Lots of families have activities they enjoy doing together. For some it is card or board games; for others it might be hiking, sailing, or some other outdoor sport. Like those other families my childhood family enjoyed being together, too. Sometimes we played cards, board games, roller skated (Daddy just watched and cheered – no roller skating for him), went for walks, went camping, to ballgames or the State Fair and spent time at a lake or the beach. But what my brother and I liked best of all was a family game of tag.
It wasn’t often that we could coax Daddy into playing with us. This industrious man owned a landscape company, which meant physical labor from sun up to sun down, Monday through Friday, whatever the weather. I could not truly comprehend the meaning of “tired” in those days. For one thing, my daddy was the strongest, hardest working man I knew – or have ever known, for that matter. He seemed superhuman to me – so that was one thing. The other thing was my own youthful ignorance. I mean how tired do kids really get? And for how long? In my childhood, I might be tired from some physical exertion but give me a little break and I was up and ready for the next adventure. So when my brother and I would try to start up a game and Daddy would wave us away with his hand and say, “Go on now. I’m tired” we’d give it a couple more tries – because we didn’t really comprehend anyone being too tired to play AND you never could tell if Daddy was just bluffing. Sometimes he did that. And if he ever joined in the game – then it was ON!!!
The game usually began after dinner when Daddy had pushed his chair a little ways from the table and lit a cigarette – a clear signal that he was done with the meal. Then one of us – me or my brother would get up and move around the table, tap his arm or knee and move quickly away while saying, “Tag! You’re it.” Like I said it might not happen and he would shake his head, wave his hand and say, “Nahhh. Not now” or something like that. We might press it a time or two but we’d either eventually read that it was definitely NOT going to happen or Mama might say, “Leave your daddy alone. He’s tired.” Sometimes Daddy would bluff and say, “No” and then leap forward and the chase was on. Sometimes he would leap toward you right after the first tap. You couldn’t predict and it was always good to be on your toes. Once we had done the tap and proclaimed him “IT” then it was best to back quickly out of reach and be ready to run. You never knew just what might happen. He might start the chase after a bluff or two or three or right away. And he might chase after the first one to tap him or he might turn around and tag somebody else – Mama or whichever kid wasn’t the initiator. Whatever happened the fun had just begun.
Our version of tag was actually two games in one. There was no “home base” where you couldn’t be tagged (as usually happened when you played with other kids) and it included Hide and Seek. Additionally the entire house – upstairs as well as downstairs in the basement and garage was open territory – including the surrounding yard and fields. So it was WILD and more fun than words can describe! There was always lots of yelling, screaming, laughing, scrambling, running, and general chaos. Even our family dog barked and ran and joined in the pandemonium. My wise mother had learned early on to quickly set the storm doors to the “stay open” position to avoid injury to people or property. The kitchen table got pushed to the wall to give a wider berth through that room, the living room furniture ended up against the walls, and every rug in every room of the house would be askew with the ensuing mayhem. We hid behind doors and in closets usually because you wanted a hiding place where you could set off running if you were caught and tagged. Burrowing underneath a bed or into a small confined space was a problem if you got tagged since you’d have to wiggle out from whatever place you’d squeezed yourself into before you could start full on running and by then the person who had tagged you was long gone. And, of course, you ran the risk of being tickled first, which further set you back in your ability to make a clean break. And, for sure, Daddy was as likely to tickle you as not. The whole game could last an hour or more and was super exhilarating and the most fun a kid could ever have. And even though Mama fussed a little about having her house turned upside down she was an enthusiastic participant on every occasion and laughed and squealed like a young girl. Daddy never screamed or squealed but he sure could holler and bellow with the best of ‘em. His belly laughs were the best!
During one of our wild games of tag a lady from our church happened to stop by our house for some reason that no one remembers – and probably she wouldn’t remember either. But I’ll bet money she never forgot the scene she encountered. No one had heard her pull into the driveway – what with all the screaming and yelling and whatnot going on. We found her standing timidly on our front porch looking a little like a rabbit about to head off to safety. Sweaty, hair tousled, and breathless Mama came upon her and began to laugh. Then realizing the poor woman’s confusion and uneasiness – had she just entered the scene of a family brawl or what??? – Mama quickly composed herself and invited the visitor inside. Reluctant at first Church Lady finally stepped through the wide opened doorway inside to the Living Room – only to find my mother’s usually tidy house in complete disarray. Her eyes darted wildly around the room as she surveyed the scene. Mama moved on into the kitchen and motioned for the visitor to follow. The kitchen was no different. The table slammed up next to the wall, chairs helter skelter about the room, and Mama calmly opening the refrigerator to make glasses of iced tea for everyone. Our visitor moved into the kitchen with trepidation. By this time Daddy had come inside – also sweating and breathless. My parents chuckled and explained to the uneasy guest that she had happened to have come upon a family game of Tag. The lady laughed a bit half-heartedly and, in truth, she sounded slightly nervous. She also declined the iced tea offer, stated her business, and made a hasty retreat to her car. The four of us – Mama, Daddy, my brother and I watched her go. Then we all looked at each other and fell into hysterical laughter. There was no telling what the poor woman really thought and for sure there would be a report to the church crowd about the wild shenanigans in the Pearce household. We could only imagine. The thought of it was almost as much fun as our game of tag – and it allowed my brother and me to forgive the unexpected visitor for interrupting our lively game. In fact, the whole scenario has lived on as gleefully and vividly as any one of those crazy, wonderful games of Hide and Seek Tag.