By Christine Bollerud
Back when I was a kid, there wasn't that much organized sport for kids. There was football or cheerleading but that meant missing our favorite TV shows, so my brothers and sisters and I never signed up---we had our priorities. That doesn't mean we vegged in front of the TV and didn't go there and play.
During the summer of '71, my brothers, sisters and I practically lived OUT THERE. We had just moved to from the Ft. Bliss Army base in the flat desert of El Paso Texas to the hilly woods that tucked away the Army base of Ft. Leonard Wood in the heart of Missouri.
We really weren't worried about finding someone to play with because there were six of us kids ranging in age from nine to 15. We were an army unto ourselves-- a ready-made team for any game we wanted to play. We played all the traditional games in our front yard: Tag, Freeze Tag, Mother May I, Red Light/Green light, and Red Rover.
We also got creative and invented our own game called Fly Swatter. It was kind of the reverse of tag. One person was the fly and the rest of us were fly swatters. We would chase the fly and try to swat it. It was fun unless you were the fly of course. One of us always swatted too hard and the victim cried to Mom--so we had to stop. The big hill behind our house on this Army post lead straight into the woods which also provided us with games like down hill box racing. After the grass was cut, we would get into our cardboard boxes and slide down that hill.... propelled by the grass, the slant and sometimes a vindictive sibling. I always crashed because I wasn't paying attention-- too busy looking at the forest to see the trees.
One of my favorite games we played was kickball. We played against other kids in the neighborhood---hours and hours of kickball. Mom let us bring our baloney sandwiches and Tupperware tumblers of cherry Kool-Aid outside. We would sit on the curb so there would always be enough kids around for the game to go on.
We usually played until there was a major fight or it was too dark to see the ball--whichever came first. Disagreements were either ignored, or dealt with by compromise---it depended on how much we wanted to play the game. Sometimes conflicts prevented playing altogether. But I never remember an adult being called in to settle the dispute. We were just kids on our own. If there was tension, it faded by the next day--and the game went on.
We had no neat looking uniforms, or oh so necessary parental encouragement. We had no peer jeering or kill-or- be- killed competitiveness-- we just had this game of kick ball---and that was enough.
Everyone got to be pitcher, everyone got to kick, and of course everyone got to run the hell out there to get the ball. I was not the most coordinated person out there but I didn't know it then. I would kick hard and run my heart out-- I really think I could have been athletic, maybe.
That was the last summer I remember my brothers and sisters and I playing together. School soon started. Everyone made new friends and started doing other things.
Somewhere a long the way, I lost my athletic moxy. I think it was playing kick ball at school. At school, we weren't really a team, we were just kids thrown together to take up an hour before lunch. It wasn't about having fun; it was about being picked last for the team, and hearing kids mumble under their breaths "Oh god, Christine's turn. She can't kick. Why does she have to be on our team? We're gonna lose!"
After that I hated playing games. I still don't play even now. Too many rules and possible injury. But sometimes I sit in the stands watching my kids and husband kicking and running and it makes me envy them a little. Sometimes I let myself wonder... maybe... just....maybe--then I go back to reading my book.
Kickball is a part of an essay collection called, "Lies My Brother Told Me And Other Stuff I'm Learning While Growing Up" available at WriteSafe.com. Christine Bollerud lives and writes in San Francisco.
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