Jacks May 14, 2014

My parents are incredibly sentimental people. With two kids in their forties, though, they’ve had to make some tough decisions along the way about what they’d keep from our childhoods, and what they’d toss.

Grown-ups, but not really.

You see, their sentimentality and love of mementos from our childhood comes into direct conflict with my mother’s (some would say “obsessive” – I WOULDN’T, mind you…but SOME would…) need to de-clutter. Since my parents now have five grandchildren, and are receiving even more adorable mementos from them, it wouldn’t surprise me if they just tossed ALL the crap from when my sister, Rachel and I were young to make room for the grandkids’ incoming gifts, notes, letters, leaves, rocks, and whatever else struck the grandbabies’ fancies. Present cuteness tends to trump past cuteness. I understand. No hard feelings.

Well, my sister’s family and mine were visiting my parents’ house after they’d had renovations done. As we were ooo-ing and aaahhh-ing over the soft-close drawers and built-in bookcases, my mother said to us, “You will never guess what I found when I was cleaning out closets.”

This, of course, made us nervous, as our children were standing right there, and this had the potential to be quite embarrassing.

She retrieved for us a tiny, red, suitcase-like plastic box, the contents of which Rachel and I were able to identify immediately and without even opening the box. “Oh, my god,” I said. “Holy shit,” Rachel said. It was the set of jacks we played with for hours on end for so many years of our childhood in Brooklyn.

Just like we remember them.

We’d sit on the linoleum floor in the foyer outside the bathroom with our knees open and bent, heels of our feet touching one another’s to form the perfect diamond shape if you happened to be a bird flying over us. Or a roach crawling on the ceiling. It was Brooklyn.

My poor sister couldn’t help being better than I was, though I have no doubt she tried her best to lose. It wasn’t fun for her if she won – I had a nasty angry streak, and I was an extremely sore loser. I would bury my head in my hands and scream, and when that didn’t provide relief, I’d inexplicably bite my own knee. For some reason I’ll never understand, she still played with me.

Anyway, our stunned adult selves grabbed the little red box, opened it and immediately assessed the situation. Counting the tiny-but-heavy metal jacks, we found there were enough to play with and a couple left over – just like we remembered. There was even the little red ball, which, I was sad to find, didn’t bounce quite as high as it used to. Or maybe I’m just taller now.

We looked at each other and narrowed our eyes. Our lips were set in tight determination. I’m sure if I listened closely, I would have heard a coyote’s howl in the distance, and townspeople rushing to the safety of the indoors.

We looked at our respective spouses and advised them to do whatever it took to keep the children away from us. Old rivalries die hard.

There, in the foyer of their newly renovated home, we dropped our asses onto the floor for an impromptu and long overdue rematch. We did flipsies to see who went first. We started the game. We shouted out in triumph whenever the other one missed.

Our fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be, but no matter. “HA! THREESIES!” I yelled when I got past twosies. The kids looked on in bewilderment, but fascinated, and Rachel’s 4-year-old kept trying to get into her lap, but the husbands did a decent job corralling her.

Rachel won that game, but the blow was lessened by my mellowing with age and being on Prozac for 11 years. I’m happy to report my knee escaped unharmed. I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief when it was over, as they were likely questioning the wisdom of having resuscitated this deep rivalry.

Turns out, though, that it was not only wise, but one of the happiest trips down memory lane I’d ever had. For as long as we can get ourselves down onto the floor and back up again, I look forward to many more games of jacks with my sister. Of the many mementos of childhood, I’m glad that tiny box of jacks made the cut.


Rachel and me.


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