Games of the Night.

An article about the games I loved to play as a kid after the sun went down.
June 09, 2008
The sun is setting. In the distance the drone of an A/C unit fills the air. A slight breeze is blowing with the scent of freshly cut grass wafting into your nostrils. Fireflies blink on and off in the distance, floating around the yard like miniature lanterns. Slowly a group of kids begin to assemble at a pre-determined patio, or driveway. They are all gathered, as I did as a kid, for one reason, and one reason only, to play a game.

The scene recalled from above is one that I had the privilege of being part of many times in my youth. During the summers of the late 80's and early 90's my brothers and I would gather many nights to play our favorite night-time games with the neighbor kids. We played mainly three games, Bloody Murder (Aka. Ghost in the Graveyard"), Kick the can, and Capture the Flag. Recently, while recalling the fond memories I had of these games, I was called a "Hick" or "Hillbilly" because I played them as a kid. After a bit of protesting, I got to thinking about how games like these are being lost to new generations of kids. It's sad in a way. All of these games were such a big part of who I was when I was little, I can remember waiting all day in anticipation just so I could play a good game of Kick the Can with my friends later that evening. It was this thought process that got me thinking that I should write my first article as a tribute to the night-time games of old.

Without further or do, Here are the games that I played as a kid...

Bloody Murder (Aka. "Ghost in the Graveyard" or "The witch ain't out tonight")
We called this game Bloody Murder in my old stomping grounds, but it is, in effect, the same game as Ghost in the Graveyard or The Witch Ain't Out Tonight. This game was THE game of choice for us to play. We would always play at night with a fairly large group of kids. The game would start with what we used to call "shoe shiner"... I don't know where we came up with that name, and many of the readers may have called it something different, but none the less, shoe shiner was our way of determining "who was it" for the start of the game. We would all stand in a circle and put one foot into the circle. A pre-determined "shoe shiner" would than recite a rhyme / song designed to single out one person as "it". The rhymes I can remember went something like this...

"Bubble gum, bubble gum, in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?" With each word, the shiner would move around in a circle tapping each shoe as he/she went in cadence with each word they were saying. On the word wish, whoever the shiner landed on would say a number, the shiner would than continue counting around in the circle whichever amount of times was said. The person who's foot was landed on at the end of the count would receive the following taunt in unison from everyone else in the group... "And you are now it for this game!!!" at which time the person who was chosen would sulk off to begin the game.

(Very ticked she just lost at shoe shiner)

Another favorite rhyme we used during shoe shiner was
"My Grandma and your grandma were hanging clothes,
My grandma punched your grandma right in the nose,
What color was the blood of your grandma?"

At which time the person landed on would say a color. The "shiner" would than spell out the color like this: let's say our color is blue… "B-L-U-E spells blue and you are not it for this game." Rinse and repeat, until one person is left, that person became it.

Of course there was always the good old standby:
"Eenie Meenie Miney Mo,
catch a tiger by his toe,
if it hollers, let him go,
Eenie Meenie Miney Mo."

The person who we had determined would be it to begin the game would go hide, while the rest of the group closed their eyes and counted out loud

"One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock rock! Four o'clock, five o'clock, six, o'clock Rock! Seven o'clock, eight o'clock, 9 o'clock Rock! Ten o'clock, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock rock, LUNCHTIME!!!" (Then count the same way all over again, accept when you reach twelve o'clock you yell MIDNIGHT!!!)

At the call of midnight, all of the players scrambled in all directions to find the person who is it. Everyone searched, hearts pounding, looking in every dark nook and cranny, behind bushes, in window wells until... We would hear a blood curdling scream,


The "it" person had been found. At which point we all ran back to our goal, a pre determined area where you were safe. We used our back patio which was basically just a cement slab. The kid who is it has to try to chase down, and catch as many people as they could. The first person who was tagged would now become it, and the saga would start all over again.

The next game we played often was
Kick the Can
Kick the can, like all of the other games we played, we would start out with a session of "shoe shiner". Our variation of the game went something like this. A can, bucket, stack of cans, or any device that would make a lot of noise when kicked would be placed in the middle of a yard. The person who was designated "it" would stand in a corner with their eyes closed and count to a pre-determined number… I think 50 was our number of choice. Everyone else playing would than go hide.

(We are hiding, you can't see us.)

When 50 was reached the kid who is it would go out to find everyone else. When someone was caught, they were sent to jail, in a predetermined area. To be freed from jail, you basically had to scream "I'm caught, someone kick the can!!!" , at which point, if you were popular that day, another player would try to come and kick the can without getting caught themselves. If you weren't particularly popular that day, you would be left in the jail to sit and watch as all of the other kids had fun running around without you. I can remember my older brother and his friend only freeing other people in the jail, and not me on purpose, so I could just sit there and plead to be saved, in the end only to be called a baby, as they ran off to hide before they themselves got caught. Ahh, the good old days! But anyways, if the can is successfully kicked all players in jail go free.

(kid successfully kicking a can)

This left the person who is "it" again, to go find everyone else. The last person to be left would usually be declared the winner, and would than get to pick anyone other than the previous person to be "it". And a new game would begin.

I have to take this moment to tell you why Kick the can will always be remembered with infamy by me till the day I die...

I remember it all too clear... it was a beautiful July evening, no clouds in the sky, about 80 degrees outside, and a slight breeze. On this particular evening we decided to play kick the can at the neighbor's house. Our neighbors rented their house from a family that lived next door to them. The family who owned the two properties would let us use both yards to play in at night, so we had a lot of room to play. We were halfway through a game and I was running for my life from my older brother's friend who was "it". Ahead of me was a row of bushes which formed the boundary between the two yards we were playing in. I made a break for the bushes and before I knew it I felt as if I had been shot in the rear end. You see, in my haste to get to get away from my brother's friend, I didn't notice that the property owner had let out their half blind, deaf dog to go to the bathroom. the dog must have seen me running, and decided I looked like a good snack, so he chased after me.


The dog caught up to me right as I hit the bushes, latched on, and bit HARD. (In my mind I see a male version of the Coppertone logo)

He broke the skin and all. When the property owner heard my howling screams, she rushed outside to see what had happened. When she learned I had been bitten by her impaired K9, she insisted I come in so she could get a look at it. I can still remember the embarrassment of sitting there in her kitchen with my bloody rump hanging out, as she frantically tried to tend to my wound… and I'm sure also prevent a lawsuit. When I got home my grandpa was there, and all I remember is him making fun of me because I couldn't sit down. What a night.

Capture the Flag
This game doesn't need much explanation. It has become probably the most popular night-time game out there, and I believe is still played by a lot of kids. I have even played it as recently as college (I graduated a year ago). Capture the flag has even been carried over into video games; where most online multiplayer formats have an option to play capture the flag, or a similar variation of the game

For those of you who don't know how to play, I will give a brief description of the game. Two teams are created from a group of people. Boundaries are set for the playing area, and this area is divided in half. One side "belongs" to one team (we will call them team A), and the other to the other team (team B). Each team has a flag, usually of a different color. Team A and B hide their flags on their respected sides of the play area.

The goal of the game is to sneak across into the opposing team's area and capture their flag. Once captured, you must run their flag back to your side of the playing area to win. If you are caught (tagged) on the opposing side's area, depending on how you play, you will either have to freeze in your spot, or be sent to a jail. If you are playing the variation of the game where you are required to freeze in your spot, you must remain there until a member of your team comes and tags you. To break out of jail, a member of your team must come tag you as well.

When the flag is successfully captured and brought to the opposing side of the area, the game ends, and the team who has successfully captured the other team's flag wins. I don't recall playing this game too often at home, but it was a staple at any Cub Scout or Boy Scout outings. Years later when I became a YMCA camp counselor I played this game numerous times with my campers as well, and they loved it every bit as much as I did, even though we had to play during the day for safety reasons.

I'm sure there are other night-time games out there that I am forgetting, or that you played the same games as I did with different variations. I would love to hear about them, so please comment! The wonderful thing about these games is that even though the names and rules of the games may change, the absolute joy of the games will always be there.

I hope that this article has re-kindled some memories from your past, and I hope that it inspires at least one of you to get out there and teach some of your own kids some of these great games that are being lost to the annals of time
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