“Olly olly oxen free!”
Do kids play “Kick the Can” any more? Or “Flashlight Tag”? Or “Ghost in the Graveyard”? Or “Red Rover”? Do they even play outside in the evenings?
When I was a kid, all the moms on the block would start calling us home when the street lights came on. And whoever happened to be “it” would shout out the all-safe signal “Olly olly oxen free” (we all used the phrase, but nobody knew exactly why). Like a herd of sweaty little oxen smelling like sidewalk, we’d come galloping from the shadows back toward our respective bug-yellow porch lights.
On our block alone there were more than 20 kids – granted nearly half of them lived at our house – but there was always enough on any given night to field a couple of teams for Wiffle Ball or “Capture the Flag”.
Shortly after dinner, neighbor kids would start gathering in our yard. We lived on a corner lot that was just the right size for a playing field for any sport. My poor father tried to grow grass every spring, but it was a losing battle. By June there were permanent base paths worn into the turf. And no matter how much he griped and groaned about the kids trampling his grass, he couldn’t deflate the pride I felt in having a yard that was the epicenter of activity.
For hours we would play outside. And we played hard. Running, falling, scraping, crying, laughing, and peeing in the bushes because we didn’t want to run home. I even broke my arm playing “Red Rover” when Peggy McShane and Dana Rowland let go of their hands right as I was about to bust through their grip, sending me rolling down the hill behind them. And I swear I had a semi-permanent ring of chigger bites around my waste that lasted all summer.
We were having way too much fun to care about the chiggers or the thick humid air or the slimy slugs we stepped on in our bare feet or all the other natural things that now persuade us to stay cooped up in our air-conditioned houses watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show.
I can’t tell you the last time I had a chigger bite. I don’t even know if the critters exist any more. Are they extinct? Either I’ve been lathered up with too much toxic bug repellant lately, or I don’t roll around in the grass enough. And I don’t know that my girls have even had a chigger bite.
Well all of that is going to change this summer. My goal is teach my girls and the other neighbor kids the ins-and-out of “Kick the Can”. I pledge to sweat more and not be bothered by it. And I am going to do everything I can to rack up a few chigger bites.