Having little of financial means, one might wonder what people like us would do for entertainment, fun and games through those slim years. Actually, I'd say it in many ways brings to mind that phrase, "Necessity is the mother of invention." We had great times doing things which had no cost attached to them, yet provided all we neededand then some.
Horseshoe playing was one of those games ideal for country living. A couple of metal stakes, a set of four shoes, and land galore in which to set the stakes in the ground was all one needed for hours of fun (well, sometimes). It was a game at which I was semi-skilled, while Dad and brother Phil were very skilled. And if you'll recall, I was a sore loser at anything and everything, so horseshoes was no exception. Somehow when playing alone I could throw ringer after ringer. But put an opponent alongside me, and I was dead meat!
Phil and I got into a game one day, a game which increasingly led to irritability for me. We stood at opposite stakes so there'd be someone to return the shoes to each end of the court. The game was one in which all that counted was the total number of ringers thrown. Each of us threw four shoes. In time it became evident I wasn't getting anywhere, and I sensed a touch of cockiness in Phil's attitude. So when the shoes were returned to my end of the court, I took careful aim and thought of Phil as being the stake. Wouldn't you know, it was a bull's eye! I know it impacted his upper extremity somewhere, but I wasn't about to hang around to find out exactly where. I ran away to escape the unmistakable punishment I deserved and would surely get.
On many occasions I used the abundantly high and thick weeds to find a place of refuge, temporary though it might be. This was another of those times.
Whether I hid there for hours or even into the night, I don't know. But I do know that eventually there was an accounting: Dad, one; John, nothing! Seems I had a knack for digging into deep trouble without even trying sometimes, though this was one time I tried. But Dad always administered sufficientand then somepunishment to fit the crime.
When Phil and I, or Dad and Phil, or even Dad and I played a game of horseshoes, it was always serious business. But it was nothing compared with playing with the top players in the area on clay courts. These were the professional type courts where the shoe stayed right where it was thrown (provided it was thrown into the boxed area of clay). Being asked to participate in one of those contests meant someone thought you were pretty good at the game. Naturally, I rarely made it into those contests, but Dad and Phil often did. When players with greater talent were not available, I would sometimes be asked to take part. I must say it made a nervous wreck of me, because if Dad was your partner, you'd better have been playing one of your better games! Naturally, most times I didn't meet the standards and heard about it, though I once in a while played beyond my normal ability and really pleased Dad.
All in all, when I think back of those games, I feel I was blessed by not being asked to play too often. The pressure was just too great. Maybe much of how I am today was a learned experience from those days.
During the Depression years an even more popular game than horseshoes was the card game called "pinochle". Kids watched their fathers participating in that pastime for years, becoming rather adept at the game themselves in time. This was a game at which Dad was (not boasting) really on top. He seemed to know just about every card that had been played, and he could reason pretty well what his partner or opponents might still be holding in their hands. Thus he knew just what cards to play to his and his partner's advantage. I dreaded being Dad's partner in that game even more than in a horseshoe game. Many times did I bear the brunt of Dad's anger by playing a "wrong" card. I did learn through my errors and blunders, but I never learned to accept being put down, especially in the presence of others.
But the next time a game took place, the hard feelings of the last time were forgotten, and the thought of improvement and beating someone at Pinochle were the dominant thoughts.
I'm going to admit something that gives me no pride in telling it. When I was something like sixteen to seventeen and growing rather strong physically, Dad and I were partners in a pinochle game. Things didn't work out well, and Dad (maybe rightfully) vented his anger toward me. Strong, loud words turned to pushing and shoving, ending with blows at each other. This was the first and only time in my entire lifetime I'd raised a hand at Dad. I've felt badly about it for years!
What was Peaches about?
Human nature tends to push mankind past accepting mediocrity as a punishment or cruel fate about which he can do nothing. So it was when it came to making the best of every situation in those Depression days. Entertainment, as stated earlier, had to be no cost, original, above-board, etc. So when large crowds gathered at different homes, conversation, story-telling and games took place. It was not uncommon, either, to find hosts of the evening serving snacks of some sort and lemonade or tea to go along with the entertainment.
The adults often played games which excluded children, but we participated by listening with great interest, trying to understand what was transpiring and taking part mentally. What better way to learn? Boredom was practically nil at those gatherings, and some of the greatest times we had were at those home parties.
One game in particular comes to my mind. It seems the person (it was a rotating or progressive thing) who got the "stick" had to say something and then tap the stick on the floor somewhere during his statement. He'd say, "Peaches, peaches, pretty good peaches!" I guess there were those in the crowd who knew when the statement was to be made and the stick to be tapped on the floor. I never figured it out. And neither did some of the adults.
Scared Kids Home Alone!
As to the stories, some of the most hair-raising ones I've heard in my lifetime were told at those gatherings. Some were of the cheerful variety, but most tended to give kids the creeps, scaring us half to death. I know it worked that way in our family when the folks were away. This was especially true if the folks left us during any period of darkness.
We'd pull all the shades, draw the curtains or drapes, and turn on the radio or begin cooking up some concoction of candy to get our minds off our aloneness.
But when any kind of sound was heard which was unfamiliar, there'd be a scramble for the best position under the bed or beds in the house. A knock at the door would bring icy chills down our spines, and hair stood straight up. The only time the door was opened was when someone whose voice we knew shouted out.
The front porch had windows all around the sides and front, and the door had a lock that was at best near to useless. So I guess we thought there was always the chance that whoever was out there might get in to the inner front door. The same condition existed on the back porch where the outer door wasn't too secure. So a knock on either of the inner doors caused havoc. Four kids running in all directions for a closet to hide in or a bed to crawl under always followed that ghostly knock!
Another form of fun took place at Halloween. Well, some of it was fun, while some of it was scary and dangerous. The fun part was going about for hours trying to fill our bags with goodies collected from those we threatened to "trick or treat." Wearing masks and costumes was also a big part of the fun. But after returning home from the final stop, we'd begin laying out our booty to see what we had gotten. Sometimes exchanges were made where one had too much of the same kind of candy or fruits or cookies, and bellies often were overloaded with sweets. This sometimes ended in a night where one would spend most of his time with his head over a bucket wishing he'd never seen a piece of candy (very temporary, though). Pins, chemicals and other harmful ingredients were practically unheard of in those days as being implanted into the goodies gathered, but today that's another story.
Also, today I'm of the opinion that Halloween is derived from something Satanic in nature, right from the pits of hell. And I frown on the whole bit, hoping kids will turn to some church-sponsored activity at that time of the year rather than doing what we did and what others still do.
The other side of this fun night was of the dangerous variety. What I'm about to relate will not be familiar to many of youunless you came from my era and from country living. It had to do with tipping over outhouses on that night of Halloween.
In our family of kids none of us got involved in that "sport." One reason was that we wanted to remain alive, less our parents kill us if found to be in such activity. The other reason was that it could be nearly life-threatening. It was mainly the older guys who ventured into that aspect of Halloween "fun." They were less scared than younger kids, and they were better able physically to cope with the strength needed to push outhouses over. And they could probably run faster should that need arisewhich often did.
Though it usually meant merely putting the structure back in place when it'd been toppled, sometimes it meant the unit was wrecked. Worse yet, sometimes there'd be someone inside. This rarely led to serious injury, though it would take a rather strong heart to withstand the shock of surprise, not to mention the embarrassment involved.
But the "doers" of the deed also were subjected to potential danger. Many of the folks spent a good part of that night armed with sticks, rods of metal, and even pistols or shotguns. There were those who were not averse to using those weapons should they have been needed, though I can't personally recall anyone ever being shot or seriously injured as a result of the act. Most times if they were caught in the act, a fist fight ensued or a chase took place.
It might not hurt if I reminded readers that the entire community in which we lived was without piped-in water and that outhouses were the only bathrooms available. Thus the lengths to which some went to protect their johns.
A Tire and Ed's Broken Arm
Games or things with which to play rarely were "store-bought" items. Anything that showed potential was used. For example, a discarded tire I found became great fun for me. Rolling it while walking or running alongside and trying to keep it going straight ahead presented a fun challenge! When I got home that day in which I'd found the tire, I "parked" it alongside the house figuring on playing with it again later. But when I got back outside, the tire was gone. Brother Ed had seen it and took it out for a spin (I learned later).
Unfortunately for him, and for me, while rolling the tire, he fell and broke an arm in several places. He was taken to the local hospital where the arm was aligned and set (much pain). And after returning home, the search began for the culprit who was responsible for that tire being there. Naturally, the black sheep of the family (me) was soon found to be the guilty party. Fortunately, I'd learned of the search and had already made preparations for a long stakeout in my favorite hiding place, the high weeds about a half block from our house.
The minutes turned to hours as I heard the calls coming from home, "Johnny! Johnny!" The concern for my whereabouts had heightened I'd figured, as the earlier threatening tones had now turned to pleading calls for my return home. It still was with apprehension that I finally decided to return home, though.
Lectures always worked better for me than "strappings" issued by Dad, but I somehow felt on this occasion I deserved the worst. After all, I'd been responsible for bringing the tire home, and Ed did break his arm, and I caused a lot of suffering and expense. But to my most pleasant surprise, all I got was a stern lecture in which I was apprised of my past misgivings and reminded I should not do such things again. For a time I suppose I kept those warnings cemented in my mind, but it wasn't for an extended period; because other such incidents took place down the road of time.