Thursday, April 24, 2014
SLOW SUMMER DAYS - CROQUET, BADMINTON & HORSESHOES
It's been a long time since I've played croquet. It's pretty passe', now, I'd guess, although if one noses around on the internet it's possible to find some hard-core croquet players still wielding those mallets.
When I was a kid, my family was lucky enough to move into a house in 1945 that not only had not only a big back yard but also a big side yard AND a vacant lot next door. We also lived in a town where lots of our relatives lived too, and at least during most of the year, Sundays would find a whole bunch of "us" playing some kind of a game outside.
Children were not the reason our folks bought the various games. To be honest with you, my sister was a poor loser in anything and it was just easier to let the adults play and the kids watch. When the adults were finished, there usually was a row over picking out the color of the mallet and ball you wanted to play with, and then there was often an argument at every wicket about "not being fair" .... the only way a game could be be played without tearing your hair out is if my sister got to win every hole. As I said, she was a poor loser and a great tantrum thrower, so these games didn't last very long.
But while we kids were entertaining ourselves in the back yard, my mother and all her sisters were playing a game of badminton on the side yard. Dad strung up the badminton net from the side of the house to a tall post set in a tire on the other side of the yard. The women who weren't "up" sat in folding chairs at the side of the game and refereed and gossiped, I imagine, until their turn at badminton came up, and when it did they tried their best to hit the daylights out of that "bird," the term they used for the "shuttlecock."
All the while my dad and the brothers-in-law would be playing horseshoes in the vacant lot, which my dad also owned. Most of the time it didn't take very long before us kids gave up on croquet and came out to watch the men throwing those horseshoes. We didn't care about badminton, but we sure liked horseshoes. If we waited long enough, we always got to try our hand at trying to throw a "ringer" - but of course our tossing line had to be moved up very close to the stake, because those horseshoes were H-E-A-V-Y for us little girls.
When the afternoon games were over, the family always sat around in the backyard cooking off with bottles of beer, and lemonade for us kids.
My mom had a big family: Uncle Sam and Aunt Marie (her sister), Uncle Bert and Aunt Betty (her brother), Uncle Hugh and Aunt Betty (her brother), Aunt Margie, her sister, and then there was my Uncle Bill, (really not an uncle but my dad's best friend.) Often times my dad ended up either barbecuing dinner outside for everyone, or he made a big pancake dinner for everyone.
Dad was a good and willing cook. His own dad died when he was 8. His mom had to take a full-time job, and his older sister was studying for nursing school, so often dad was the one who put some food on the table in the evening. He dropped out of school in 8th grade and his first job was at a restaurant. Then later on he did some mining in California - and since he enjoyed cooking and mother didn't, he took over whenever company came. In those days pancakes were made from scratch - that is, no pancake mix or Bisquick existed yet. His pancakes were to die for, and he had the pleasure of remembering, even when he was in his 90s, of how much everyone in the family relished his big pancake suppers.
The family also quite often had poker parties on Saturday night, maybe once a month. The babies would be put down to bed in one of the bedrooms. The dining room table is where the group sat, and my sis and I would sit on the floor at the end of that table and nearest to the bedrooms so we could hear if any little tykes needed attention. We understood that poker was an adult game (the chips in our family were pennies.) But we listened to what was going on and devised our own game that we called REKOP, which was "Poker" backwards. Sitting down on the floor, we managed to get through our own game without our parents being any the wiser (or so we thought.)
About the time I turned 14 or so, my dad had an outdoor patio built out in the corner of the back yard. He did it so that Ginnie Lou and I would be able to bring our friends to our house for fun, instead of going out somewhere. The patio, however, took a chunk out of our croquet course. Eventually dad built a triplex on the vacant lot; a fence was put in which meant the horseshoes went by the wayside, and TV inside replaced the games on the outside. My dad and his pancakes were the one constant as our society left the "old times" and moved into "the age of TV." My cousin Shirlee and I are the last ones left who remember those "old times" and we agree that we were really lucky to have experienced that tiny snippit of life that was full of croquet mallets, balls, shuttlecocks, and horseshoes.