When I was growing up, we played horseshoes, badminton, croquet and bounce-or-fly in our backyard during the summer months.
These games were not played by kids only, but my grandfather and my uncle Gene also played croquet, horseshoes and bounce-or-fly.
My grandfather, Gene and I played croquet once or twice a week in the evening after supper. We set up the field in a diamond pattern. It was a rare occasion when either Gene or I beat my grandfather who was dubbed “Master of the Mallet.” Not only would he knock the ball through the wicket, but he made it a point to knock our spheres away from the wicket.
My grandfather usually beat us in horseshoes, too. We played with iron horseshoes and the distance between stakes was 35 feet. He would normally get four or five ringers, and this would clinch the game for him because ringers are worth three points and the game goes to 21.
Badminton was played by the kids. Our neighbor, Jim Grissom, played tennis at OPRF High School, so he and his sister Cynthia — also a high school tennis player — would come over to play doubles with me and one of my friends.
Jim was a fantastic player, mainly because he was lean and very quick. It was almost impossible for one of us to hit a birdie that he could not return.
Cynthia was not as fast as Jim, so we concentrated on hitting the birdie in her direction. We did not fare well here either because Cynthia was 6 feet tall, had a great vertical leap and arm reach, and could return a birdie with power.
The game I liked best was bounce-or-fly. Two or three times a week after supper, my grandfather, Gene, one or two neighborhood guys and I would put on mitts and spread out across the area in front of the garage. My grandfather would bat the 12-inch softball by tossing it up and hitting it, and the rest of us would try to catch the ball either on the fly or on the first bounce.
The game was physical because guys crashed into each other trying to make a catch, skidded or fell on the cement driveway, or slammed into the garage doors.
Gene quit after the third week when he suffered a sprained wrist.
We played this game for one summer because everyone except my pal Charlie and I had quit due to the minor injuries they received playing bounce-or-fly.
Whenever the guys played ball in our backyard and a garage door window was broken by a player, he had to pay for the window and also put it in. A lot of guys learned a useful trade.
When my grandfather broke a window one evening, I laughed because I thought that he would have to climb the step ladder in order to replace it. Well, the joke was on me. He paid for it, but he told me that I would have to put it in because I should have caught the ball.
The backyard games came to an end in the summer of 1956 because my pals and I had summer jobs, and we spent our free time either bowling or playing softball.
These games were fun, but some things must end as time marches on.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 76 years.