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This brings to mind the many hours evenings and weekends we amused ourselves and our children around the dining room table so many years ago.

The Games We Played in Childhood
by Walter Mills

This year for Christmas our daughters each got a computer game in which they can create whole societies on the computer screen. The games are intricate and absorbing, easy to get caught up in for a couple of hours. The only problem is they play them alone.

When I was a child in the fifties and early sixties, we didn’t have as much to occupy us as children do today, so many evenings we passed the time playing games. My older brother and sister, my mother, father and I spent many happy hours trying to annihilate each other across the table.

We were all cutthroat players and competed fiercely. As the youngest player, I loved it on those rare occasions when I beat my older siblings. I had little ability to compete with them in any other way; they were too far ahead of me. Only in these games did I have a chance to be taken seriously, to be their equal, if only for the space of an hour or two. In the end the games didn’t matter; I wanted to be inside the circle of family. Playing a game was the means to that end.

The first game I recall playing was on a winter night when I was eight. We lived in Tennessee then, and my Uncle Buddy, my mother’s older brother, had traveled from some foreign country to visit us. He was a marine and a veteran of Guadalcanal, tall, thin, and to me, fascinating.

The game we played was Monopoly. I was Buddy’s partner and rolled the dice for him and moved the marker along the rows of property, past Marvin Gardens and Ventnor Ave., around the board to Go. Buddy told me I was lucky, and it did seem as if I rolled him past the danger spots, the expensive properties with houses and hotels. For years Monopoly held a glow based on that night, and for a long while I believed I was something special - a lucky boy.

Later we moved back home to South Florida, where many nights we played card games at the dining room table. I remember the five of us – there was also a younger sister just out of diapers - sitting around my grandmother’s oak table dealing cards and talking, always talking in the hot Florida nights.

One of the games we played was Cribbage, a card game that uses a board and pegs to keep score. Though he died long ago, if I want to hear my father’s voice all I have to do is recall the rhythmic way he counted his hand – “fifteen-two, fifteen-four, a pair is six, and the Right Jack is seven” – as he moved the small silver peg around the board.

We moved to Key West when I was twelve, and my parents’ friends came over each weekend to eat potluck suppers and play games. The Terry’s and the Wilson’s were both navy families and neighbors in the big naval housing complex called Sigsbee Park. After supper we sat around the living room playing Twenty Questions, choosing some real or fictional character the others tried to guess. Forty years later I still can think of no better way to spend an evening than eating with friends and playing games.

The family circle has grown smaller, but the games haven’t ended. These days when we go down to South Carolina to visit my mother, one of the first things she does is set up her Scrabble board. She is a competitor, even in her eighties, and I feel lucky when I can win a game from her.

And at home we carry on the tradition. Along with the computer games, my daughters also received several board games for Christmas. They are not the old ones I remember, but that doesn’t matter. What counts is that when we play them we are inside the circle of family, and we are lucky. They will remember that when all the electronic toys are junk.

(The above column originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times and is copyright © 2011 by Walter Mills. All rights reserved worldwide.)  Read more of Walt's writing at his blog: http://americanimpressionist.wordpress.com/

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