We’ve been playing a lot of kickball in our front yard this summer. Our ball of choice has been a slick, lightweight plastic Lightning McQueen one which has frequently made its way over the neighbor’s fence. Since it’s a game our whole family has been enjoying—and is one I’ve always loved—I decided it was about time that we get an authentic playground ball. The familiar, classic, textured red rubber kind that brings with it all kinds of schoolyard memories: dodgeball, court dodge and various other games. I remember the sting and slap of it, the red marks it would leave on my arms as I held back tears after being pelted repeatedly by the boys. My girlfriends and I also liked to play Charlie’s Angels with one. We’d take turns being Sabrina, Kelly and Jill; the girl who was Jill (Farrah) would sometimes don my glamorous-looking long coat with a faux-fur lined hood. Lithely and Angel-like, we’d run around the playground acting out some storyline of intrigue or espionage, pursuing bad guys, using the rubber balls as bombs. Until the day we got busted by the Yard Duty teachers and had to stop playing.
Kickball was another recess favorite of mine, with one memory being especially vivid. It was probably First or Second grade. I was decked out in a dress, probably some polyester creation handmade by Frannie. I don’t recall the specifics of the play; all I know is that I was out. Maybe I’d gotten called out on base or maybe it was a pop fly. Whatever it was, I was bummed and humiliated as I started my jog to the backstop. It felt like the Trot of Shame. As I made my approach, I noted that there was a mud puddle covering home plate. In my eyes it must’ve looked about the size of a glass of water spilled on the kitchen table, but in reality it was more along the lines of Lake Shasta. Wanting to maintain some element of confidence and coolness, and attempting to rebuild my reputation, I decided to jump over it. If I was out, I’d go out with a bang. I leapt. I landed. Smack dab in the middle of it. I was drenched in a watery, gooey, muddy mess. My humiliation level soared. Utterly embarrassed, I made the trek to the Nurse’s office where I sat with paper towels stuck to every exposed body part as I waited for my mom to bring a change of clothes.
These days I’ve been learning some new additions to the game as I’ve played with my 9-year-old and his friends. One of them is “ghosties” (when we’re short-handed players, the runner has to return to be kicker again, leaving a “ghostie” on base.) I’ve also been introduced to another one of their recess faves: Four Square. Over the summer, I’ve heard my son holler “Chickafee” on occasion and wondered what it meant. But I’ve remained silent and figured it was one of the finer points of the game.
Thursday we decided to play Four Square with our new ball. Rassy and his friend explained the rules to me as we started. We bounced the ball into each other’s squares, trying not to hit the lines. He bounced it into his friend’s square and immediately yelled “Chickafee.” Here was my opportunity. I tried to be subtle as I contained my cluelessness; I was on the verge of going from Four Square novice to insider.
“What’s ‘Chickafee’?” I asked.
My son’s friend held the ball at his hip and looked at me with all the seriousness of an MLB ump.
“It’s actually supposed to be ‘Chicken Feet’,” he explained knowledgeably. “It means when the ball hits your foot you’re out.”
“Oh.” I replied.
I played a few more minutes and then jumped in the car to go pick up some pizza as they continued on with Two Square, bouncing that red ball back and forth as I left.
Over the years the games, lingo and rules may have changed—we’ve gone from Charlie’s Angels to Chickafee—but one thing remains at the heart of neighborhood and playground fun: that familiar, classic, textured red rubber ball.