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Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer games


Summer means family gatherings, often accompanied by loud, raucous family games.  Croquet was popular among the neighborhood kids on a hot summer afternoon.  Our back yard, at forty feet wide and sixty feet long, was an ideal court. The game often was set up at family picnics.  Children, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents played—my great-grandmother sending an opponent ball clear down the yard to cries of “Hit it hard, Marcia, hit it hard!” 

Uncle Hank had a lathe, and he turned new threaded ends on many a toilet plunger handle or a handy broom to replace a mallet handle severed enthusiastically from a mallet’s head.  That game dwindled in popularity as the adults grew older, and especially as the children grew older and pre-teen boys saw the mallets as handy weapons to settle rule disputes.  Dad put the set high in the garage rafters; effectively ending croquet games.

When we moved to this house the big front yard could not go to waste.  Croquet was pass√©, but Uncle Hank introduced us to bocce ball, and the tournaments began.  At every picnic, no matter who was here, teams formed and bocce was played.  Uncle Hank, half English, half German, lived in a Polish suburb; he knew bocce and he captained one team.  Our friend Marilyn, a tough Hungarian, born with bocce blood, captained the other.  The rest of us just played.

There were tough and exciting games one summer, reminiscent of the old “Hit it hard, Marcia!” days. We played on down to Labor Day, when the winning team would be declared. So many people came to that party there was an audience, as well as two teams.  A lot of cheering would be done.

At a time out in the game, when Uncle Hank and Marilyn were nose to nose on a point of order, Scuffy, the corner dog came trotting down the road.  Scuffy was the company dog of a business along the main road.  Although he had a dog house behind the fence, weekends found him lonely.  Being a terrier, he often went under the fence and in search of adventure.

One of our guests, Danny, is a police officer in a neighboring city. Danny was concerned the dog was lose.  He would even take Scuffy back and figure out how to get him over the fence. We told him to be patient; it was about time for our police patrol car to make the rounds.

The township black and white came down the road, the officer waved at all of us assembled on the porch and lawn, Uncle Hank and Marilyn still nose to nose.  Then the officer saw Scuffy, called him over and put him in the car.  Danny said now he’d seen everything; a town so small the police knew the names of the dogs, too.  He would have a story to tell at work. The patrol car came back up the road, Scuffy’s head out his window, riding back home.

The rule of the game was settled, in Marilyn’s team’s favor.  I have no idea who won, but it was a great tournament. That was the last summer we played bocce.  Mom’s next summer was spent in declining health, she was gone in March of the next year and Uncle Hank that fall.  The game used to be in the garage; Tom’s probably hung it from a rafter, out of the way.




23 comments:

  1. Loved your croquet story.... We're at our daughter's here in Texas... they recently bought the house next door and want to make it into a B&B or something similar. They had their first "occupants" this past weekend... she bought a game of ring toss and some horse-shoe like game so folks could play in the back yard. I'd have opted for croquet... and your blog just emphasized and reinforced what a fun game that is... or was for me when I was growing up. Say... do they still sell croquet sets?

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  2. Such lovely memories. Thank you. And I love the idea of the dog getting a life home with the boys in blue... (Are the police known that way over there?)

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  3. I've played that game with my Italian relatives. Never played it seriously. Your local policeman and the neighbor dog story reminds me of the Mayberry RFD show.

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  4. I don't even know how the game is played. What a sad, happy, nostalgic look at that beloved family game.

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  5. Nice, warm reminiscences of a past that is irrecoverable but obviously still vivid in your memory. What is nice about these types of games is that they can be played by members of different generations.

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  6. Great story. Isn't it great to live in a place where everybody is family. Love the image of Scruffy riding away in the police car. Maybe you need to get those old games out and teach them to another generation.

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  7. WE also used to play croquet. Don't know why it seems to have disappeared.

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  8. I'm with Leenie - I think your grandkids might enjoy bocce. Our kids grew up playing croquet, bocce ball, horseshoes, and badminton-without-a-net. Our first bocce set was liquid-filled plastic balls ... fine until a few sprung a leak. The new set of wooden balls was much better.

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  9. What a lovely poignant post - awash with memories.

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  10. You post has brought back many memories of playing croquet when growing up. It was also quite popular here in the UK though I've not seen a game set up for years and years. One of the lovely things one sees in French villages are games of boules being played on local greens. Always played by elderly men! In England there are beautiful 'bowling greens' which are very lush and exquisitely kept -- here you see both men and women playing...

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  11. Wonderful post. We have an old, old, old croquet set that the "Little Terrorists" love to play with.

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  12. What a nice memory. The best games and best times rise up spontaneously.

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  13. 'a town so small the police knew the names of the dogs' ... hehehe

    I had to google "bocce ball" - knew about Croquet but have never played it ...

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  14. It was badminton when I was growing up.

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  15. At our annual family reunions, the guys all get together to play bocce ball. I remember playing croquet as a kid back in the 50's.

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  16. my husband used to be pretty good at bocce ball--i myself am more a badmitton girl---sounds like you place is the place to be :)

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  17. Strange or a coincidence that you mentioned croquet, for Mrs H and I have just been invited to a luncheon with croquet as a dessert and we are both looking forward in trying our hands at that.

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    1. Put your heart into it. As they say here, Go Big. Don’t be afraid to drive your opponent’s ball into the next county. I need to find a croquet game for this weekend!

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  18. thought I had one but think that my tinkering husband turned the mallets into hammer handles...Do think I could dig bocce out of the garage.

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  19. We would love to learn croquet! We have the game, but have never really figured out the proper way to play. Bocce is definitely our game. My Husby learned how to play when he lived in France and we've played ever since. We also love horseshoes, but it can't be played just anywhere like bocce can. You need some pretty specialized, heavy-duty posts . . .

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  20. People playing croquet always put me in mind of genteel summers in the deep south with wide lawns shaded by spreading magnolias, like I've seen in old movies.
    Summer games in our town were usually played after dark. By torchlight. Hopscotch by torchlight; hide and seek by torchlight; ghost stories by torchlight; it was just too darn hot before dark to do anything except swim at the beach or run under the sprinklers. With shoes on because of the prickles in the grass. big three cornered jacks. Now that I think about it, the stores that sold batteries must have made a mint each summer.

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