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Ollie Ollie In Free!
by Amy Kenneley

During the day our short little Cleveland street was pretty average - some hedges in front of narrow little patches of earth, bisecting front porches from sidewalks. Patches of flowers tried to survive the summer heat and the footsteps of passersby. The deeply set porches provided a haven from the mid-day sun.

That is where we whiled away the summer days, fanning and swinging on porch swings, running to the nearby playground with friends, or playing endless games of Uncle Wiggley. Supper came early to this working class street, and after helping with supper dishes and taking the garbage out, most of us were anxious for the dark to come, for the best game of all.

Hide and Go Seek

The darkness closed in and the egg-shaped street lights came on. On our street there were three. That left vast jungles of darkness outside the round pools of light cast by the streetlamps.

We gathered at the only sign on the street. It said, "No Parking This Side" The sign was Goal. Anyone who could run to the signpost before the "It" person caught them was safe. But if "It" touched you before you reached the sign, or reached Goal before you could, then you were out.

If IT gave up looking for the last person, he would call, "Ollie Ollie In Free" and whoever was left would win. Win what? Well, just win. To us, winning was enough.

"Who'll be It? "

"Let's go Eeny-Meeny"

"No! Paper Rock Scissors!"

"Bill should be It, because he didn't play last time"

And thus we wrangled our way down to agreement, or something close to …..IT.

IT leaned against the signpost, his arms across his eyes, and began to count. "I,2,3,4,5"

"No fair! You're counting too fast!"

But IT continued at a fast pace, and the complainer (me) knew she could stand there and whine or find a place to hide….quick.

Hedging In

The night could conceal us, but which hiding place would be the best? The big hedge under the Whinney's front porch was ideal, with its long drooping branches, but when I crawled under, Connie was already there.

"Go'way!" she whispered.

"There's room for two!" I tried to reason.

"No there's not-- go 'way!"

And so I backed out, hearing the countdown from IT , and knowing I had to find another place.

There were some very definite rules we followed. All hiders had to stay outside. The ends of the street were the boundaries of play. You couldn't go up on porches. Given that, every bush and space between houses, every box or can, every climbable tree was fair game.

There was the trash can left out by someone next door. If I crouched low enough I could conceal myself between it and the brick wall.

"18, 19, 20! Here I come, ready or not!"

No time to decide now, just try to look very, very small.

I could hear IT's footsteps walking up the sidewalks; I knew he was peering under hidden places, confronting shadows and then moving on. He would listen for breathing, so experienced Hide and Go Seekers, learned not to run too far or fast, and to quiet themselves, as still as a mouse. Gigglers, and there were two in our group, always gave themselves away.

A clatter of feet as someone runs toward the signpost. "Tag! You're out!"

Another run of feet and another, "Tag! You're out!" In the darkness, running shapes of neighbor kids blended into the blue-white flickering seen through the living room window screens…the television shows watched by weary adults.

I crouched even lower, working my way around the side of the trash can as IT's giant shadow cast by the streetlight came nearer. Careful, careful not to move! I pressed myself as flat as possible against the brick wall behind the can. Suddenly the lid was pulled off with a metallic clang and IT screamed, "You're in there!"

But I wasn't. I huddled, not daring to breathe. The metal lid banged down and he walked away. Now I could make my dash to the Goal signpost and be home free.

Called Home

"Amy! Amy Lou! Time to come in!" And then a chorus of adult voices began to call as well:"Paulie! Paulie! Connie, bedtime! Robert and Stevie, time to come home! Judy!Juuuuuuuu-dy!"

"Ah, Ma, can't we stay out a little longer?" came a plea, but to no avail.

IT sounded the end of the game. " Ollie Ollie In Free!" The few of us still hidden came out and the game was ended for that night. We each straggled home, bare feet or tennis shoed, dragging up porch steps, the bang of screen doors signaling an All Clear to the night.

Perhaps your game of Hide and Go Seek was played a little differently. Was it Ollie Ollie Oxen Free instead? Or did you choose IT in another way? Your boundaries might have been wider, your rules a little different. However it was, it was the right way.

We had nothing but the shadows and street to conceal us, no official rules except those we made up ourselves and changed over and over. What really mattered was that it last as long as possible.

But nothing lasts. Already we knew that. Even the winking fireflies, back to possess the night from the neighborhood children, knew that summer's end was near.



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