‘Red rover, red rover’

Just this week I was with some friends when – for some reason – the topic of childhood games came up. Now, I don’t mean board games here; what we enjoyed remembering were active outdoor group games that many of us played when we were growing up. Remember those?

Probably the prime place we played those games was at recess of Vacation Bible School every summer. A game I liked was “drop the hankie.” Remember that? Whoever was it carried a hankie and walked around behind the circle of kids, finally dropping it back of someone. That person jumped up, grabbed the hanky, and took off running around the circle in the opposite direction trying to beat the it person back to that seat. The point was to be the first one to make it back to the open seat of the circle so the other person would be “it.”

Then there was “Red Rover,” a pretty rough game that involves running pell-mell at a line of your peers who were holding hands to form a chain. First, though, you had to be invited to hurl yourself at that line of kids, as in “Red rover, red rover, send Jenny right over.” The object was to break through the line with your body. If you did, you could choose one person from that line to join you in yours; if not, you stayed on that team.

I understand “red rover” has been banned at all summer camps because there were too many injuries with it, mostly because lots of kids were getting clothes-lined at throat height. While that’s a game that can get pretty wicked, it’s a little sad that the lilting sing-song is almost a thing of the past.

Other VBS game favorites were “duck, duck, goose,” “red light, green light,” and “Johnny, Johnny, may we cross your river?” That was always one of my favorites.

I’m not sure I noticed it at the time, but every one of these games I remember were competitive. The fastest, strongest kids won. The only time they weren’t chosen first was for red rover, because you wanted someone who wasn’t strong enough to break through your line.

So much for self-esteem at Vacation Bible School.

Yet you know what I noticed when we were talking about Bible School games? Whether she was good at it or not, was chosen first or couldn’t outrun anyone, everyone there remembered playing those old-fashioned outdoor games. Don’t ask any of this group about the lessons they had during VBS, though, because I doubt any of us remembered that.

But nobody forgot the games at recess.