“Night” was always late arriving. The days stretched on forever, refusing to surrender the sunlight, so that even after nine o’clock there were traces of pink and crimson in the western sky, the horizon flaming with the promise of another glorious summer day.
Actually, what just constituted “night” was open to wide and varied interpretation. As far as our parents were concerned, “night” was any time after we returned home, ragged and ragamuffin, from day camp. Certainly, for their purposes, it commenced with the conclusion of dinner, when we would bound from bungalows like stampeding livestock. Of course, as kids, we contended that for the “night” to be officially underway, a few requirements needed to be fulfilled. First, was the absence of the pajama clad “little kids”. Second, was the mandatory appearance of at least three stars in the inky sky. Finally, and most important, was the beginning of a game we called “Ring-a- leevio.”
Sides divided equally, each team took a turn being “it.” The team that was “it” had to scatter to all corners of the colony. The other team secured an area as the “jail,” and after a period of time allowing the “it” team to hide, they began seeking out the enemy. When a member of the adversarial team was sighted, he had to be stopped-often with a flying, leaping tackle-and secured to the count of “Ring-a-leevio, one two three, one two three!” That accomplished, the “caught” man was escorted to jail, where he waited, with the other unfortunates of his team, to either be “rescued” or until the entire team was jailed. Rescue occurred when a team member succeeded in broached the outer barrier of the “jail” area to touch the hands of his imprisoned teammates before he, himself, was apprehended.
RING-A-LEEVIO was the passion of our summer’s evenings. We played from dusk till our mothers, on a break from their mah-jongg and canasta games, shouted us into our bungalows. On Friday nights, with a camp free day to follow, we played deep into the night. As experienced ring-a-leevio players we became familiar with each corner, nook and cranny of the colony, filing away new hiding places and re-working mysterious routes and passageways.
It’s been thirty years since my last game of ring-a-leevio. Yet, sitting here now, eyes closed, I can recall waiting in the tall grass, bent to one knee, the ground damp, the night air icy cold in my lungs, breath short as I struggled to be quiet and access if I might succeed in a mad dash across the open lawn to the rear corner of the handball court, where my teammates were in “jail.” To be the last free man on a captured team, and manage to vanquish all the competition then guarding one’s teammates, thus setting companions free for another round, was an accomplishment akin to winning a game with a grand-slam in the bottom of the ninth.
RING-A-LEEVIO was a passion, but it was hardly all we played. There was “Johnny on the Pony,” or “Buck-Buck.” Two teams, equally divided, taking turns leaping onto the prostrate backs of the other, and, once supported for the required time, reversing position. Here, the heaviest kid, usually a late selection in choosing baseball and other team games, became a hot commodity, often the first round draft pick.
The summer nights were filled with camaraderie. Our bungalows were without TVs, let alone VCRs, cable, video games, computers, air-conditioners and phones. In place of electronic advancements we were stuck with, well, each other. If we were fortunate enough to have lights on the handball court, we could play stickball well into the night. Basketball, too.
As the years matured us, we graduated from organized games to “hanging out.” Sitting in a wide circle on painted Adirondack chairs and lawn chairs made of woven straps, we bundled up in winter coats against the cool evening. The stars illuminated our friends faces, and talked of our lives at a time when we were young, and cocky, and so ignorant and self-absorbed and wonderfully foolish, that the future laid before us like a great, wide boulevard, where options were innumerable and anything seemed possible.
On those nights we took our first tentative steps towards being adults. We sampled cigarettes, and pot, and wine, and a girl’s soft, sweet mouth (or a boy’s, as the case may be). Under a canopy of Catskill stars we pulled grass from the ground and playfully tossed it at one another, as James Taylor, the Beatles, the Rascals or Tommy James and the Shondells played softly in the darkness. We laughed and kidded and plotted and planned, and we swore we’d know one another forever. And life was so full and easy and simple, that we felt no pressure, or stress or strain, and we were convinced we would all live forever.
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