School Daze: Games We Played

My class at Elizabethtown Library
My class at Elizabethtown Library

Here we are all bunched up together for a photo documenting our excursion from Rheems Elementary School to the library in town about 3 miles away. But we’ll soon board buses, and go back to our two-room school-house in Rheems where we’ll probably have lunch or recess. And we’ll lose our serious faces, eyes agape.

Recess, yes! After Miss Longenecker, grades 1- 4, or Mrs. Kilhefner, grades 5 – 8, excuses us, we all scram out to the playground equipped with a slide, see-saw, and jungle gym with bars for climbing and twirling our bodies around. Before we go back to class, most of us will pay a visit to the typical wooden outhouses, one for girls and one for boys, right next to each other and both regularly anointed with lime to quell the smell.

Group Outdoor Games:

1. Softball  (Need an extra inning? Teachers, not so pressured by students’ test scores, may extend our play.)

2. Red Rover “Red Rover, Red Rover,” let ________ come over!) involving mad dashes around school building.

3. Crack the Whip  Classmates in a line, running, then strong body at one end stops short, so others flip around. Cheap thrill!

4. Tag   When someone chases you down on the playground and touches you, you are IT!

5. Hide and Go Seek   HideGoSeek

Games with Just a Few:

1. Simon says

2. Hop-scotch

3. Four square

4. Jump rope

5. Double jump rope  Each child has a handle on two different jump ropes and flicks them one at a time in opposite directions.  “I dare you not to trip up!”

Rainy Day Games:

1. Jacks  Jacks game

2. Pick Up Sticks

Courtesy: Google Images
Courtesy: Google Images

3. Tiddly-Winks  (Players try to snap small plastic disks into a cup by pressing them on the edge with a large disk.)

Treat for Teacher:

Someone, probably Ralph, announces in the middle of class “Fruit Roll!” and kids behind every desk in class jump up with an apple, orange, or grapefruit to roll along the oiled, wooden schoolhouse floor toward the teacher’s desk, an unexpected treat!  [In an era when teachers fear spit balls or worse–guns! even, such a gesture is most endearing.]


I wish I could show a photo of the school and outhouses, but one cold evening during Christmas vacation, the school burned down, suspiciously, and was replaced by a standard- issue concrete structure, not nearly as nostalgic as the steepled one with a bell that I remember.

I was already in junior high in the big school uptown when the fire occurred, but my sister Janice remembers being shifted to Washington School, the building adjacent to Bossler’s Mennonite Church, where our Daddy and Aunt Ruthie attended. This old school had a large furnace in the basement with a sizable flat top, and students would bring potatoes wrapped in foil to bake on top of the furnace for a nice hot lunch on cold, cold days.

Like Mildred Armstrong Kalish in her memoir, Little Heathens, depicting Iowa farm and school life during the Depression, I have fond, fond memories of Rheems Elementary School in the 1950s.

Fun time resource for parents, grandparents:

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Add some memorable games to the list!


Splash: Another Time, A Different Tub

In Florida, most people take baths once a day. It’s too hot not to. And it’s a safe bet most people in contemporary America take more than one bath a week.

Not so in the olden days. Mildred Armstrong Kalish writes of her family’s once-a-week bathing in her chock-full-of-detail memoir of growing up on an Iowa Farm during the Depression and vividly describes the extra bath needed on days working in the hay-field:

When dusk came after a day like this [reaping and storing hay], Mama would fetch a steaming kettle of water from the kitchen stove and bring it out to the porch where, during the summer months, we set up a washing station which consisted of a wooden bench, an enamel wash basin, clean towels, a mirror, and a pail of fresh water for drinking or to temper the hot water. She started with us girls, giving us a soaping from head to toe and sending us, towels and nightgowns in hand and naked as jaybird, across the grassy lawn to the windmill. Once there, Sis and I pumped pails of refreshing cold water and doused each other all over until we fairly tingled. After we dried ourselves, we donned our cotton nighties and ran back to the house and up to bed. We would be dead to the world in minutes.

In the Longenecker family, mirrors, pumps, and windmills were not involved in the bathing process, but we did bathe once a week whether we needed it or not—usually on a Saturday night before Sunday church. The exceptions were a visit to the doctor or getting rid of ickiness after sickness. Then we called the bath a “rinse off.”

Before our house had a “real” hot water heater, there was an apparatus in the cellar that could have heated water year round. But it was not used in the summer because “It’s just too hot to run that thing when it’s so hot outside already!” So June – August or September, our bath water was heated in a tea kettle or large pan on the kitchen stove and carted in buckets upstairs to the bathroom. Baths were taken in the order of cleanliness, or lack thereof. Usually bath time started early Saturday evening with my sister Jean and Janice, the two youngest, together in the tub with a fragrant bar of Ivory soap, the soap that floats! Soon it was my turn, then Mother, and finally Daddy, a farm equipment mechanic, who was the dirtiest of all.

After all the baths, the 99.44/100 % pure Ivory was made murky with all the build-up of grime, dyeing tub water a charcoal-ish, murky tone and a film of grease on top. It would take more than one scrubbing with BAB-O to restore the porcelain shine, for sure.

Courtesy: Google Images
Courtesy: Google Images

Did we get clean? I am sure youngest sister Jean did and probably Janice too. Were we frugal? Yes, and to a fault.


Let’s Talk: Your thoughts please!

What about your baths as a child? Any particular products you remember using?

What else are you curious about growing up Mennonite in the 1950s? What other topics would interest you?