Our quarters at Dover A.F.B. lent itself to play. Laid out in the pattern of a giant U, base housing had a row of attached houses to the right, center, and left. The front doors and yards of the houses faced outside the U, and we rarely played in that area where the perfectly clipped and edged lawns and pristine white sidewalks reminded us that the families enlisted in the military along with their fathers and mothers. The back doors of our homes dumped into a common play area. Some families, like us, put up fences around their yards for their dogs. Other families kept their back yards open to the field. A huge black topped parking lot filled the cup of the U and provided not only a slot for the family car, but also the perfect roller skating and skate boarding surface. Beyond the parking lot, toward the center was The Field.
In this field, we played together on endless summer nights. Roaming the area like a pack of stray dogs, all the kids from our section shifted in play from football to baseball to games like “Crack the Whip” and “Mother, May I?” Some evenings, when we gathered a large enough group after dinner, we’d divide into two teams to play “Red Rover.”
“Red Rover” intimidated me. My pixie sized body rarely broke through the linked hands, meaning I became captured round after round. The other team never failed to get delight in watching my futile attempt. Every time they sang, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Lizzy right over!” I’d critically analyze the opposing line for the weakest link. My heart pounded, my breathing picked up, and my little scrawny legs pumped furiously as I flew across the distance to fling myself at the selected spot. I tried torqueing my body at the last second to add force to my plunge, but it never mattered. The hands never broke free. I’d hang like a wet rag, winded and ashamed while guffaws and catcalls erupted from both teams.
I learned strategy and tenacity from playing “Red Rover” because I didn’t give up. I could have opted out of this game, retreated to the safety of home and a piece of Mom’s fresh baked pound cake. Or I could have pretended I wanted to play on the slides and swings with the other younger kids. Something in my personality drew me into this challenge, and the humiliation of defeat after defeat never swayed me from my desire to play. Perhaps all of these summer games of childhood served more purpose than keeping us out from underfoot at home. I learned teamwork, tactical planning, perseverance, and doggedness. I tasted victory and survived loss—all of these elements necessary in maneuvering through adulthood’s life games.