Recently the high primal and I treated ourselves to dinner out at a local restaurant. While waiting for our dinner to be served I couldn’t help but notice a family of four sitting at a nearby table. It was a fascinating scene. The mother and father were busy jabbering away on their cell phones and the two children, oblivious to the hamburger and french fries on their plates were clicking away at what was obviously some computer game. While mumbling a few choice epitaphs, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the primitive games which were available to me in my youth.
The 1930’s meant that money was scarce , especially so for games. Football? A salt sack filled with autumn leaves served nicely as a football. Baseball? A broomstick for a bat, a ball heavily taped with electrician’s tape to keep it from unraveling and Woolworth Five And Dime store gloves were all we needed. Basketball? An old bushel basket, with the bottom knocked out, nailed to a telephone pole and a Woolworth bouncing ball did the trick nicely. Flipping baseball cards at a wall was a game of skill. The owner of the card closest to the wall won the other cards. To get a "standard" ( the card resting upside against the wall) was the ultimate flip. The most skillful players probably graduated into professional gamblers. Then there were pocket knife games.
Yes, knife games and no, the objective was not to harm anyone. Having a pocket knife was probably the equivalent of having some exotic hand held computer game today. Hours could be spent playing with a pocket knife.
One of the knife games was a game of skill. Memory failed me in recalling some of the intricacies concerning mumblety-peg but Wikipedia came to the rescue with this description. “ Some versions of the game involved a series of about a dozen progressively more difficult trick tosses. For example, after first tossing the knife right and left for a 1/2-turn in the air from the open palm of each hand, the next step is to toss it similarly from the closed fist of each upward-turned hand. The third turn, with the knife laying on the back of the hand pointing away from the player, is to flip it up 270 degrees and down into the dirt. Fourth was "Spank the Baby": holding the blade flat between the first two fingers of one hand, the knife handle was "spanked" with the other hand causing the knife to flip up 270 degrees and stick into the ground. The knife had to always stick into the ground securely enough to put two fingers (or a beer can) under it. "Tip of the fingers" was another turn, with the knife being required to stick in the ground after doing a somersault off the tip of each index finger (and thumb, to hold the tip), and a subsequent turn was "Tony Chestnut" where the knife was similarly flipped off the toe, the knee, the chest and the forehead (nut). Another turn was "Over the fence". The knife was just barely stuck into the ground, leaning over to the right or left. The player's free hand made a "fence" and the knife was slapped up and "over the fence" with the other hand. It had to flip completely at least once, then come down sticking in the ground with the accepted "two fingers" clearance. In some versions, this turn was last, called "Over the Fence is Out" and the winner was the player who got "over the fence" first. Another trial was standing with the knife in one's hand, tip pointing away, then throwing the knife over one's head backwards and having it stick in the ground.”
By far the knife game that held the most interest in our neighborhood was “ baseball”. I vaguely remember the rules for this game. It involved flipping a two bladed knife up in the air. How it landed on a tree stump or porch determined what kind of a hit it was or whether it was an out (a detailed description of the pocket knife baseball game can be found with this link - Pocket Knife Games Were Popular Pastimes by Glenn Tunney).
Knives for youngsters are taboo these days. Anyone going thru a security check at school with a pocket knife in his pants is game for suspension. Carrying a fancy cell phone with all kinds of apps is perfectly OK. That’s probably the way it should be. I daresay that many youths carrying a pocket knife have something other than mumblety-peg or baseball in mind. For old geezers, its still fun to remember the good old days when a pocket knife , if you were lucky to have one, provided hours of enjoyment. If I could find a tree stump I might give "baseball" a try again with my vintage Swiss Army Knife.