It’s a Girl Thing
By: J. Marlando
When I was a young kid, I did all the boy things: I climbed trees; jumped off roofs, played cowboys and rolled toy cars and trucks across roads I built in the dirt into all kinds of fantasies. Sounds pretty typical, does it not?
Then when I was around six or so, my cousin Roberta came to visit. She was two years older than me and what a knockout for an eight year old—I immediately had a crush and followed her around, as is said, like a puppy.
My young life suddenly changed. Roberta had little interest in the dirt roads I’d built, playing cowboys or climbing the old apple tree. Instead, she wanted to jump rope, play jacks, hopscotch and beauty salon. One day she marked off a small square in my grandmother’s back yard, put a kitchen chair in it and told me that “this was her salon” and I was her customer.
She had me sit in the chair and then she washed my hair with the hose and afterwards curled my hair with bobby pins. I must have looked as silly as I felt but if that’s what Roberta wanted to do, that’s what we did. I was in love you see.
When she closed her “beauty shop” for the day we played other games she liked and we always had a great time! It is my intent to tell you about those games in this article since historically they all have their stories.
Hopscotch can be played in a few ways but I think we were pretty traditional. Roberta drew the squares on the sidewalk with chalk and then we would use a small stone as a marker. We’d have to hop on one foot landing on each single square—except the one where the stone marker landed and straddle the double squares using both feet. Once you reach the end of the course you have to turn around and hop back using one or two legs depending on the squares until you reach the marker—you have to pick up the marker and continue to the end without touching a line or stepping in a square with someone else’s marker. If you’ve ever played the game, you will know all this—the rules are fairly universal.
While hopscotch is a “girl’s” thing you might be interested in knowing that it wasn’t always. Indeed, some historians believe that the game itself was invented by the ancient Romans to train their soldiers. If this is true, imagine how difficult hopscotch would be when wearing full armor.
There are historians who also believe that the ancient Chinese played an early variation of hopscotch; a game with religious or spiritual meaning with the “puck” representing the soul.
The confirmed record, however, does not appear until 1677 when it is referred to in Poor Robin’s Almanac called, “Scotch Hopper.” Then is 1828 in Webster’s Dictionary, the game is described as being played by boys. Had I known all this way back when, I wouldn’t have worried so much about my buddies seeing me playing hopscotch with my cousin but, after all, back then I was convinced that hopscotch was, indeed, a girl’s thing.
Roberta loved to play jacks and so we played it a lot when we had to come into the house at night. I was pretty darned good at it too!
Jacks have a more traceable history. Originally the game was called “knucklebones” and was taught by Palamedes, known for his inventions in very ancient time. For example he is credited with inventing military ranks and pessoi a Greek forerunner of chess and yes, the earliest form of “jacks” played much as it is played today except today metal or plastic jacks and a rubber ball are used. Back then, however, jacks—by any other name—probably entertained the troops fighting in the Trojan War. Well, it is thought that the Trojan War as well as Palamedes is mere Greek mythology. Well, we can’t know that for sure since the game of jacks had to come from someplace, right?
Anyway, the game is pretty simple: The ball is usually bounced off the ground and while it’s in the air the jacks are picked up. The jacks, however, must be picked up in sequence. At first the player must pick up one jack, called onesies and then two, twosies and so on. The winning player is the one who picks up the most jacks. There are variations of the game played too. That is, some games call for two bounces of the ball but admittedly I was never that good.
What we do know for certain is that jacks…well, that is, knucklebone was extremely popular with the Romans as it was with the Greeks and as I understand it, there were nearly three dozen different scores that a player could gain with a single throw and so I assume that knucklebones either began or eventuated into a gambling game; a game that probably preceded dice. And, incidentally, there is a painting that was excavated at Pompeii showing two goddesses competing in the game of knucklebones. Perhaps jacks became a girl’s thing in Pompeii?
Knucklebones Ancient Rome Knucklebones 17th century
Roberta and I both loved jumping rope and in order to do so we would tie a rope to a tree with one of us swinging the rope in a loop while the other jumped. As I recall we had a jump-rope too which we took turns with.
No one knows the origins of jumping rope—there are paintings of children jumping rope from Medieval Times. Some say the “game” originated in China or Egypt but there is no concrete history to back up the claim. What we do know for sure, however, is that it was the Dutch who introduced jump rope to America. In fact, the early name for jumping rope was “Double Dutch.”
Roberta and I spent many a hot, summer day jumping rope and having a great time. And, my six year old manhood was not jeopardized either. Maybe some of my friends called jumping rope a girl’s thing, I knew better. My Uncle Jim was a heavy weight boxer and he jumped rope a lot!
You know, as I think about it. Maybe there really aren’t any absolutes. That is, maybe what we call girl’s things or boy’s things are just labels and images of the mind? On the other hand, I had to have looked awfully darned silly wearing those bobby pins.
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