As a child, Thanksgiving was the one day in the year when my entire family would play games together. On other holidays, we were together, but with a family as large as mine, - eight children - two parents - and an ever-increasing number of in-laws and grandchildren - it was no easy trick to organize a game that included everyone. So the family game happened but once a year. Rain or shine - mud or mire - snow or sleet - we met on the playing field on Thanksgiving morning, and, for two hours or so, we fumbled about in a rough-and-tumble rendition of touch-football that had more to do with rugby and the Marx Brothers than anything else. Even the old and infirm would get involved, the oldest member of the family always hiking for both sides. We organized secret plays for the youngest children so that each could score a touchdown. No one ever seemed to know the score, both sides always boisterously claiming victory. We would return home in shambles, covered in mud, noses frozen, shirts ripped.
After dinner, there were more games to be played. I recall huge crowds of relatives gathered around in a sort of free-for-all attempt at board games like Monopoly and Clue. Sometimes three family members would share one playing piece. I remember my father never really got the hang of Clue. He had these enormous pads of paper, and, as the game progressed, he would make page after page of notes about Mr. Custard and the Drawing room and the wrench and the candle-stick. Often the game would have been over for hours, and my father would still be pouring over his notes.
I did not know it as a child, but playing games on Thanksgiving is, of course, a centuries-old tradition in America. Though no record was kept of the games played at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, historians at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts inform us that Puritan children probably played marbles, running games, leapfrog, Crack the Whip, Buck Buck Billie, kickball, and even walked on stilts. At night, families gathered around their hearth and played cards, or board games such as Fox and Geese or Blind Man's Morris, a popular 17th century game not unlike Backgammon. These board games have survived, scratched into barrelheads as well as in pictures. Today, important High School Football rivalries are often played on this fourth Thursday in November, and, if ever Grandma is going to try the latest video game, it is likely to be on Thanksgiving Day.
Copyright 2005© Kevin Shortsleeve
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