I saw a package of Jacks by the checkout counter at the craft store the other day and I had to smile.
That simple, classic kids' toy reminded me of the stories Mom and her cousin Eloise used to tell about when they were little girls. They were distant cousins but since the families got together so often, and Eloise was an only child while Mom had just one older brother, the two girls were much closer than most cousins. Eloise was at all our family gatherings – she and Mom rotated hosting duties for the holidays – and I always thought of her as Aunt Eloise.
The two of them told me of the hours and hours they spent playing Jacks. They talked about “onsies” and “twosies,” how to bounce the ball just the right way -- once, twice, or not at all. And always – always – they remembered “the concrete sidewalk was so hot on our little, bare legs!”
And they laughed.
They laughed so hard and smiled so much at the memories that I figured Jacks must be the most fun game in the entire world. So I would run to get my over-sized set of plastic Jacks and I'd go outside to sit on the big, flat square of concrete between the sidewalk and our front stairs. I sat out there practicing for what seemed like hours and hours, bouncing and grabbing, scraping my knuckles raw on the concrete, sweating as the sun beat down on me, feeling the hot concrete burning the backs of my little, bare legs.
Mom and Eloise would watch from the cool shade of the front porch, where they sat gently swaying on the porch swing. Dinner was over, the dishes were done, there was nothing to do but visit until it was time to serve dessert.
They would occasionally offer up advice, or chastise me for cheating. (Is it really cheating if you're playing by yourself?) Every once in a while, if my offenses were particularly greivious, one of them would kneel down beside me and show me the right way to do it.
“Ooof, that used to be a lot easier!” they would say as they struggled to stand up again, girdle and nylons, high heels, age and gravity conspiring against them.
And they would erupt into laughter all over again.
The memory of that laughter warmed me as I stood there at the store, weighing the pros and cons of an impulse buy. A surprise gift for Mom.
“Remember when you and Eloise used to play Jacks, when you were little girls?” I would ask.
But... what if she didn't remember? What would I do if she looked at me with that sweet, placid smile and just shrugged her shoulders?
I've lost so much of her already. I couldn't take loosing any more.
And so I put the package back on the hook.
But... the stories, the laughter, the kneeling in polyester skirts and nylons and heels and struggling to get back up, those are my memories.
So I bought the Jacks.
And that night as I sat on the kitchen floor, the cool of the linoleum tile chilling my (not so little or bare) legs, I practiced the bouncing and the grabbing, calling out “onsies” and “twosies.”
“Ooof, that used to be a lot easier!” I said to the cat as I struggled to stand up again, achy knees and hips, age and gravity conspiring against me.
And I smiled, knowing that through the telling and sharing, memories can live on and on.