Let me share some of the activities, and the games we played in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
Riding stick horses was a popular small boy activity. I chose a broom as my horse, thinking of the broom as the head of’ the horse. My peers were riding plain sticks and nick-named me “Broom Stick” or “Broom-O” for my eccentricity.
Rolling hoops, walking on stilts, flying kites, spinning tops and roller skating took up endless hours of playtime during my boyhood years. The hoops we rolled were metal bands froli wheels twelve to eighteen inches in diameter. The hoop was rolled by pushing it with a stick having a six or eight inch cross bar at the bottom. As our skill increased we could roll the Hoop up or down hills and over rough terrain. We often accompanied the rolling of the hoop with vocal sounds simulating a motorcycle or car.
We made the stilts we walked on. They might lift us one to three feet above the ground, depending on our courage and the material we had to work with. Stilt-walking often involved challenging a playmate to follow your lead. I succeeded in climbing the forty-eight steps from Pennsylvania Avenue up to our house on stilts. That was considered a major achievement.
March was kite-flying month. We made our kites, whittling the sticks so they would balance and mixing flour and water for paste to glue on the paper. The simplest kites had rag tails but we graduated to riakin, tailless kites and even box kites. When the Search wind was right there would often be several kites flying at the same time on a hilltop.
I haven’t seen boys spinning tops in many years. Our tops were three or four inches high of solid wood with a metal point on which they spun. To spin them we wound a sturdy string tightly around the top from the point upwards. Now you either threw the top out from you underhanded, holding on to the string in the same hand, or you threw the top overhand–the more expert method of spinning. To make a game of top-spinning, one boy would spin his top and his competitor would try to hit that ‘Llop with his. It was possible to split a top in two if it was hit squarely.
Roller Skating was very popular for boys and perhaps girls, too. Most Salem sidewalks were too rough for good skating but the walks on the Salem College campus were excellent. College officials were not always happy with our skating and no doubt we were an annoyance at times. I don’t believe we had bicycles in our first twelve years.
We celebrated July Fourth with fireworks we could afford to buy-firecrackers, sky rockets, Roman candles and sparklers. It was fun making explosions by putting a few grains of carbide in a tin can with a little water. We closed the can with a removable top and waited briefly for the gas to build up in the can. Then we touched a match to the nail hole punched in the can top and the result was a BANG! Intensity of the explosion depended on the amount of carbide used and the timing before touching it off.
The game of marbles was a perennial favorite with boys in the elementary grades at school. It was played before school, at recess, and after school. A six to eight foot circle was drawn on bares level ground with a stick and players took turns shooting their marble from the outside edge of the circle at the marbles dropped in the center of the ring by one or more contestants. When a marble was knocked out of the ring it became the property of the boy who hit it. This was called playing for “keeps”. My family thought this was a form of gambling so I did not play marbles for “keeps”. The expert marble players achieved a high degree of skill and carried a bag full of marbles of many types and colors.
Few people remember playing a game called “caddy” (or perhaps “katty”). It was played with a six or seven inch round stick sharpened at both ends like a pencil. Laid on the ground, the “katty” was struck on the front end with a round stick perhaps thirty inches long. As the Katty bounced up in front of the player he tried to strike it with the stick, sending it as far as possible beyond him. Scoring was done by measuring the number of stick-lengths to where the katty landed. It was possible for the opponent in the game to catch the katty in flight (a dangerous maneuver) thus putting the striker “out”. There were interesting side maneuvers in the game like tipping the katty one or more times in the air before hitting it out–multiplying the score.
A questionable activity we engaged in was playing around the oil well derricks on the hills near Salem. I believe the derricks were eighty feet tall with a ladder up one side to the top. It was a challenge to see who dared to climb the nearest to the top. The first time I made it to the top of a derrick and looked down at the around I “froze” to the ladder in fear. It was a while before I stopped shaking and found the courage to come down. There were wooden water tanks probably ten to fifteen feet in diameter beside each well. It was daring to strip to the buff, climb into the tank and push or swim from one side of the tank to the other over and over. It was a dangerous way to learn to swim. Our Brothers didn’t know what we were doing.
Winter sometimes brought enough snow in Salem for sledding on the steep roads and hillsides. Areas of water for ice skating were limited and there was seldom enough ice. I never learned to ice skate. We did make primitive skis out of barrel stays and had fun skiing on them.