Games We Used to Play

This journal entry from 1996 sure brought back memories. My older son is now a captain in the Army, and my younger son is a scientist on a research trip to Antarctica, and I am very glad I took the time to play games with my kids when they were young. If I had only known then how fast those years would go, I would have played even more!

From December 1996

This Christmas, my younger son, who is ten, asked for several board games, which we have been playing on our days off. When I take the time to sit with him at the table for a few minutes and play a game of Yahtzee or Mancala or Catch Phrase and stop worrying about the endless piles of clutter;

When I stop for a moment;

When I decide the dishes in the sink can wait;

When our older son, exasperrated, finally gives in to his insistent younger brother and sits at the table with the family to play guessing games;

When my husband and I give up trying for the time being to find some time for ourselves, to stop looking at the house and these children as just a phase to get through so we can finally be what we think we’d like to be: artists with no responsibility but to our muses;

When we can stop the endless chatter in our heads for a moment, the droning list of have-to’s, ought-to’s, and shoulds playing day and night like elevator music;

When I can choose to be there for my son and stop saying, “just a minute,” “after I do this one thing,” “I’m almost there”;

When I can shut my eyes to the piles of clutter on the counter;

When I can just stop and look at this child, who seems so small in many ways and yet will outgrow me over the next year;

And take the pair of dice in my hands;

Feel their cool sides, their solid weight, the way they knock together in my cupped hands;

When I can focus all my attention on wishing for a certain toss of the die, share my son’s excitement when he rolls to an inside straight, know how important it is to roll the right combination;

Important enough to call certain rolls fair or unfair.

Then I feel a deep satisfaction and a quiet joy, and I am grateful for my son, who does not need to be reminded to play.

While we play, I think about a lot of things. I realize with some surprise that I think real families are supposed to play games together, although I don’t have any memories of that ever happening in my childhood, so I’m not sure where that thought comes from. Certainly, my husband and I have not done much in the way of playing games with our own children, although we try from time to time, like this Christmas.

Games I remember from childhood include Chinese checkers, checkers, parcheesi, dominos, a box of 64 games like Fox and Hens, but I associate those with my brother, not with my parents. I remember playing card games when I got older, including a complicated game called something like Shanghai Rummy, which you played with two decks and a sequence of hands you had to play. (Was that a game someone made up during some war? Where did that name come from?) My mom and dad used to play chess from time to time. Then after my brother learned to play chess, he would challenge dad, and it became a kind of show-down for them. I vaguely remember Monopoly and Life. I can’t imagine my grandparents playing any kind of board or card games, but grandaddy played basketball and football growing up. My older son enjoys live-action role play and computer games but has never cared much for board or card games, except for Magic the Gathering, which he played for several years.

What is it about different kinds of games that makes one kind fun and another not so fun? What purpose do games play? Why do they seem so important?

Games I Used to Play

  • jacks
  • jump rope
  • Strut Miss Lucy
  • Drop the Handkerchief
  • Red Rover
  • Red Light Green Light
  • Chinese jump rope
  • double dutch
  • tiddly winks
  • bingo
  • checkers
  • Chinese checkers
  • parcheesi
  • tic tac toe
  • scrabble
  • Monopoly
  • Old Maid
  • Go Fish
  • Memory
  • Pay Day
  • Life
  • Mouse Trap
  • caroms
  • dominos
  • poker
  • Crazy 8s
  • Uno
  • Wink
  • mancala
  • Yahtzee
  • freeze tag
  • The Price is Right
  • Hi Ho Cherry Oh
  • hide and seek
  • 20 questions
  • alphabet game
  • kick ball
  • duck duck goose
  • marbles

Time to Make Plans for the Holidays

I’m thinking about the holidays again and wondering what we should do for Christmas this year (where to go and what to buy for my family). It might be simpler if we had at least some well-established traditions, but it seems that every year we do something different. Some years we stay home and just take off work Christmas day and New Year’s day, saving our vacation days for later. Some years we travel to visit family out of state. Some years we go to Christmas dinner at a friend’s house in town. Some years we dance all week at Christmas Country Dance School in Berea, Kentucky. Depending on what we decide to do each year, we might put up a tree and lights, or we might not.

My family is so spread out that we have a difficult time getting everyone together—me in Missouri, mom in Kentucky, dad in South Carolina, brother in Florida, niece in Pennsylvania, grandchildren in Colorado, one son in Georgia, and another son in Antarctica (until he returns home to Oregon). The last time we all managed to coordinate our schedules and meet at my mother’s house for Christmas was 2008. Even then, two of the grandchildren couldn’t make it because they were with their father. We have never all made it to my father’s place at the same time.

Time to put our heads together and come up with some plans for Christmas.

We also lack solid traditions concerning gift giving. Our family enjoys exchanging gifts, but we don’t like to shop, and we worry about the commercialism and waste that are rampant this time of year. We tend to be fiscally conservative, and we don’t need a lot of stuff to make us happy. Consequently, the gift exchange can be rather random. You never know what you might get (or what you might end up giving). But you can make some reasonable guesses. Books are a favorite, as are calendars, and hand-made journals. Consumable items (fancy teas or fair-trade coffees or other food items) are common. Anything recyclable or environmentally friendly. Often we give donations to favorite charities in each other’s names. We sometimes make things for each other or re-gift family heirlooms or valued objects. We buy from local authors and get them to sign personalized copies for each other. We purchase hand-crafted jewelry or pottery or fiber from local artisans.

You will almost certainly never get trendy new appliances or electronics from any of us. Our family’s gifts will never make the “top ten” list of hot new items. If you want a Kindle or a Wii or an iGrill or an iPad or an Angry Bird, you’ll have to buy it yourself, not necessarily because we disapprove of such gifts but because we prefer to give surprises. Of course, not everyone enjoys receiving surprises. They prefer to know exactly what they are getting. I’m thinking of my older son, who once asked why we spend money on things that others might not even like. Why not skip the whole gift-giving thing, or just give everyone permission to buy ourselves what we really want? Interesting point. We do occasionally give gift cards, especially to grandchildren, or in years when we are completely overwhelmed and incapable of coming up with a more thoughtful gift.

My ideal presents are based on memories of Christmas as a child. We did not have a lot of money, but we had more than some people, and my parents did what they could to make Christmas special. The best gifts were both beautiful and useful. I don’t remember getting a lot of toys, although I probably did. I do remember getting a new doll every year and some kind of game or toy that I had never seen before, that was a surprise to me, one I hadn’t asked for but was delighted to have. I also remember getting gifts such as pajamas or house shoes or a new outfit that, despite their practical nature, were special in some way, if only because they were not hand-me-downs or home-made, like many of our everyday clothes. Then after the excitement of opening presents and stockings had passed, the gifts that I returned to, the ones that lasted, were the books or the paint-by-number sets or the craft items.

The year I got a Chatty Cathy doll and my brother got a Caspar doll for Christmas

In 2008, the year we all decided to meet at mom’s (the first Christmas after her stroke), we did actually skip the traditional gift-giving portion of the Christmas celebration. Since most of us had to spend quite a lot on travel, and since it had been a stressful year in other ways, we decided to “cancel Christmas,” as mom put it, and just focus on being together as a family. Although it felt strange at first, it did take a lot of pressure off, during a hectic time of year. However, since we couldn’t completely let go of the idea of buying presents for each other, we compromised by drawing names and setting a limit of $20 on each gift. (Of course, some people are more fun to buy for than others.)

We also did a white elephant gift exchange, which confused some people but turned out to be a lot of fun. The hot item was a roll of aluminum foil, which my younger son’s girlfriend (now wife) quickly and miraculously formed into a crown, a sceptor, and a sword, impressing us all with her creativity and spirit of fun. My mom said, “Good thing Sandra got the aluminum foil and not me. I would have just cooked with it.”

All I want for Christmas is a roll of aluminum foil.