some kind of twirl, something with the name “butterfly” in it and any other steps you cared to make up.

Didn’t you love it when one of your opponents could not advance because they forgot to ask, “Mother, may I?” when “Mother” gave the command? Then while you were still gloating, “Mother” would tell you to take three jumping jack steps toward her and you’d take off in such excitement that you, too, would forget to ask permission and have to stay put.

Truthfully, I always thought this game was a bit biased. Since “Mother” (boy or girl) called the shots with steps, “she” could always play favorites to make sure “her” best friend reached “her” first and got to be “Mother.” It was a bit fairer if “Mother” faced the opposite direction while issuing commands more randomly.

One of the games I loved most was “Freeze Tag.” It was so much more strategic than plain old “Tag,” although both were fun. Oh, the joyful memories of running through the yard with my friends at night while our parents sat on the porch talking! We darted here and there, freezing immediately when tagged by whoever was “It,” waiting in agonizing motionlessness until a friend touched us to unfreeze us so we could run again. Poor old “It” had to freeze everybody to win, which was tough to do. So sometimes we made a rule that whoever was frozen three times first was “It.”

Another cool game that involved “freezing” was “Swinging Statues.” Whoever was “It” would swing us round and round in a circle—as if he/she were the sun and we were revolving planets—and when “It” released us, we had to freeze into whatever position we landed. The first person to break their pose once everyone was frozen into statue form was “It”—the swinger of statues. Remember how funny it was to see everyone in crazy poses?

I could go on and on with memories of childhood games—from “Rolly Bat” to “Red Light, Green Light” to “Hide and Seek.” Many of you readers can sigh nostalgically with me and reminisce about warm summer nights, catching lightning bugs and putting them into pop bottles, hearing the relatives laugh and talk in those old crisscross-webbed lawn chairs while Uncle So-and-So strummed the guitar.

But my kids and maybe yours will never know the joy of those bygone days. While directing a weekly Bible school at my church, I have noticed that many of today’s kids AND adults can’t take the evening heat or the inevitable bug bites. Somehow I can’t recall us complaining as we sweated through Freeze Tag and swatted “skeeters.” Grandpa and Grandma Bray didn’t hurry indoors as twilight fell—probably because it was hotter in the unairconditioned house than under the old oaks.

But in this modern era, it’s easier to sit on a comfy couch in a climate-controlled house, eyes on a screen, free from mosquitos and gnats. I still say we’ve lost something precious for the sake of comfort. We’ve traded literal games for virtual games, lightning bugs for lightning cables, lawn chairs for easy chairs, face-to-face chatting for Facebook chatting.

“Oh, the games people play now, every night and every day now…” The times, they are a-changin’, and so are the games. I think I’d like to go back to the old paths for a while. “Mother, may I?” “Ready or not, here I come!”

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

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