Dive at Small Glass Planet has shown us some photos of and told us about a true English afternoon—a game of cricket, although one that lasted only one day instead of the usual five—and his post put me in mind of a game we played when I was a kid. We called it “cricket,” but it was only loosely based on the real thing.
The elementary school in my town, which later became part of the high school, was adjacent to the town park, a huge place that offered wonders on every square foot, or at least it seemed huge and full of wonders in the eyes of a little girl who had ridden there on the back of her friend’s bike and was eager to play.
The front portion along Morgan Avenue was the playground, and it had all the usual equipment—swings, slides, climbing things, spinning things. There was one slide that was particularly high, and you had to be extra daring to climb the ladder all the way to top and then let yourself slip down the metal slope. Knowing that at some point in history some kid had fallen off the top and nearly died, and knowing that sometimes the slide was roped off with cautionary tape, just made sliding on the giant slide seem that much more dangerous and exciting.
There was also a red gate on a pole at the park. That was it, a red gate with a footrest and a handrail on a pole. You clung to the thing, pushed yourself off and spun and spun in circles, and it was one of my favorite activities on a lazy summer day, or at recess in the second grade, because you could get lost in the whirling and then wobble for a good ten feet after you hopped off.
Behind the pavilions were the ball fields and tennis courts, and there was always a game or a practice going on. In my earlier years of elementary school, we had recess on the playground, and later when I was in high school, our gym class was held on the ball fields. It’s where the sergeant-at-arms-style gym teacher tried to teach us tennis and softball and kickball and archery, and it’s where we wished we could go inside and have a rest.
But in the summer, when we were kids, the park was where we went for the summer program. I’m not sure who hosted it or funded it, but it was a great day program for kids, and it lasted the morning. I didn’t have a bike of my own, so I either walked or rode on the back of some other kid’s bike—remember the days when you could pile onto a bicycle and ride the handlebars or perch on the seat while the other kid stood up in front of you and did the peddling? Ingenious use of limited resources, I'd say.
At the park, we had free time to roam the playground, and spin on the gate, and we had group activities in the pavilion with crafts like making candles out of melted crayons and games like Candy Land and checkers. And we could check out playground balls and badminton rackets and flat bats for what we called “cricket.”
There were two wickets installed permanently in the ground, so I know we didn’t make this up on the fly. One person stood behind each wicket, one stood in front of a wicket as the batter, and one stood in front of the opposing wicket as the pitcher. The aim was to hit the ball with the flat bat and try to send it flying toward the opposing wicket without somehow having the opposition catch the ball first, and at some point, you had to run. The details are a little fuzzy now, but it all made perfect sense then, and “cricket” was one of our favorite games to play.
It’s interesting to me that we arrange for free summer park programs for kids and plan all sorts of activities and give them all kinds of equipment to play, but no one plans this sort of thing for adults. It’s a pity, because I think we’d be a more well-adjusted bunch if we all had something like a red gate on a pole, and we could just get lost in the whirling for a few minutes.