You all know the game you played in childhood: one person is “it” and counts out loud to 30 or 50 or 100 or whatever-was-agreed-upon, while everybody else hides. Then the person who is “it” seeks out the hidden people.
When I was young, the rule was that the hiders, when found, would spring out and race with “it” to the place or object designated as home base, and if they touched base before being touched by “it,” they were free. The person who was “it” had to both find and then touch a hider to get out of being “it” again. Sometimes the rules included a time limit after which “it” could call out “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free-o!” and everybody still hidden came out so a new game could start.
We played this game by the hour. My five siblings and I would play it in our house when our parents went out for the evening and left us with my eldest brother in charge. We would turn out all the lights in the house and play the game in the dark. One time I was “it” and couldn’t find one of my brothers. I stopped and leaned on the back of a tall-backed armchair with my forearms over the back and my hands dangling down . . . into someone’s hair! I had found him.
Another time “it” walked right past all the contents of a kitchen cupboard stacked haphazardly outside said cupboard door, without realizing that that was a pretty obvious clue. But my sibling was very young at the time. Two of my brothers once hid up near the ceiling (we had open-beam ceilings in that house) in the electrical conduit. Another sibling hid inside the clothes dryer.
We had declared the bedrooms off-limits to suit the skills of the entire group of us. But the bathrooms and laundry area in the garage were fair game. I hated to go out into the garage. It was darker than all the rest of the house, having no windows. The instant any of us heard our parents’ car drive into the driveway, we’d sound the alarm and everybody who was supposed to already be in bed was honor-bound to jump straight into their beds and make every effort to feign deep and dreamless instant sleep. The older ones flew around, shoving contents of cupboards back. Somehow, we were never busted.
All the neighborhood kids would play hide-n-seek on summer evenings when the days lasted forever, or anyway until bedtime. A telephone pole stood at the 12:00 position of our court (aka a cul-de-sac), and it was always home base. Backyards were off-limits, as were the insides of houses. We hid in each other’s trees, under the shrubbery, inside garbage cans, behind or under cars, and one inventive person (I think it was one of my brothers) climbed straight up the telephone pole with “it” counting below him!
When twilight spread, our mothers would begin coming outside and calling for us to come in and go to bed. My mother did not call. She had a policeman’s whistle, and she blew it hard. When we heard the first blast of that whistle, we knew to come running. Nobody talked back to or delayed obeying my mother in any way. Nobody.
Today we have been playing hide-n-seek in my house. This is a multi-generational game, with the youngest player right now being 11 and the eldest being 82. There is certainly no race to home base. Our rule is, the first one found is “it” and the rest get to just enjoy the wait until they are found.
When you play hide-n-seek as an older person with perhaps too much fat in places you never had any as a child, you quickly realize that the best hiding places are no longer possible. You simply cannot fold yourself up properly! Rats.
And then you start to realize that getting down somewhere clever is possible, but getting up again has become a large problem. Hide-n-seek is no longer the easiest game, and you are frequently “it.”
I found everybody except one person, and then I saw this leg move in the closet I was inspecting, and I hurriedly shut the door, telling the rest, “There doesn’t seem to be anybody here.” They don’t all have enough patience to allow “it” to find everybody, so they all hunt too, sometimes giving “it” clues about where to look, and sometimes pretending they know nothing at all. So I thought I’d turn the tables a little. They hunted and hunted!
Another time a family member found me by opening the closet and getting down on the ground to look for feet. I waved my bare toes to “it’s” delight.
But then “it” looked around the bedroom and declared, “There doesn’t seem to be anybody else here.” I snickered to myself. I had helped someone hide under the pillows at the head of the bed, taking the precaution of removing some of the pillows so that they didn’t seem to be piled unnaturally high. The pillows had been next to me in the closet, but “it” did not notice them at all, to my delight.
I find it is frequently necessary to cheat in order to avoid being “it” every other time. I move, something definitely against the rules. I enter forbidden territory, spy on “it” and slip into places that were searched once already. Tch tch tch. My childhood friends would be shrieking, “No fair!” My family just laughs at me. They know I am expected to break all the rules. I call it Deconstructing Hide-n-Seek and give them lectures on critical theory at which they roll their eyes and groan. “You’re It anyway,” they say.
I start counting.