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Child's Play

by Debra Rogers about a year ago in family
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Jacks

Original illustration by author

There's only one reason I sat on the cold hard concrete of our front porch for hours nearly every summer afternoon: to beat my fiercest competitor, my little sister, at jacks.

If you’re not familiar with the game of jacks, it’s a game that’s hundreds of years old and it’s derived from games even older. The modern game is comprised of a rubber ball and ten “jacks", small metal pieces .8 inches across with six points; spikes on two ends and tiny balls set onto the other four ends. The games we bought had extra jacks and two small rubber balls, but we discovered that the smooth rubber core on the inside of golf balls had the best bounce. You would toss the jacks onto the ground in front of you, then pick them up according to the rules of the round you were on. The best jacks games included the "official rules" to the jacks tournaments that kids played all across the country in the 50s when we were growing up.

The first round was always the same: It started with “onesies.” You would toss the ball up into the air, pick up a jack, let the ball bounce once, catch the ball and transfer the jack into your other hand, then repeat until all of the jacks had been picked up. Then you’d move onto “twosies” and pick up two jacks at a time, and so forth, until the last round where you’d pick up all ten in one move. If you dropped a jack, dropped the ball, missed the ball, or moved a jack that was not one you intended to pick up, you lost your turn, and the ball and jacks were given to the next player. When the jacks were tossed onto the ground and two jacks were touching (“kissing”), you’d have the option of picking them up and tossing them again if you thought it would help you. If you had "leftovers", such as when you were on threesies or foursies, you could call "cart before the horse" and pick up the leftover jack(s) first.

After this basic round there were eleven other rounds. We would usually have four or five girls playing at once, and we would keep track of where each of us was in the course of the latest neighborhood “tournament.” I wish I had kept a copy of those instructions because now I can't remember the order, or even the exact names of these other rounds, but here are the rounds as I remember them:

Pigs in the Pen – Toss the ball up into the air, scrape the prescribed number of jacks into your other hand, which you have cupped onto the ground over to the side of the floor, let the ball bounce once, catch the ball and repeat.

Pigs over the Fence – Toss the ball up into the air, pick up the prescribed number of jacks and move them over your hand, which you are holding on the ground at your side, like a plank, as a "fence", and drop them, let the ball bounce once, catch the ball and repeat.

Eggs in the Basket – Toss the ball up into the air, pick up the prescribed number of jacks and tuck them into your other hand which you have cupped like a basket, let the ball bounce once, catch the ball and repeat.

Crack the Eggs - Toss the ball into the air, pick up the prescribed number of jacks and knock them onto the ground, like you're cracking an egg, letting the ball bounce once, catch the ball, transfer the jacks into your other hand, and repeat. To really "shine" in this round, you would try to crack the egg at the exact same time that the ball bounces!

Double Bounce – Toss the ball into the air, and pick up the prescribed number of jacks, let the ball bounce twice before catching the ball, move the jacks into your other hand, repeat.

No Bounce – Toss the ball into the air and pick up the prescribed number of jacks, catch the ball before it bounces, move the jacks into your other hand, repeat.

Pick the cherries, Eat the cherries and Throw the pit away – Toss the ball into the air, pick up the prescribed number of jacks, let the ball bounce once, catch the ball; toss the ball a second time and bring your hand with the jacks to your mouth, let the ball bounce once, and catch the ball; then toss the ball a third time, transfer the jacks (the pits) into your other hand, let the ball bounce once, catch the ball and repeat.

Left-handed – This is a regular basic game like the first round, only do it with your non-dominant hand, onesies through tensies, as in all the other rounds.

Hold ‘Em – Toss the ball into the air, pick up the prescribed number of jacks, let the ball bounce once, catch the ball. Toss the ball again, but keep the all the jacks in your hand each time until you have picked up all the jacks on the floor.

Two-handed - Use one hand to toss the ball and catch it, while using the other hand to pick up the prescribed number of jacks, until you've worked from onesies through tensies as in all the other rounds.

Around the World – Toss the ball into the air, pick up the prescribed number of jacks, while the ball is in the air, take your handful of jacks and move them in a circle around the ball after it bounces but before you catch it. Repeat.

Flying Dutchman – In all honesty all I remember is that this one was the last round, and really hard. Apparently my little sister beat me to the end of the tournament so many times I never got in enough practice to burn this one into my memory!

Looking back at this game I realize that the time we spent playing was actually training for our futures: our futures in friendship, in marriage, and in business. We learned more important things than following rules. We learned to resolve disputes without involving "management", aka Mom. We learned to share our lives as we sat in those circles. We learned we could root for each other even while we were in competition with each other. We learned to lose without losing our minds or our friends, and we learned to win with grace. And most importantly we learned we could love each other even when we disagreed.

So maybe jacks is not just child's play after all.

family

About the author

Debra Rogers

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