Thursday, March 11, 2010

G is for Games

Visiting my mother this week, I discovered all our favorite childhood games stacked on a shelf in the laundry room.  Most of the boxes are a bit ratty, but the boards are fairly intact and nearly all the playing pieces are miraculously still in their little cardboard slots.

These are the real deal--vintage seventies rainy-day specials.  Including the best game of all time: CLUE
My sister and I always fought to be Miss Scarlet.  She was older, so she usually won.  My second choice was Professor Plum; third was Colonel Mustard.  No one ever wanted to be Mrs. White.  

And then there was Twister.  This game was only fun when I was about twelve and when there were boys around.  My mum and I looked Twister up on the ever-reliable and always factual (ahem) Wikipedia, and we discovered that Twister was first released in 1966, but it didn't become a hit until Eva Gabor played it with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.  What a hoot that must have been!  Apparently, Milton Bradley was accused by its competitors of selling "Sex in a Box."  Well, duh, as we  used to say when we were kids!

From the looks of it, our Twister spinner is one of the early ones.  Don't ask me who wrote the numbers on it or what they were for.  We were always inventing our own spinoff games using various bits and pieces from other less-loved games.

Last but not least is the Ouija Board, produced by Parker Brothers, who, forgive the pun, had quite a monopoly on the game industry in those days.  Ouija isn't strictly speaking a game, but we treated it like one, albeit a terrifying, pee-your-pants kind of game.  Sitting around the Ouija board in a dark room with candles lit and a half-dozen or so kids wired on orange soda and chips is one of my most vivid childhood memories.  So vivid that I ended up writing a poem about Ouija, which I've included below just in case you're in a poetry mood.  It's written as if it were the rules for how to "play" Ouija.  Definitely read it aloud.  It begins as a kind of funny poem, but don't let that fool you.  Read all the way through, beginning slowly and letting your pace pick up as you go.  I should mention, too, that it's not a poem about childhood.

Ouija-Board Rules
“Ouija board, ouija board, ouija board,
would you help me?
Because I still do feel 
so horribly lonely.”
The board should be bought
during a waxing moon
at a two-family yard sale 
in Ohio or Vermont,
or found on a Wednesday
at the town dump, 
or passed down 
from a spinster aunt 
with gout and houseplants.
It must be kept 
in a box whose corners
are held with cellophane
tape the color of tea,
and after obsessive use 
for three consecutive nights
during which six
thirteen-year-old girls
receive this message
from the spirit world
three consecutive times:
warning staircase good bye,
it must be wedged
with trembling hands
on a shelf in the hall closet
beside the hat box 
with the brown fedora no one has worn, 
and between the Candy Land 
and Clue with missing candlestick
replaced by a penny marked 1973.
It must wait then for at least 
a decade in the dark to speak.
Only then, on a weekend 
when the house smells of pea soup
and a particularly pungent
strain of family tension and loss,
may it be taken down,
the planchette placed gently
as a beating heart 
in its center,
and the fingers of those present
may take their positions.
Expect nothing.
Let someone else ask the questions.
Do not let your pulse
quicken its pace.
Place a pure silver coin
over the moon.
Picture a piece of the one you lost--
the crescent scar behind her ear--
never picture her face.
Do not want this too much.
When the planchette trembles,
glides to the letters,
let someone else spell the answers.
The room will be dark, of course.
Spirits like dark, 
and rain’s good, too.
Windows will rattle
as windows do.
Ignore words
from the man who died
in the basement
or the sea captain 
who murdered his second wife.
You’ll be tempted to flip 
on all the switches, bake chocolate
chip bars, play Twister, 
which you found in the closet, too,
but do not let go.
Wait for the words that matter,
the ones for you,
the ones from her,
the ones she never said,
the ones about bacon 
sandwiches in the park 
on a Sunday; the word shoe,
which could only mean
the one you lost chasing
her drunk down Deering Street
on New Year’s Eve.
Wait for her words,
the ones you never heard;
do not let go.
If they don’t come,
if you must,
if all else fails,
ignore the others
around the board,
push the planchette;
push it past S, past F,
past YES, past the sun,
past the moon, past Parker Brothers,
and X;
push the needle in the heart,
push it all the way to HELLO--
do not let go.

(This poem was previously published in Mid-American Review, published by Bowling Green State University, and in my chapbook Learning to Tell Time, published by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.)

I'd love to hear about your favorite childhood board games.  Do you still play any of them now?  I think I'm going to pester my nephews to play Clue with me sometime soon.  Maybe now I'll finally get to be Miss Scarlet.


  1. Oh! I love this post and the pictures. I have tried to take shots of my board games, but these put mine to shame. I loved Parchesi!

    Thanks for the good memories!

  2. this is a fabulous post. i thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. Oh Gigi, we did the same thing with Clue, I wanted to be Miss Scarlett along with my sisters, brother didn't care!

    I loved Monopoly, but I got a name for being a bit, shall we say, serious about the outcome unfair I feel :)

    Scrabble, Mastermind and Cards were our other staples.

    I see what you mean about the poem, you are way too clever missy.

  4. I can remember playing Twister on Prom Night with our dates - it was as close as our chaperon would let us get to actually being somewhat 'physical' LOL it was fun. I didn't really like Monopoly but loved Life and Parcheesi. I also loved Clue, Stratego and Risk and any sort of cards.

    Loved the poem - congrats on publication too.

  5. You always write abou the most interesting things! And brought back some fun memories. Your mother should get a big hug for holding on to these games for you. That poem is incredible, no wonder it was published. Keep writing, you are immensely talented at it (and my son went to Bowling Green). Xo

  6. Hi Gigi,
    Well, such memories. I was always the tophat when we played Monopoly,I even liked them when I was a child....and, in England, Clue is called Cluedo. I wonder why ? I was actually really good at it.I've still got mine in the loft. I also played 'Jacks' and, if I didn't win I used to throw them !!! I was only about 8. I was a pretty bad loser ! My sister and I played another game called 'Scoop' where you were journalists and you had to get the top story...oh, and pick-up-sticks. Did you have that ? Then there's Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, I could go on, and on !!
    When we were teenagers we were all fascinated by the occult and were always having seances ! Oh, those were the days. Brilliant poem Gigi. XXXX

  7. Oh Gigi I have shivers running down my spine... I was never able to play Ouija because I've always been too scared. There were people in my own family who had seen ghosts... and I would almost believe that me too about 4 year's ago...But it can't be. So I just keep away from Ouija boards and keep my face to the light ;-) WONDERFUL POEM...I loved Cluedo too !!

  8. You just described my childhood...those are the very same games I would name. Thanks for the memories!

  9. Wonderful post, and wonderful blog! My Clue choices were the same as yours. What is it about Ms. Scarlet that held us in thralls?

  10. of my favorite poems Gigi...

    What a fun post...bringing back memories...each childhood summer seemed to be the summer of a different game...the summer Marilyn Munroe died the game was "Sorry"...weekends at my grandmother's house it was always Parcheesi...One summer was Hearts...another Life...another Monopoly...I wonder which ones my sister would remember...

  11. Love everything about this post - your subject, your photos, your poem...
    Our Scrabble game is on the table right now. xoxo Jen

  12. Sorry! Parcheesi! Trivial Pursuit! Scrabble! Loved 'em all. Still play Scrabble a lot, Jen. And Boggle. I am a killer Boggle player. I say this with pride since I'm not good at many games--certainly not poker or cribbage or backgammon. I like to play them, but I stink. I am, however, really, really good at Boggle. I even kick Todd's butt, which is saying something. xo

  13. Thank you Gigi for reaffirming that I should hold onto our childhood games. We don't play them ever-but I can't seem to pass them on either. You have certainly brought back some very fond memories. You're in MAINE? Email me if you have any spare time.

  14. Dearest Gigi, I loved this post from the opening lines.

    And had thought of all those games we played, and still do when we are all together. Of how they bring us back so easily to a place we all love. Of memories of rainy camping holidays in the days of Scrabble and Monopoly and not much more. And my heart squeezes painfully as nostalgia nips and pushes me, reminding me how simple things were. And the wonder now as I see the next generation sitting at the table with us, the natural progression of life. And the wheel turns and the games go on, and we are all still there. Together. Blessed.

    And then I read your poem, and you moved me to tears, as you have done so many times before. You are something special.

    You are something special.

  15. Those are fantastic Rules, Gigi... That "don't let go", at the end...*swoon*...This post makes my heart sing! I miss family games. My family played a lot of games--Twister, Monopoly, Boggle, Uno, and Pictionary. I still love Twister and Pictionary! Hubby & I like Uno, easy to play with two. :o) Thank you for the fun today... Happy Weekend ahead ((HUGS))

  16. We never had Clue, but Monopoly made us the capitalists we are and I still have my old childhood set which brings back the cries of 'Cheat! Cheat!' whenever I come across it.

  17. I loved hearing that part about your childhood, Gigi. So fascinating! The poem was as lovely as I expected it to be, and yes, I got a bit emotional. Monopoly and Scrabble are still favorites of all the childhood games I played.

  18. Those are all my childhood games....we played them all many many times over....we always had a scrabble board or puzzle going on our table and I also loved to play pick up sticks, jacks and Yahtzee.....I love Trivial Pursuit too...Great post, brings back alot of childhood memories - and of course the yelling and screaming that someone is cheating...haha...!! Happy weekend lovely Gigi! xxoo :)

  19. I always ended up having to be Col. Mustard. SUCH a bummer. Gorgeous post, Geeg. xoxo.

    (and P.S.- what settings did you use in that shot of the old jalopy on the Monopoly board? GREAT shot. I love that shallow depth of field macro look!)

  20. hi gigi

    ha yes, we had all those games too!and operation.

    i love the morrissey quote... the pope of mope.

    have a great weekend

  21. yes...we still have those old games as well...
    great collection...

  22. That poem was wicked powerful, much like the board itself! Just seeing your images of it made my heart race. That's why we don't own one anymore. Love your writing. ~Lili

  23. I loved summer days playing games with friends and cousins - it was usually Yahtzee, Monopoly, Crazy Eights, Mastermind, and Masterpiece were our favorites and now we mostly play Cribbage. And who doesn't have a few funny memories playing Twister! Don't you think that Twister spinner would be great framed? I have a very funny girlfriend who always swore she was going to manufacture Twister bed sheets one day. Could be fun....

    As for the Ouija, there is now way I could have ever played that game in my house. My mom threw out all my records because she thought if you played them backwards you would hear evil messages.

    Fun post, thanks!

  24. when i lived in MA., we would go to the game factory, and load up. i still have them all.
    these are amazing photos!

  25. Oh, I was always Ms. Scarlet, too. When I couldn't be (say if my guest picked her or something) I had to remind myself not to pout. Get this. When Sloane was younger we could play the kids version of Clue, which is an easy as Candyland. Guess who I always insisted on being? Yup - Ms. Scarlet. Poor Sloane.

    Hey. Speaking of games, have you played Bananagrams yet? I feel certain you would love it. A lot!


Thank you so much for visiting and for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing from you.