Last time we visited, I mentioned we were playing a lot of Cribbage to pass the time while we were hunkered down. That got me to thinking about what we used to do to pass time in the days before T.V. and the internet. Most of us grew up in that atmosphere either because of age or location (some both).
During my growing-up years my parents were young. I was the oldest of only three, then, and we lived on a farm several miles from town with no really close neighbors. Basically the same situation as most of my friends. We were glad to go to school to get a little camaraderie, but equally as glad to get home each day for a little respite from being socially acceptable for six or seven hours.
We did jigsaw puzzles and read a lot. My parents were both voracious readers. Remember this was before T.V. And Mom read to us kids every night before bed so reading was a built in source of entertainment and comfort. Even after I could read to myself, I enjoyed sitting on the couch beside Mom as she read to us. When she was reading a book for my younger siblings, the sound of her voice lulled me before bed and the familiar words assured me all was right with the world. Much like “Finding Nemo” or “Toy Story” on DVD for the 100th time.
Of course, most of the time, we, as kids, were busy with our chores, homework, general play and just being kids, but sometimes weather, boredom, or parental influence created the need for family entertainment. Christmas vacation, extended snow days, inclement weather during the summer might foster the need for ‘something to do’ and we would pull out the games or puzzles.
My dad really liked games. Mom not so much, although she was a vicious card player, and competed to the utmost with whomever her opponent was. However, she had a soft spot for the kids and didn’t necessarily play to win with us. Dad was all out no matter who the opponent. Once we knew the rules and had played a few ‘practice’ rounds, it was full out search and destroy with him. So of course the goal was always ‘beat dad’. Not until I watched him play a down and dirty game of Rummy with one of his grandkids and the grandkid won did I realize (discover) that he won only often enough to keep the kid playing his best, and the kid won enough to think he was beating grandpa.
We played lots of card games: Old Maid, Rummy, Authors, and of course Cribbage. Dominoes on occasion (My grandmother liked Dominoes) and a few board games. One called Pollyanna was similar to Parcheesi, a pursuit game around a board using markers and dice. The premise is simple but it could turn into a real battle when siblings were the opponents. Dad resurrected an old card table and made the top a Pollyanna board. My parents had it into their retirement years, and every so often, even as adults, someone would say “Let’s play Pollyanna” and the battle was on.
My brother liked checkers. I never did, much, but played if I couldn’t talk him into something else. We were pretty even, but he won a lot if only by one king. My Godfather taught us all to play chess, and again Brother was intrigued. I learned enough to play if called on, but never enough to say I know more than the rudimentary rules.
The card games graduated to Pinochle and Hearts as we got older. Canasta was big when it hit the U.S. in the early 1950s. It carried into our days at the Beach Site because it was easy to carry-on after each net pick or boat check. The kids loved it. We were fortunate enough to have another family near us on fish days (They went home on the off days.) and the kids played Canasta endlessly against the “enemy camp.” They still refer to each other in those terms when they meet socially today.
These habits carried into my adult life, and most of my friends also still enjoy a night of cards. Our kids learned games for the same reasons we did: T.V. was not always available in remote areas and they were well into adulthood before the Internet made its appearance.
It’s amazing what a deck of cards or a set of dice can teach a young person. We learned to count, to match sets, to take turns, to sequence, to have patience. We also learned to interact with other people, that there is only one winner (and it might not be you), to partner and sometimes you have to depend on someone else to carry the ball. Maybe instead of a smart phone, every kid these days should have a deck of cards in their pocket.
Virginia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Virginia Walters, For the Peninsula Clarion