Earlier this week, I was thinking about nothing in particular when onto the fly-specked screen of my memory flickered a scene from the distant past, and I found myself yelling, “Annie Annie Over!”
“Where did that come from?” I wondered aloud. Then it came to me.
“Annie Annie Over” was a game from my kidhood — one that combined some of the more exciting elements of baseball. I’m don’t mean the hitting, throwing and catching, though that was part of it. I mean the deceit, the suspense and the danger.
It was the 1940s, before television forever changed kid world by luring kids indoors. It was a time when a 12-year-old boy who liked to fish for trout could get all the excitement he wanted by sneaking across town in the dark to pull nightcrawlers from the town mayor’s well-groomed lawn. It was a time when kids were still allowed to take a pocketknife to school for a recess game of mumbledy-peg. It was a time when kids were still allowed to take a bag of marbles to school for a game of ringer, in which you risked losing your marbles. It was a time when friends and enemies lined up for a game of Annie Annie Over, one of the most exciting games in the entire kid world.
Getting set for a game of Annie Annie Over was simple. You needed a ball, two or more kids and a building low enough to throw a ball over. Our ball was a softball that had seen better days. My brother Dave and I often played together. We mostly played with neighborhood kids, so there was never a shortage of players.
After choosing up sides, the game would begin by one side throwing the ball over the roof of our two-story house to the players on the other side. If the ball didn’t make it over the roof, the player who threw it yelled, “Pigtail!” and tried again.
If a player caught the ball, he would run around the house and try to hit one of the opposing players with the ball. If you could escape by jinking and zigzigging your way to the other side of the house, you were safe. If hit, a player went to the other team. The game ended when all players were on one side.
The suspense was a killer. When you threw the ball, you didn’t know for sure that it hadn’t been caught until you heard “Annie Annie Over” from the other side. There was no warning if the ball was caught, only the sight of someone running at you at top kid speed, arm cocked, ready to throw the ball at you. After 60 years, I can still remember the meaty “Thud!”of a ball hitting some panic-stricken kid in the back, just as he was rounding the corner to safety.
The game was rife with opportunities for deceit. One way to put a scare into the other side was to miss catching the ball, but to wait a minute or two before throwing it back. The suspense on the other side would build to an excruciating level, relieved only by the cry, “Annie Annie Over!”
One devious ploy was to yell, “Annie Annie Over!” even though you had caught the ball. The object of this was to have the other side watching the sky for the ball, while you sneaked up on them.
Another sneaky trick was for a team to split up, half going around the house one way and half going the other, hoping to flush some hapless chump toward the kid with the ball.
Besides the skills of catching, throwing and running as if your life depended upon it, kids learned a lot from this game. We found that cooperation helped, so we learned about teamwork. You had to actually catch the ball, not just say you did, so we learned the value of the “honor system.” If you threw the ball hard enough to hurt someone, you could expect to be hurt in turn, so we learned about karma and the golden rule.
In thinking about playing Annie Annie Over, a flood of memories pour in, but what I remember best is the heart-pounding excitement of pending danger and violence. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in kid heaven.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.