I wasn’t much of an outdoor game player when I was growing up. I wasn’t athletic, lacked coordination, and feared getting hurt. I detested softball in school and prayed the ball would come nowhere near me because I was sure it would either hit me on the noggin, or I would drop it and everyone would boo (maybe that’s why I was always picked last for a team!). But the one game I have fond memories of is SPUD. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s played with a red kickball and a slew of kids. Everyone gets a number and someone is designated as “it.” The person who is “it” throws the ball straight up in the air and calls a number. Everyone scatters except the person whose number is called. That person has to run and catch the ball and call SPUD. Everyone freezes, and the person with the ball may take three giant steps before throwing the ball and trying to hit another player. If he or she is successful, the victim gets the letter S. If he or she isn’t successful, the person who was “it” gets the letter S. The intended victim, whether tagged or not, now becomes “it” and the game continues. Once a person gets all four letters in SPUD, he or she is out. The game is over when only one person is left who does not have all the letters.
I invariably lost in this game for several reasons. First, I lived in a neighborhood of pretty athletic kids, and most of the girls were tomboys. I was the smallest, weakest, least coordinated of all of them. I couldn’t throw the ball very far. I was a slow runner. A very slow runner. And finally, everyone knew my number and called it over and over and over again, including my brother. I didn’t care. It wasn’t the game I really cared about so much. I had no illusions that maybe this time I wouldn’t be the first called out. I liked the game because I got to stay out late on a summer night with my brother. And there was nothing I liked better and no one I’d rather be with than him.
We usually played SPUD in the street in front of our house. We had a ton of kids in our neighborhood, and it wasn’t hard to round up a dozen or more. We’d start after dinner and keep playing as the light began to fade, moving under the streetlight when it got dark. Since I was usually out first, I had the luxury of sitting on the edge of our front lawn, watching the rest of the game without having to run and get sweaty, two things I was averse to. I’d capture lightening bugs in my hand, pull up grass and make it whistle, lie back and look at the stars, smell the summer scents of flowers and newly mown lawns. I was perfectly content. As it got close to ten o’clock, the witching hour for most of us, parents would holler their kid’s name, and gradually the game would wind down as fewer and fewer players were left. On more nights than not, my brother was the victorious one. But I was really the winner, because I got to spend a summer night playing SPUD with him.