Games We Played Growing Up In Somerville by Arthur Moore

By Arthur Moore

Another from my brother Richard. Games we played

Ok so someone please tell me where the terms ring-alerio or my ghouls 1-2-3 came from. Also, just why were those little metal thingies called Jacks? Wouldn’t bobs or stars have fit better? Who came up with the name hop scotch? I understand the hopping part of it but I don’t remember any Scotch being involved, unless the parents played a different version after the kids went to bed. I can see it now. Oops, you fell down now you got to drink another shot.

1-2-3 red light. Now that’s self explanatory. And jump rope. Again easy to figure that one out. Even the card games that ran well into the warm summer nights, Whist? Where did that come from? Was there ever a word in any language called whist and someone said, “Yeah! What a great name for a card game!” Let’s face it; even the word poker makes no sense and ante, huh? Ante? Hmmm, but then again it’s easier to say than “card game with lots of money in the middle”. While we are at it, let’s talk about cribbage. Who sat down with a board and drilled a bunch of holes and said if you can add up to 15 you get points for it? Were people that stupid that it became a way to teach them to count? It’s my job to question everything I guess. I figure instead of yo-yo, I would use Bob, again; after all it does bob up and down.

With all that being said I gotta tell you, sorry girls, but you had a pretty boring time of it compared to us boys. You had Barbie’s and ummm that was pretty much it. We boys had balloons in the spokes of our bikes or baseball cards held on the spokes with clothespins. Nothing was cooler than a dozen of us making a racket with those bikes and pretending to be a pack of Hell’s Angels. We were very good at pretending. Every Saturday morning a bunch of us, usually me, Ricky and Kenny Courtney, Anthony Borgasano, Billy and Mikey Fahey, Kevin Whelan, and any other neighborhood stragglers, would go down to the abandoned J.C. Marsh coal company and play army. For those who don’t remember, J.C Marsh Coal Company was open when we first got to Park Street. But I guess the end was in sight as very few people were still using coal; about the only one I ever heard of was the Whelan’s. I did see a few dump trucks come from there with coal in them but it didn’t last long. The building itself was a huge old wooden barn-type thing that was probably 40 feet tall and hundreds of feet long with bays and stalls inside that were still loaded with coal and a large yard surrounded the building with the railroad tracks behind it. It was a great place for us to play and use as for a fort when we were the cavalry or the soldiers attacking the Germans. Armed with sticks or broomsticks that were suppose to be guns, we played for hours and I mean hours in this old building. As I said there were mountains of coal still there and huge open rafters. There were old offices in the front of the building with doors long since missing. As we played the game, for some strange reason everyone there seemed to be named Joe, go figure. Any one of us would be drilled by machine guns probably getting hit some 50 odd times and yet be cured by “Doc” in a matter of seconds. You say you got blown up by a grenade? A few fake stitches and you are good to go again. We would climb up on the rafters and jump down into the coal free-falling some 15 or 20 feet…well maybe it was less but then again we were smaller so it seemed farther. Many hours were spent there and, of course, we would head home black as the ace of spades, to coin a phrase. Our clothes, skin, and shoes were completely black and upon arrival at the house the parents would not be amused. “Were you down at the coal company?” “Nope, not me”. I imagine my tongue was as black as the rest of me from that little lie. I remember Anthony’s mother grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and dragging him into the house all the while whacking him on the back of the head. After the usual balling out and clean up and the lecture on how dangerous it was blah, blah, blah, we would meet up and tell stories of how great it was. And who knows what next Saturday morning would bring!

Let’s see, there was curb ball, stick ball, pimple ball and in the winter there was building forts in the snow and sledding either down the street where the Carr School was, or best of all, the Greek church on Central street because there was no traffic there except during church. It was a long winding driveway and a steep downhill. Evidently, the Greek priests weren’t fond of sledding and threw us out on many occasions. The Carr school thing was a little dangerous because there were side streets and cars could interrupt the activities or you could take your chances. More than once I sledded under the front bumper of a car going through the intersection, the nerve of that guy! Another favorite that became the rage was skateboarding. I became pretty adept at it and did rather well…right up until we did the obstacle course. It was a series of bricks that we placed at regular intervals maybe 15 or 20 feet apart, and I would weave back and forth through this ob-stack-ill course (in southern speak). One day I made a fabulous run through all eleven bricks, unfortunately there were twelve. I hit the last one doing about 25 or 30 mph and went down. Now you must understand that it is very manly to wear as little protection as possible while doing this. Then again there were no helmets or pads available anyway, just skateboards. So I hit this last brick and on my way to the ground which came rather abruptly, I thought, “This is really gonna hurt”. And it did. I have no idea of how many feet I slid but it was a long way. I also have no idea how much skin I left on that hot tar street but I ‘m sure Mass. General could have put a burn victim back together with it. That was the end of my skateboarding days. It took a long time for that road rash to heal.

There were other fun games that weren’t dangerous that we played…take lawn darts or jarts or whatever they were called. What could possibly go wrong with throwing a foot long object with a steel point toward each other? You put a ring on the ground probably 18 inches in diameter and used horseshoe rules applied to the game. Sling the dart 40 feet or so toward the ring and try not to hit Kenny in the eye; sometimes it worked and other times…well…it would heal over time just like my road rash did.

Shooting paper clips at each other; one day someone shot a paper clip at a car on Park Street and for the life of me I don’t remember who did it. Any way it was summer and the guy had his window open and didn’t it get him right in the head. He came out of the car and chased us all over the place. Man was I scared. Ahhh good times.

Slingshots, bb guns, firecrackers, and other safe toys were readily available. One of the best was the dreaded bow and arrow with the suction cup on the end which for some amazing reason always seemed to come off just as you were gonna shoot someone in the forehead. Somehow we made it through all this with occasional bumps and bruises. Nowadays you get a warning label not to eat a 24-inch rubber ball in English and Spanish…wusssies!!!

We played kickball in the basketball court at Conway Park. First you had to buck up, which meant throwing fingers on the count of three and calling out odds or evens as to the total amount of fingers from both captains. There an argument would ensue as to whether or not someone threw late or whether there was a half of a finger involved, and it went downhill from there. Someone would kick the ball and get a base hit. Then that person may have gotten tripped or accidently knocked down or gotten tagged out with a tremendous hit to his or her face with the ball which could have been avoided, but definitely not as much fun. The game never seemed to last nine innings. It usually ended with an actual fight breaking out and most of the time the Courtney’s, for some reason, were in the middle of it. “I tagged you out.” “No you didn’t.” “Yes I did.” “No you didn’t”…game over.

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