If you grew up in the 1950’s or 1960’s, were you an indoor kid or an outdoor kid? When outside, what activity did you participate in most often? I recently asked these questions of 34 baby boomers, by and large. Some of the respondents answered directly and succinctly, giving just one answer. I got more than I bargained for, however, when people responded with lists, and some e-mailed paragraphs, describing their favorite activities in detail. What the heck are “Roly Poly Hit the Bat,” “Poison Beam,” and “Huck a Buck how many fingers up on top of the big brown mailbox?” I guess I led a sheltered childhood.
The overwhelming majority of respondents were outdoor kids. The most common answer to my second question was bike riding. Nearly half of boomers surveyed named bike riding above all other activities, with a few others naming it as a secondary activity. The next most common answer among both boys and girls was various sports, mainly wiffle ball, softball, baseball, and kickball.
I was pleasantly surprised at the number of girls who named those sports as their favorite childhood pastime. In my old neighborhood, my best girlfriend and I were the only ones who wanted to play those games with the boys. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, those spirited girls who enjoyed getting down and dirty on a ball field would be labeled “tomboys.” Today it would take a lot more than interest in wiffle ball and kickball to be labeled a tomboy.
I would like to think that when I was a child, I was a bit of sugar and spice sprinkled with a dose of snips and snails. I had a cherished baby doll collection, including Betsy Wetsy and a large doll named Gloria, my favorite inanimate friend in all the world, whom I slept with for years. I played house and school with those dolls. I played jacks, jumped rope, and roller skated with the one-size fits all metal roller skates with a key.
On those same days, you might see me catching grasshoppers or navigating little toy cars in a “ghost town” beneath the hedges. To keep up with the boys in my “anything you can do, I can do, too” mentality, I could be found jumping off the road (7 or 8 feet) into a dirt pile in the creek. I put just as much enthusiasm into playing wiffle ball and kickball as I did with dressing Betsy McCall in her stylish paper outfits or making potholders on my loom.
Exhibit A: Here is a photo of my sister Shirley and me playing dress-up in our parents’ bedroom circa 1959. Shirley is on the left and I am on the right. Sugar and spice and everything nice. Click to enlarge, and you will see that the bruises all over my legs give me away.
The third and fourth most common activities among the 34 participants in my survey were playing jacks and jumping rope. Sorry, boys, you were woefully outnumbered. So, this is where you might want to take a hike. Go play mumbly pegs or play war with your green plastic army men while we girls take a trip back to my neighborhood circa 1960. I mean it, boys; you won’t be interested. Do you really want to play onesies and twosies? I haven’t sent you packing yet? Okay, how about this:
“Down in the meadow where the green grass grows,
There sat Nancy as sweet as a rose.
She sang, she sang, she sang so sweet,
Along came Johnny and kissed her on the cheek.
How many kisses did she get?”
1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . ”
Have I convinced you yet? See you later, alligators. Afterwhile, crocodiles. Yakkety yak; don’t come back. Just kidding. You can come back after we girls have our day out.
In my right hand is an unopened vintage double ball and jack set that I found for the low low price of 17 cents at a thrift store on senior citizen 50% off day. I have added it to my 50’s and 60’s memorabilia collection.
In my left hand are five of my own metal jacks from my childhood. I wonder what happened to the other five.
Today you can buy plastic jacks, but I don’t remember ever seeing them in the 50’s or 60’s.
So, girls, wanna come on over to my house for a lively game of jacks? Let’s play outside. We need a hard, level surface, of course, so the red ball will bounce properly and the metal jacks will be easy to pick up. Let’s play on my front porch. You want some Jujubes?
To decide who plays first, we’ll all take turns “flipping” the jacks. Put all ten jacks in your cupped hands, throw them into the air, and then flip your hands over and catch as many jacks as you can with the backs of your hands. In that position, toss the jacks in the air again, turn your hands over, and catch as many of them as you can with your cupped hands. The player who catches the most jacks at the end of this process starts the game. Of course, as an alternative, you can always determine who goes first with the old standard: “Eeny, meenie, miny, moe.”
You probably remember that you begin the game by tossing all ten jacks, scattering them onto the playing surface. Time for “onesies!” If you need a refresher course on how to play, read more at The Play and Playground Encyclopedia.
Uh, oh, it’s starting to rain. Come inside my house, and I’ll show you where my sisters and I play the game indoors. Playing jacks won’t work on a soft surface, so we have to play on the hardwood floor between the living room and dining room rugs. You know what I discovered playing jacks on the hardwood floor? If you put your eye right up to the slim crack between the floor boards, you can see down into the basement. Girlfriends, we can spy on my brothers down there!
Want another Jujubee? Red, yellow, purple, or green?
When we’re done with the customary game of jacks, we can play a different game with them. Give them a good spin and watch them twirl and twirl around like ballerinas. The last one left spinning is the winner. Plastic jacks do a poor imitation of the eminent metal twirlers. Watch my demonstration here.
Now, if any of you boys are still reading, and you think that playing jacks is a cinch that any lamebrain can master and, therefore, beneath your dignity, check out this obviously seasoned veteran and see if you want to challenge her to a duel of jacks. (Note: This is not my mother, but the mother of the girl who videotaped.)
I have to eat lunch now, girls. Bring your jump ropes when you come back, and we can practice our Double Dutch . . . . Yeah, Frannie, I’ll bring some more Jujubes if you bring your candy cigarettes.
Hey, boys! You wanna jump rope with us after lunch?
“Cinderella dressed in yella
went downtown to meet a fella.
On the way her girdle busted.
How many people were disgusted?”
10, 20, 30, 40 . . .”
Well, whatd’ya say, boys? No? How come?
Huh! I bet those boys wouldn’t turn down my Jujubes!
Do you remember jacks, jump ropes, and Jujubes?
For more on jumping rope, read my post Jumping Rope: Endangered Species Like Kick the Can?.
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.