Does anybody play, anymore?

They were everywhere when I was a child.

In fact, I was the champion of the jacks tournament in my fourth grade class.

I likely owe this feat to not being able to run at P.E. or recess because it triggered my asthma in those pre-inhaler days. Meaning that my mother would have to walk to the school (how many blocks? Six? Eight?) to bring me a dose of liquid Benadryl because my dad was at work and she didn’t drive. The Benadryl never helped, anyway. I’d just wheeze until the wheezing quit.

But jacks, you could play by yourself, which I did. A lot. I practiced. Because jacks competitions were SERIOUS.

I wanted to play before my hands were big enough to hold them all. I watched older kids in the neighborhood and studied the moves.

Toss the jacks wide for onesies, twosies, and threesies, on up to fivesies or so.

Be careful around the sevensies to tensies; you have to be able to sweep them up in time.

If you touch a jack when you’re not supposed to, or if you drop one, you lose your turn and maybe the whole game.

Double bounce makes this so much easier.

No bounce, so much harder.

Speaking of which: Get rid of that pink rubber ball, or worse, the spongy plastic-coated one that cracks. Get a Super Ball, translucent with glitter flecks, or one that looks like it has a long squirt of rainbow toothpaste snaked inside. These things BOUNCE.

And oh, all those fun variations of the game… Cherry Picker, Pigs in a Blanket, Around the World…I knew them all, spent hours and hours immersed in finding a way to be a little faster, a little more artful, a little more flexible with the wrist and arm. There’s a symmetry and grace to jacks, there is.

Plus they’re really fun to spin like tiny tops.

Which my granddaughter loves to do.

That’s right, Child. Keep spinning and spinning, while we wait for your little hands to grow…


The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 10, I am writing around a word beginning with letter j. Just think, I might have chosen ‘jump’…I could have included a clip to the Van Halen song while revisiting my playground games of jump rope…but I can’t remember all the chants.

38 thoughts on “Jacks

  1. You’re bringing back memories. I wasn’t so much a jacks player, but I remember watching. I really loved marbles…

    The middle section where you describe playing is powerful, Fran. It brings readers right into this slice as you toss and take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Melanie. I was remembering the rhythm of playing. I loved marbles themselves – so pretty – but wasn’t as good at that game. We gravitate toward what we’re good at, pulled by the desire to hone and be even better … hmmm, there’s a writing metaphor…


  2. I love the childhood intensity and determination that shines through in your piece.You’ve really brought the game of Jacks alive here! I have never even seen it played, though I certainly know of its existence. How have I not been curious about this before!?! I’m going to ask the kids at school today if they’ve ever played…

    Liked by 1 person

    • The kids might enjoy knowing it’s one of the oldest games in the world, originally played with stones or little bones. History lesson! Will be interesting to see if any have heard of it. I’ve taught kids to play and they loved it.


    • I’ve taught kids to play it, mostly in a summer camp setting. Anywhere with a flat, smooth surface – you’ll be rubbing your fingers against it a lot in the sweeping motion. Some kids went right home and asked their parents for a set.


    • I CANNOT BELIEVE someone else remembers clackers! I was very small but I had a set. Orange glass. I also cannot believe a grown-up would buy a toy that made such terrific noise. And that was made of glass.


  3. Yes! My mom taught me how to play jacks. She LOVED it as a child and I remember I wasn’t as enthusiastic as her. I do have a vivid memory of being told to not leave a loose jack on the floor, so someone must have stepped on it and not been happy. I love how reading other people’s slices sparks more slices for me. I hadn’t thought of jacks in I can’t remember how long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yikes to loose jacks on the floor! Devastating! It was fun to play by yourself but the competition is what made the game for me and my classmates. FIERCE. I am so happy my slice brought back a jacks memory!


  4. I smiled as soon as I saw the jacks photo at the top of your blog post! Yesssss! Thank you for bringing back so many memories! For me, overnight camp was the place where we played jacks! You were so good at it! (I was awful!!) Your slice did what great slices do…help people remember. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am delighted my slice conjured up your jacks memory! If they take you back to camp where you’re playing, try to stay there long enough to look around and remember and listen. See what else returns to you! Huh – hadn’t thought of jacks as a portkey, like in Harry Potter, but…I am writing this down. Many thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh yes! I love any game like jacks and marbles. I too hope to teach these to my grandchildren. First I’ll need to brush up on the rules. I loved how you slipped in a few pointers and ideas and still made it flow. A trip down memory lane and a wish to bring it back has been prompted by your slice.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t play jacks so much. I can’t remember how to play the game. But I remember the games of Chinese jump rope that went on for days upon days of recesses.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I too LOVED jacks! We would sit on the patio and play for hours…memories…I have not thought of them in years…but am off to try to order on Amazon for the grandkids.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh yes, we played jacks! When I say ‘we’ I actually don’t mean me, as I was absolutely hopeless at catching those things, however high you threw the ball. But I used to love watching the experts play and you must have been one of those!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is such a fun game, and I was so intense about getting better all the time. A fun challenge – – someone was always showing something new they could do, and the rest of us had to try.


  9. YES! I have keen memories of getting past the sixsies. The strategic dropping, the planning of the swoop, all of which took longer than the turn itself. Thank you for this morning dose of nostalgia. It’s just what the doctor ordered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, exactly – the swoop had to be planned! I don’t even know what exactly sparked this post (besides letter ‘j’, that is) – funny what resurfaces in our minds. Nostalgia, indeed – so glad it was beneficial. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, you brought the game of jacks to life. My cousin and I used to play alot. We weren’t competitive with each other, just tried to help each other get better. Thanks for the memory. I am thinking of other activities we played together too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a way to challenge yourself, not unlike kids do now, trying to “beat” levels in video games… a fun test of skill. So glad you enjoyed the post and remembered playing – I imagine other games have come back to you, too.


  11. Awww this brought me back! My partner and I were just talking about how no one plays this game anymore. It was one of my favorites. Then my friends and I started playing Chinese jacks which I’m not sure had anything to do with China, but we loved the colorful rings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow – I have never tried Chinese jacks, and they ARE colorful. How funny that you and your partner were talking about jacks recently! We really couldn’t wait to play at school. Now I am wondering how groups of us had all that time in class to do so – maybe it was winter and too cold outside for recess, or we had the choice. That part has left me but I can see the room and the floor and space between the desks where we crouched to play. So glad the post took you back, too – thanks for your thoughts here.


  12. Weaving your words today stirred so many memories in each of the comments. I never understood the game of jacks, so it is not in my memory. Now Red Rover and Capture the Flag were our recess games. Sadly you would not have been able to participate since running was involved.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did play some games like Red Rover and Dodge Ball, even some kickball – just couldn’t do sustained running and had to sit out altogether if asthma was flaring. Fortunately I am rarely troubled with it now. Jacks was something I could excel at while PE and many sports weren’t. I marveled at my classmate athletes, though. It’s amazing, how much returns to us when we start thinking about a game we played in those days.


  13. What a fun post, Fran! I used to play jacks, although not as much as you! I also had to sit out of PE in elementary school due to severe seasonal allergies (especially when the school grass was cut). I would place a bet that my boys don’t even know what jacks are! And, spinning them like tops…now that was the best! Thanks for a trip down memory lane!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your allergies sound like my asthma, which flared in spring and fall (Easter and Thanksgiving, said my parents). Spinning jacks mesmerizes my granddaughter, age five. We shall she if is interested in playing in a short year or so. So glad you enjoyed the little jaunt down memory lane!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. The super ball! Translucent with gold specks- oh yes, a treasure. While your asthma made you unable to do the sports, you became a jacks talent! Your detail and description were so rich and right on!

    Liked by 1 person

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