My sister, Amy, and I knelt in the damp grass as low to the ground as we could in the darkness, trying to blend in with the bushes at our back. To the right, our brother, Stan, and his friend, Kevin were throwing pine cone missiles toward the dark shapes that voices identified as our other brother, Richard, and his friends. If either group discovered we were trapped in “no man’s land” between them, we’d receive the full force of both sides.
Warm nights, with just the light from street lamps and neighbors’ houses, but plenty of dark corners, are perfect for night games. It’s the lure of anonymity, suspense, being able to out-wit someone, advance and retreat, and sometimes, escape.
Hide ‘n seek is a favorite that has lasted through generations. It has its variations, adapted by individual neighborhoods. I’m intrigued by the simplicity of the language: “It” is the person who hides their eyes. “Who’s ‘it’?” “Jana’s ‘it.’” An alien would think they’d come across an Abbot and Costello conversation such as, “Who’s on first?”
And how many games ended, at the end of the night—when you just can’t find someone—by calling out, “olly, olly oxen free?” Ever wonder where it came from? I did. Where would we be without Wikipedia?:
“It is thought to derive from the phrase ‘All ye, all ye “outs” in free,’ or possibly ‘Calling all the “outs” in free;’ in other words: all who are “out” may come in without penalty. However, this may not be the etymology at all–“Olly olly oxen free” is suspiciously close to the German phrase “Alle, alle auch sind frei,” meaning “everyone, everyone is also free.”
Whose to say the Germans didn’t get it from us?
At the end of our street was the city cemetery. The type with hundred of ancient, massive trees lined up in lanes. It stretched back to the base of a hill where a creek ran. As children we caught minnows and water skippers at the creek and rode our bikes through the avenues the blocked out the granite tombstones by era, and nationality. As we became older, we migrated to the cemetery for night games. I don’t think we ever formalized the rules; we’d just scatter in sets and pairs and then try to find each other. However, instead of tagging, or racing for a home base, we’d follow the other team around like spies until we grew bored and decided to pelt them with pine cones.
And that is where this post began.
One time we were there when someone alerted us that a group of youth had entered the cemetery. We heard them before we saw them. They were huddled together and making their way (with flashlights!) down the center lane, squealing as they went. We divided into two groups and flanked them. As they approached, the group I was with jumped out from some bushes and screamed, waving our hands. In a flash the newbies had turned and ran, screaming like they were about to die. Then, just when they thought escape was within their reach, the second group jumped out and blocked their exit like weeping angels. I think the “visitors” might have lost some body fluids.
Unfortunately, I’ve never felt remorse.
When I got engaged I took my fiancé to the cemetery for a last game with my younger siblings. But I made him be with my brothers and I went with my sisters. We were there to play, not sequester ourselves someplace to enjoy the moon or something. I don’t know, but maybe I’ll get back someday. Is there some rule that says you’re too old for night games?