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Childhood Games and Mort Reichek

Posted Mar 26 2010 2:35am

In a recent email, Australian Peter Tibbles, who writes the Sunday Elder Music column on this blog, recounted some of the games he played as a kid, noting not only the universality of them, but the differences from country to country and even city to city within countries. I suspect there were differences from neighborhood to neighborhood too.

Peter mentioned Kick the Can and Hide and Seek. The name of the latter, in Australia, was shortened to Hidey and It was He down under, although it sounds odd to me think of a kid yelling, “You're He.” “Also universal,” wrote Peter, “was the way the kid sped up the count towards the end.”

“Then there was Hopscotch (that’s Hoppy to us – nothing to do with the cowboy),” Peter continued. “Marbles of course (for some reason called allies – pronounced as the plural of alley)...We didn’t 'skip rope,' we played skippy.”

We played all these games in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, with the American names Peter references and I'd forgotten we always sped up the Hide and Seek count toward the end just as Peter and his friends did. Marbles was just Marbles in my neck of the woods, but a particular kind of marble was called an alley.

More boys played Marbles and Kick the Can than girls, and few boys joined the games Mother May I, Simon Says and Hopscotch which they considered too “girlie.”

Most fascinating to me in Peter's note was description of the Australian version of Jacks which they called Knuckle Bones:

”This is because where I was in the country, it was always played with the knuckle bones of sheep. Later they had plastic versions. Not for us the wimpy American version with a rubber ball. We threw one of the bones in the air, did whatever and had to catch the bone before it hit the ground.”

Wow. I'm pretty sure we would have proved Peter's “wimpy” point by finding real bones too creepy to touch.

In his email, Peter made the distinction between these “kids' own games” and “big games” like tennis, baseball, football and cricket, but Mort Reichek, who blogs at Octogenarian , contributed a wonderful post to The Elder Storytelling Place early last year about New York City street games he played in the 1930s and '40s.

Stickball was his version of baseball, played with a broom handle and Spaldeen, sewer grates marked off as the bases.

Mort and his friends also played street versions of football and basketball altering the rules considerably to suit the confines of his block near the Grand Concourse in The Bronx. I consider these a sort of hybrid of Peter's “kids' own games” and “big games.” You can read Mort's story here .

While I am writing about Mort, I want to bring you up to date. Last October he suffered a terrible auto accident involving “instantaneous acceleration” in his driveway in New Jersey resulting in at least two back surgeries and many months of rehab which is now continuing in Florida. In a recent email, Mort told me,

“I am indeed now in a Florida rehab/long-term care facility. Quite a difference from what we used to call 'old folks homes'...I am making progress on the walking front. Unfortunately, little on my other problems. I am still on a feeding tube and and still plagued by bladder and bowel issues.

“During operations to rebuild my spine, a small bone spur was evidently pushed into my throat. It blocks passage of food and water and thus the feeding tube.”

Like many of you, I miss Mort's excellent blog and his contributions to The Elder Storytelling Place, and wish him as swift a recovery as possible. Mort has occasional access to a computer at the rehab and checks his email when he can. You can write to him at

And when you've done that, how did your childhood games compare with those mentioned today?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: The Mother's Day Present

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