Dangerous Games – A Reminiscence

I grew up in a relatively small coastal city in Virginia. Our play was unsupervised, and our parents never knew where we were. They didn’t ask. We didn’t tell. We would play on boats (we were surrounded by water on three sides) in the alley and on the docks where the fishing boats unloaded their catches.

The scene was bucolic; the way we played was not. I remember trying to get everyone to engage in a rock battle. I assured everyone that we would stand far away and throw high so you could get out of the way before it hit you. “It would be safe,” I assured everyone. I demonstrated this by throwing a rock in a high arc, immediately hitting a neighborhood boy named Eddie squarely on top of the head*.

My demonstration failed spectacularly. Eddie, crying, went directly to my house to tell my mother that I had hit him on the head with a rock. He then went to his house and told his mother and grandmother. I was in multi-generational trouble. I did learn a lesson and have never encouraged a rock battle since.

I remember playing a game called Mumblety-Peg, which required having a pocket knife, which seemingly everyone in my neighborhood had.

What did we do with those knives when we weren’t playing Mumblety-Peg? We did a lot of whittling. Let me assure you that if you are whittling, you have absolutely nothing else to do.

But I digress; here is how you played Mumbledy-Peg: According to the rules, you and your opponent stood facing each other, only a couple of inches apart. Player 1 would throw his knife (I don’t remember any girls playing Mumbledy-Peg, giving credence to the idea that girls are more intelligent than boys) so that it would bury the blade into the ground. Player 2 would then reach for it and, in turn, pitch it into the ground, further away if possible. The first person to successfully stick the knife’s blade into the ground without the other player being able to reach it wins the game.

And that’s when it got weird. The winner got to pound a peg into the ground using the handle of his knife; The loser had to pull it out with their teeth. Lest you think I am making this up, here is Wikipedia’s description of the game:

Mumblety-peg (also known as mumbly-peg, mumblepeg, mumble-the-peg, mumbledepeg, or mumble-de-peg) is an old outdoor game played using pocketknives. [1] The term “mumblety-peg” came from the practice of putting a peg of about 2 or 3 inches into the ground. The loser of the game had to take it out with his teeth.[2]

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
We also played Hide-and-Go-Seek, which in most neighborhoods was played by normal people. We, however, hid on the roofs of houses, in people’s basements, and under porches. We did not know the people who owned these homes and did not think to ask permission. Yet, we all survived (I think).
What street games did you play as a child? I would love to know.

*Let me assure you that if I had tried to hit him directly on the top of the head I would have never succeeded. In fact, if you gave me a cruise missile I would not have been able to accomplish the feat. I still shake my head in wonder.

One thought

  1. Bows and arrows were the thing when I was a kid. I remember hitting a boy from our neighbourhood in the eye with one of my arrows once. He went home crying. I went home worried out of my wits. I thought I might have blinded him. I wasn’t able to get close to him to see what damage I’d done as his twin brother came to his rescue. I guess I must have missed his eye as I never heard anything more about it. I didn’t see the twins again.

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