January 12, 2012 —
Most of the games children play seem to be “chase” games. Tag, of course, and capture the flag are standards. But then there are all kinds of animal-themed chase games like the self explanatory “bear,” or a game in which one kid pretends to be the shark from “Jaws” attacking “swimmers” on the lawn. “Spy zombie brain hunter” sounds more like a popular video game than the classic playground girl vs. boy runaround that it really is. They are all variations on the same timeless theme of “chase” and “catch.”
This New Year’s Day was like most other days at my house—do laundry, feed the animals, cook supper—but we also played charades, drank punch from my new thrift-shop punch bowl and played the “love note” game.
“Love note” is the ultimate chase game. Made up years ago, this game—to my astonishment—still makes its spontaneous appearance among my children and their friends. (And, no, the punch wasn’t spiked.)
Many games derive from boredom, which was undoubtedly the case with the “love note” game, the origins of which date back many years ago to when my son, Sam, was playing spy and lurking around, eavesdropping on whatever it was his father was typing at the computer. “Go away, I’m writing a love note to your mother,” John said, joking.
The more my husband tried to hide the alleged “love letter” and the more ridiculous it sounded, the more the kids battled to get a sneaking look. The prose was a deliberate mish mash of embarrassing, tooth rotting sweetness: your eyes are like diamonds, your teeth like pearls… oh, to hold your hand etc. etc….
Every time the kids play this game, John eventually prints out the ludicrous note, which one of the kids then steals off with. This theft inevitably leads to an all-out free-for-all chase inside and out. In subsequent versions of this unique game, the coveted love note has been hidden, torn and burnt.
On New Year’s Day, the chase extended far out into the woods over streams and stone walls. Everyone came home muddy and wet.
Most of the children in our neighborhood have played the “love note” game—some even beg to play it. And no doubt they have told their parents all about it too—thereby helping stoke our local reputation for liberal “weirdness.” But all the kids love it, and if our New Year’s Day celebration is any indication, they continue to want to play it, despite how grown up they are now.
I remember playing chase games as a child with my cousins, such as the Biblical “Flight into Egypt.” Being the only girl, I always had to be Mary fleeing the sword-wielding Roman soldiers.
Then there was a game called “Scrounge,” in which kids acting as rats rush around the house collecting objects (lamps, the broom, the toaster and the like), then hoard them to their nests. Then someone would shout “War,” and all the rats would rush to loot and pillage each other’s nests. Needless to say, adults were not amused by this game. But it has left me with some amusing memories.
As my kids negotiate the outer edges of childhood, this New Year’s might be the last time the “love note” game will ever be played. But in this age of iPods and Xbox, Modern Warfare 3 and Angry Birds, it is a sweet and refreshing diversion.
All are welcome to email me accounts of their memories of childhood games for a future column (firstname.lastname@example.org ).