By three o’clock each day, the temperature climbed to triple digits, bubbling the street and immobilizing all. Birds searched out bird baths, backyard ponds, or lazy sprinklers to find relief from summer’s relentless boil. In our neighborhood, the kids retreated into our home during the hottest part of the day. We pulled out worn decks of cards and played War or Concentration. Clue and Scrabble filled many hot afternoons. Sometimes, we stretched out limp and liquid on blankets under the sycamore out back, transistors tuned to KTSA, and Mom’s colorful Tupperware glasses topped with cherry Kool-Aid sitting within easy reach. The slightest whiff of a breeze tickled against our skin, carrying a hint of evening’s promised respite from our Texas humidity. Often the Wiggle Worm chased us madly around the yard, or we dared fate with the Slip-n-Slide. Everyone scattered by dinner time with pledges to regroup at seven after the temperature eased from broil to simmer.
Early evenings found everyone back in our front yard, a melting pot of kids united for the purpose of enjoying evening entertainment. The eldest kids rock-paper-scissorred to determine the first leader, and then preformed a second round to establish the game. When “Mother, May I?” rang out, I always danced with pleasure for this contest didn’t rely on physical prowess to win! My slight stature hindered me in many games we played, but in this activity I stood equal to my taller, brawnier, and older peers.
All of us lined up at the edge of our driveway, facing the leader—“Mother,” who stood across the wide lawn in the palm tree’s shadow. One by one, “Mother” called a name and instructions in a sing-song, “Kelllll—leeeee, give me three giant steps!”
The expected response in order to move forward? “Mother, may I?”
Sometimes “Mother” granted the request. One by one the players edged closer with giant steps, scissor cuts, baby steps, or frog leaps. Sometimes, “Mother” denied movement, or kept changing the instructions in an effort to confuse us into forgetting our polite, “Mother, may I?” If you forgot the question, the penalty meant returning to the driveway and starting all over again. The goal, of course, was to reach “Mother” and take control of the game. I learned through the years to keep my movements exact, my voice small, and to creep slowly forward while others diverted “Mother’s” attention with heated debate or bold coup attempts. Once I sidled close enough to “Mother” to take flight, I tagged my way to victory. Usually, we’d while away the early evening toiling at this game until nightfall provided the cover and coolness we needed for hide-n-seek.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman