‘Red Rover, Red Rover let Charlene come over’
Willis Webb
What sort of games do young people—from ages 10-22—play these days? Besides ones that involve a computer or a hand-held wireless device.

They would probably get a big laugh from the games their grandparents played, particularly at social events.

In the 1940s, social events usually meant something outdoors called “yard parties.”

Yard parties, particularly at a rural home, were held in the evenings and involved ever y family within 10 or so miles of the party site. Everyone was considered a neighbor and invited to the shindig.

Most old-fashioned yard parties I attended as a youngster were at my grandmother’s house, which was typical of rural farm homes of that day.

Preparation involved cleaning the yard. Her yard was grassless, that’s right, just dirt.

The yard was fenced to keep out livestock and, hopefully on party day, poultry. The fence was what was then called chicken wire.

Grandchildren were assigned the task of “sweeping” the yard. There were brooms that resembled a section of a tumbleweed with all the stems tied together to allow for handling, then the bushy end was perhaps 18-24 inches wide.

You swept the dirt yard clean of all loose objects and debris.

Then, the fence had to be checked to make sure there were no openings that would allow chickens or small varmints to squeeze through, particularly not after the yard had been swept. No surprise steps for guests was the rule.

Guests could sit in a few chairs and benches on either porch or, more likely, they just sat on the porch’s floor, legs and feet hanging over the edge. Mostly, adults stood around the yard and visited.

Everyone enjoyed the “watermelon cutting” and the homemade, hand-cranked ice cream. If you were lucky, there were fresh peaches sliced to put in the ice cream.

In a true Bible Belt home, the only beverages available were water, iced tea and the forerunner of Kool-Aid, something called “polly pop.”

If it was not a church-going home, there might be a jug of white lightening in the barn or the cistern for those menfolk hankering to indulge. But, it was done out of the sight of the children and womenfolk.

Once the children got past all the above, there were games to be played. Usually there was Red Rover, hop scotch, post office and spin the bottle.

Red Rover involved two teams and the smart team captain chose the strongest and burliest of children. There was a method of seeing which team formed the line and which team sent individuals running to try to break the line.

Those in the line clasped hands and held tight as the “running” team would send an individual charging at the line to try to break through.

A team could keep running as long as they were breaking through. The “receiving” team lost a player each time the other team broke through.

The receiving team tried to have an advantage through the game rule of being able to call out whomever they wanted to run at them from the other team: “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Jimmy (or, more likely, Charlene) come over.” The person called had to run at the other team’s line and break through.

Usually, adults ended the game if a child was hurt and/or cried.

Post office and spin the bottle were the preferred games of “couples” because it could mean getting to walk around the house holding hands with someone of the opposite sex. Or, gasp!, a command to kiss, yuk!, some girl you didn’t “like.”

Maturity and hormonal changes sure altered a lot of feelings about post office and spin the bottle. But, that’s one of those subjects for another day.

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2010-12-02 digital edition

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