Summer Play: Olly Olly In Free!

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I find myself yearning to play putt-putt golf and Frisbee and know they’ll happen before fall. But, even more, I’ve been thinking alot about “Kick the Can”. It’s summertime and children periodically flood sidewalks and streets around here. Released from regulations and many constraints, they’re eager to skin knees, acquire grass-stains and tans, to race, dive and leap. They want to play, whether six or sixteen, an impromptu tag around the house or rigorous basketball on a court. I know that feeling, still.

Games of many kinds have always drawn me. The more inventive games captivate my intellect though simple ones can be just as exciting, particularly when played with others who share my enthusiasm. I’m not a serious card player (rummy is my speed but we like Yahtzee and Uno, too). Many in our family appreciate board games. Grandchildren have had no choice but to learn Scrabble, Parcheesi, Checkers (regular and Chinese) and Balderdash. Games teach cooperation, encourage friendly competition, enhance independent problem solving. But mostly, they’re fun.

Earlier in the summer two of my grandchildren and I were shopping when they spied a bag of cats’ eye marbles. Since they are nine (grandson) and twelve (granddaughter), I resisted the urge to cry out and jump up and down. Marbles! I hadn’t seen a decent bag of such beauties in far too long. The grandkids enjoy playing various games and they also found the marbles curiously attractive. They’d seen them before but didn’t recall having played a game. How could I have not exposed them to the fabulosity of marbles? I promptly put them into the cart.

Once home I dumped out all the shooters and mibs (the target marbles), then arranged them on the carpet. I noted I had owned a few steelies in my well-rounded collection. The action was about to happen when I got stuck in the process. This was one game I hadn’t played since sixth or seventh grade. We looked up rules and game variations, then played several simpler rounds. They bumped and jumped the mibs but kept all in good order. I wondered at their restraint, remembering how fierce and strategic good marble players were. It was a happy couple of hours though I informed them it would be more engaging if we had a big hard patch of dirt or large cement expanse on which to attack the mibs. Living in an apartment now, we have few outdoor spaces for children.

Being outside calls me to different undertakings. I recall all the games I still enjoy as well as those I once played. Born before electronic devices dominated peoples’ every waking hour, I was part of a generation entertained by free or cheap entertainment that easily included neighborhood friends.

“Kick the Can” was a favorite warm weather activity we undertook in the freedom of the outdoors. A cross between tag, hide and seek and capture the flag, it can be played nearly anywhere outside. My favorite place was down the block at the Hensons’ huge side and back yards. One of my best friends, Bruce, and at least a half dozen others converged around dusk. As the sun went down, we revved up even more. The evening was punctuated by easy laughter, occasional squabbles that ended in an altercation we took care of on our own, and the metallic bashes of a tin can being kicked high by tennis-shoed, sandaled or even bare feet. We played until our breath was ragged, sweat flowed in rivulets down our backs, and muscles tired. Or until we got hungry or were called home one by one.

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Kick the Can goes like this. Any empty can (or one with a rock in it for more noise) is set up in the middle of an open area. The person who is “It” counts as the others hide, then looks for them while keeping an eye on that can. “It” spies someone, calls out their name and they both race to the can to see who kicks it first. If the hider kicks it first, he or she gets to hide again. If the “It’ person kicks it first, the hider is sent to a designated area called “jail.” Any hider may risk being caught and race to the can to kick it–this can free those jailed. When successful, the runner calls out “Olly Olly In Free” and the jailed mates run out into the yard.

I have heard the proclamation originates from “All Ye, All Ye, Out and Free” way back in the late 1800s, but we never called that out. There are several interpretations, such as “Olly Olly Oxen Free” which also is likely a garbled version of the original. I always felt the phrase we shouted was a vital part of the magic, words that sprung the prisoners and got us going for a new game.

We were attached to the game and each other. During the school year we might not cross paths as often; some might be a couple years ahead, others could run in different crowds. But from June through August, the neighborhood was our kingdom. We made alliances, realigned, made pacts, promises and teams that could alter night by night, only to re-group for another time, another year together. It was being at home in our small world. It was being an integral, impactful part of a familiar whole.

My father loved games, even designed and crafted a few. Two sisters, two brothers and I–and sometimes my mother–joined in. There was always something to do when my friends came over. After snows melted and thunderstorms abated, we hung around in the back yard. It was not as vast as the Hensons’, yet seemed big enough for most things. Hanging from an overarching maple was a wooden seated swing dad had hung when I was a toddler. A basketball hoop on the garage was worn out by us all. A small cherry tree bloomed in the middle of the lower yard; we tramped a path that circled the pretty tree just playing tag. The back of the yard was bordered by tall evergreens and bushes good for hiding.

We couldn’t play baseball or kickball well unless we crossed our property line and entered the tree nursery grounds into a meadow. We did play horseshoes, croquet, badminton, dodgeball, red rover, tag, red light green light, waterballons, bean bag toss, ring toss, Mother may I, horseshoes, hopscotch and held hula hoop contests–to name a few. And played marbles on the sidewalk that led to the garage and yard or on a bricked area where we later set a round table for summer barbeques.

Bored? I don’t recall the feeling much. If I was and bravely voiced it, there was no sympathy.

“Find something to do,” my parents said. “Use your brain and get busy.”

So I did.

If I close my eyes, I can smell the fresh-cut grass and stirred up dirt, hear the susurration of leafy branches overhead as shadows striped the yards. Shadows creep across the Hensons’ lush lawn. Grown-ups call out as they check on us from doorways and porches. My siblings or friends rush past, reach out to tag me, call my name. We conspire to save our buddies from the jail, furtive hand signals allowed only. We each live in the cooling, egalitarian shimmer of summertime, inside the present moment. All for fun, for the shared cause of a game.

All for one, one for all: “Olly Olly In Free!”

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Reading What’s Good for Me

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I don’t always read what’s hyped as invigorating for an older woman with reasonable intelligence. At least, what well-read persons may deem excellent. In fact, I read things that are edging toward lowbrow or holding steady in medium-brow. I can’t tell you much about definitive literary standards, as my bookshelves are not bulging with books that have primarily garnered prizes or gotten five star reviews. I read everything from travel memoir and collected essays to literary novels and short stories. Then there are mysteries and thrillers, broadly defined spiritual books as well as Christian writings. Fantasy, less so; sci fi, even less (so far). Biography, psychology, nature and architecture interest me. I’m always on the prowl for something good, like all readers. I even snag oddities from “Free Books” mailboxes in my neighborhood, like a trade paperback I would otherwise pass by. I’ll try a few pages of most genres.

So, I’m not exactly indiscriminate, but not so picky my choices are few. My passion for reading impacts me daily. I keep planning on doing something about it because how many years will it take to read so many things? Unless you’re like my brother, who reads a book a day, I will simply run out of time.

But the issue that hovers in my mind lately is my magazines. I admit it’s an emotional challenge for me to let go of them, too, even when they’ve been read and re-thumbed and take too much space on coffee and end tables. But don’t rip them, and don’t put mugs on them as though they are coasters. I like them close to pristine for as long as possible.

Do I collect special editions or certain decades because of possible value? No. But I do look them over after I read them to cut or tear out pictures for future reference. This means: to put into folders for the time I will have little to do and want to make a scrapbook or montage. Good articles that educate or illuminate also find a place in a folder. But so does a page of classic and contemporary perfumes glowing within chic bottles; another of a garden surrounding a fountain cascading by a cedar bench; and one of Joni Mitchell in her fifties, a lily in her hand, hair still golden. On my laundry room wall there is one magazine picture of a field stone country house with two chickens pecking at the ground, trees tall and warmed by sun. And another of a good looking man sporting a fedora, suspenders over a chambray shirt and supporting, on a gloved hand, a great horned owl. They make me pause and smile.

I never know when something will strike me as informative, lovely or quirky enough to savor. Give me respite while I sip a cup of tea. Move me to hang onto, even after pages curl a bit.

I recently had to change our mailing address from a mailbox back to the residential address. As I was changing the personal info for each magazine the number of magazines were tallied. Twelve. Without listing every one, the variety includes Smithsonian, Architectural Digest, Entertainment Weekly, The Writer, Bookmarks, Simple Living, American Craft, Town and Country. In addition, I often purchase magazines such as National Geographic (subscribed for years and miss it), Scientific American, HGTV, The New Yorker, and Vogue. Did I forget local literary journals? A few of those. (Not included are my spouse’s magazines as I’m writing about my tastes. His piles are his concern!)

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I read for reasons others do. To educate myself about places, events and people I may never get to know in the flesh. For entertainment other than radio, computer or television. I also read for peace, a safe place in times where so much of what we are bombarded with and alerted to involves suffering, danger, the urgent need for solutions to mammoth problems. I need more contemplative ideas, moments of wonder. Beauty discerned inside and out.

I needed all this from a young age. My youth was a puzzle of deep loss and anger, faith in God and passionate dreams. I teetered between them, and wondered when it would get easier.

As an adolescent I tried hard to balance after effects of earlier trauma on the emotional tightrope of just being a teen. I felt responsible in large part for my own recovery. I needed to redetermine my destiny. There were already resources and skills I could use. For one thing, I grew up in a creative family. We were encouraged to be inquisitive, trained to be disciplined in choices and actions. There were solutions to problems and answers to questions; all I had to do was seek and find. If music–the centerpiece of my life–enthralled me, it also was a competitive endeavor in a family of talented musicians. If sports were a release of stress and a natural high, they, too, were competitive and at times depleting. Nature always allowed my soul a place to move beyond my self, to rest, and prayer on a wooded path did much to release stored pain. But I needed something more.

Books were already companions. But books on school reading lists and in the family living room were classics, were old, important, apparently critical in molding minds. I took refuge in our excellent city library and found my world enlarged. A few authors helped save my life. And I wrote daily in a journal–and also poetry, plays and short stories.

Still, I was lacking something.

It came to me when browsing through a few other choices at a dingy Rexall drugstore: there were materials right at my fingertips that didn’t necessarily meet the acceptable standards of my rather conservative, educated, achievement-driven family. Reading experiences that were not so serious, so well-intentioned. I got tried of competing and trying to be happy. These were simple fun. I bought my first Harper’s Bazaar, and a travel magazine (wherein I happily discovered one could send away for free brochures about the Caribbean or California). I was thrilled.

I found pictures that reconfigured forms and colors, that revealed exotic locales and smart ads. They showcased unique people who took risks with appearance and lifestyle. People whose stories provoked. I salvaged parts, then bought poster board and pasted them on. I soon took more pages, some from my parent’s (LifeNational Geographic). I scoured them for interesting words or phrases to snip, then arranged them strategically within the graphics. Added paint or marker. A little glitter or a feather, a piece of fabric or a found object. A woman added to a stretch of sky so she appeared to be flying, a colored pencil turning an ocean from pale blue to rich vermilion. Poems made their way there. I found curious ways to speak to things that mattered most.

It wasn’t that this was a new trend in the nineteen sixties, but it felt like I had personally discovered the joy of making collages. One quarter of a bedroom wall was dedicated to my humble art. I changed it often. For when I was working with scissors, paste, bits and pieces and pictures and words, I was freer, emptied of strife. My training whispered that I might be wasting time but my heart knew otherwise. I was relaxing into an exploration of life. Remaking my world. Creating for myself, no one else. Telling myself new stories. Addressing sorrow and fear. Finding or designing women who were braver and stronger. I was re-imagining my own life. I was, in fact, healing. I kept cutting out images to construct a new vision of who I could become.

My magazines sometimes take over where books leave off. But I like when people visit and pick up one they’ve never seen, or they ask if I still have a favorite of theirs. In the reading spots in my home, they can rest as they flip pages. Eventually, of course, it is time to recycle. I choose what to keep. I give them away if I can, take some to medical offices where magazines expired long ago. My old work place regularly received mine but I’m not sure anyone knew it. When I walked through the waiting room and saw people absorbed in an article or studying a photo, it felt good. I knew it gave them a time out. Maybe even  inspiration to make their lives into something different. Like I did, so that it’s been rewarding and full of gratitude. Yes, buoyed by laughter, spontaneous fun. Far, far better than at somber fifteen.

So, magazines remain on my reading lists and in my stacks, likely to gather and topple as just one more is added. For edification and pleasure. My own good. And I have some ideas for those saved pictures. It’s just a matter of time, scissors and paste.

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Being “Freshly Pressed” and Lifeblood of the Pen

This week my email contained a message from WordPress.com. It noted I had been “Freshly Pressed”. There was a moment of confusion as the editor that informed me was Cheri Lucas Rowlands, whose blog I appreciate and follow. I thought, how wonderful that she is communicating via email, and promptly re-read it. Ah, “Featured by Freshly Pressed”, those writings I so enjoy sampling and savoring! Chosen was the story “Pastime”, one written just this week when I felt uncertain about a much longer short story being revised for possible submission to a literary magazine. It was one item on my daily writing schedule. And it brought this great surprise! Far better than flowers at the door.

I had been working hard. I hadn’t yet pinpointed a good market for the 5000 word “Jasper and a Night of Thievery.”  I was puzzling over its subject matter, if a punch line near the end was too real for some. Meaning, a sock-to-the-stomach sort of reality ensconced inside gentle opening pages with swift bits of suspense. Then wham! The tough stuff. My career and life have perhaps unfolded like that too often. A challenge for me as a writer is to clarify the truth within a sturdy structure that is upheld by compassion, empathy and respect for our human journey. I also encourage the Divine to come forward in my characters. Truth-telling in writing has been something I can lose sleep over; my hopes and the mysterious writer’s way don’t always align powerfully or even well.

So I engage in many kinds of writing, creating pieces that are less perplexing, at times more uplifting. Briefer and perhaps occasionally even a lark. It all matters. They are gratifying to give shape and heft to, good tasks to support the greater body of work. And I write these without any fear, as opposed to longer fiction and non-fiction or poems that weave their way in and out of my psyche. Or sometimes harrass me until I relent. For reasons unknown to me, I can sit at a keyboard and words are freed as though water from a faucet. The immediacy of this writing on impulse thrills me. I just need to give it all permission to unfurl. It pulls me along until the period at the end, then fix a few things and head down again, nose to grindstone.

So being “Featured on Freshly Pressed” is a lovely honor. I am happy and grateful as I write this. “Pastime” was one of those brief stories that came quickly in entirety and gave me pleasure to share. This particular photo from the fifties came from a writer’s blog that I admire, Patricia Ann McNair’s as she offers daily writing prompts. I utilize my own photos as well as public domain art and photos.

Due to this blog I write a larger volume of pieces and my skills improve in the process. I am satisfied more often because I have the Tales for Life blog to supply. When I started this I was a neophyte in the blogosphere. It was a motivating force at a time I was lagging in many aspects of my life. It has become another potent avenue of creativity. A way to cull and offer what matters most to me as a writer-person as well as avail myself of other bloggers’ brave, beautiful and funny words. We are connected by an adoration of language, wherever we live or whatever we aspire to with our work. I am nourished by life–people and nature, God and my own tender, temperamental muse.

So here we are, each of us writing, making known our minds and hearts. What a way to live, make use of our time! It’s an endeavor of blessings. Thanks again, WordPress, for choosing my small story. And readers, I am profoundly loyal to the world of art-making–and so glad to have your company to keep along the way. Take your own risks. Speak your truth and I’ll keep speaking mine and so we keep the lifeblood of the pen (and laptop) astir.

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