The games we played

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The floor was our playing table. It was not cards or dice we held in our hands, but Jacks. Not the Jack of cards, but those tiny metal objects with spokes poking out from the center. The other thing needed for the game was a small rubber ball with a good bounce.

With our playing hand full of jacks we threw them out onto the floor.  One by one we picked up a jack after tossing the ball six to eight inches from the floor, and catching the ball before it bounced twice retrieving both in the same hand.

When a player collected all the jacks with the ball bouncing just once the turn moved to the next player. If the ball bounced twice before retrieving the jack the player was out of the game. And like cards or dice we played to win, as it soon turned into a competitive match with our opponent.

There were as many different variations to the games of ‘Jacks’ as there are to a deck of cards, or pair of dice.  When we completed each round we continued on to a harder game, like scooping up all the jacks in one swipe before the ball bounced even once.

If we dropped or moved a jack in the process of picking one up we were out of that round and would have to repeat that game at our next turn. The turn then went to the next player. The better we got at these games, the more fun we had, and new ones were invented.

In the game, ‘Around the world in eighty days,’ the player tossed the ball, picked up a jack and with a swift hand encircled the ball before the ball bounced twice. If at any time the ball was dropped, or hit a jack the player was out until his/her next turn.

In the game, ‘Pigs in the basket’, the player had to pick up a jack in one fast swoop before the ball bounced once. The process was completed with each jack in the same manner. Then, the player advanced to the next round as the player attempted to collect all the jacks in one swoop before the ball bounced.

In one game the player grabbed a jack, and tapped it on the floor before the ball bounced.

The trick to playing these games well was not to scatter the jacks so far away that they became unreachable to a quick hand, yet not have them so bunched up as to touch and make it more complicated for the player to retrieve the jacks without disturbing or touching another in the process.

Today, these games may not be known to most kids who play digital or arcade games on their tablets and smart phones, as my grandchildren do, but when I was a child Jacks was one of my favorite games. A set of jacks and ball were one of the most affordable, inexpensive games.

One day when shopping at a hobby store I found and bought the above large decorative ‘Jacks’ to display and use like bookends. On another occasion when going through some kept mementoes from my childhood I discovered I still had a few from my old set even though I keep a newer set and ball for my grandkids to use. But, they just can’t ‘get into’ the game like I once did.   🙂

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Joyce E. Johnson (2015)


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