Do little girls play jacks these days? Do they even know what jacks are? Or Tag, Hide-and-Seek, or Mother, May I? We played those games and plenty more when I was a child. We learned skills like cooperation, fair play, negotiation, and conflict resolution. We increased our exercise, stamina, and creativity. We used up our energy (much to our mothers' pleasure and relief, I'm sure) and improved our motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and a rash of other good things. We interacted with each other, created bonds of friendships, quarreled and made up, laughed, and had fun.
My cousin Belinda and I were less than a year apart in age and often played together, sometimes at her house, sometimes at mine, and sometimes at Gramma's. We were the next-to-youngest and youngest of Gramma's eight grandchildren, less than a year apart in age. The oldest was my brother who was 11 years older than me. By the time Belinda and I came along, most of the toys that Gramma might have had were gone. There were a few children's books. There was a large oak rocker where Belinda and I sat together to rock and sometimes look at books. And there were a few toys that Gramma kept in the bottom of her buffet.
A set of jacks are the only toy I remember from that cupboard. Those jacks were dandy! They were old, heavy jacks. I don't know how old but they were older than the light, flimsy, featherweight metal jacks available in stores at the time. When we flipped Gramma's jacks there was weight and heft. They went up and came down, not sideways, not flying away, but directly and heavily down. We knew we were holding something real in our hands. I had another set of jacks that I took to school for recess but I loved playing with Gramma's jacks best. She kept them in a Calumet baking powder can.
When I think of it now, I'm amazed that Gramma kept those jacks so many years. They stayed in her home nearly 40 years after I quit playing with them. I wonder if she liked them as much as I did.
After Gramma and Grampa died, their youngest daughter sold some of their possessions and took the rest to her house. There was a rift in the family and Belinda and I thought all of the things we enjoyed at Gramma's and that reminded us of her were gone. Most were gone but years and years later, Belinda somehow persuaded our aunt and her executrix to share the wealth of mementos.
I came to have the jacks because Belinda remembered how I loved them. When they came to her, she sent them on to me in their original Calumet can. In the can Belinda had added a note with the command, "Practice!" She wrote, "When I surprise you some day & show up at your door, I'm going to challenge you to a game." Belinda had such a sense of humor.
The day for the challenge never came, though. Belinda's life was taken away by lymphoma three years ago, not long after she sent me the jacks.
Her birthday is today. She would have been 63. I'm wishing her a happy, happy birthday!