By Gino Provenzano
New technology has changed our lives for the better for the most part, but it has taken its toll on things that were once commonplace on the streets of South Boston, namely kids street games.
I’m not talking about street hockey, wiffle ball, tag football, etc. (although they seem to be disappearing from our streets as well.) I’m talking about “Old School Southie Street Games” that did not require sticks, balls, bats or any other equipment. You remember these games: Relievio, O’Clock, Red Rover, Red Rover, Billy Billy Buck Buck, Hide and Go Seek (shorter version of Relievio), and Red Light Green Light to name a few.
The only thing that brought these games to an end was arguments and/or injuries. Everybody remembers Hide and Go Seek. That was the game you could play out doors when you couldn’t cross the street alone so it kept the boundaries on one side of one block (manageable). Once you got old enough to cross the street, you graduated to Relievio – the ultimate “manhunt” type game.
Teams were picked and the arguing started almost immediately
Boundaries were set up multiple blocks long, back yards, roof tops, all in bounds. Teams were picked and the arguing started almost immediately. If an opposing team member was hard to find, they were immediately called a cheater and accused of going “out of bounds.”
The game would last for hours, lunch and dinner breaks were taken (our version of a pause button), and play would resume when we were all back “in bounds.”
Places like The Orchie, The Biggie, Duggie’s Alley, The Heights and Deadie’s Lane
The hardest part of Relieveo was not getting caught by a homeowner when you were hiding in their back yard or on the roof of their garage with a member of the opposing team closing in on your position. (This also always triggered the need to pee!) We ran through and hid in places like The Orchie, The Biggie, Duggie’s Alley, The Heights and Deadie’s Lane.
O’Clock was another game that we played but this was more likely at a time when we were confined to a set of stairs (usually after supper and/or a bath). The “contestants” would sit on the stoop (on East Sixth Street we usually had about 10 players sitting) while two other players secretly thought of a number between 1-100. They would then give each sitting player an opportunity to guess that number. The sitting player that guessed correctly then picked a category i.e. favorite cars, favorite colors, favorite sport team, etc. The two standing players would have to secretly choose the answer that they thought the sitting player would pick as their favorite. The winner remained standing while the loser sat down to be replaced by the player who originally guessed the number correctly. (Sounds a little more difficult than it actually was.) Again, arguments immediately started. Standing players would be accused of giving hints with their body language (raising eyebrows, coughing, tapping their foot) to clue the guessing player into choosing the correct number or category choice.
It always ended with me on my back gasping for air
The next two games were always good for a trip to the ER. Red Rover, Red Rover consisted of two teams. The teams would position themselves across from each other (about 20 yards apart.) Each team would line up in a straight line while holding hands with their teammates (basically forming a human finish line). Each team would take turns calling a member of the opposing team over to make a fast 20 yard dash and crash into their line. If their line held, that player now a member of the opposing team’s line. If the player broke through the close-line that they inevitably received, they were still in. Short light-weight kids like me were doomed playing Red Rover, Red Rover. I remember having nightmares hearing, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Gino right over!” It always ended with me on my back gasping for air after smashing into somebody’s forearm with my neck. Hello City Hospital!
Gate of Heaven School Yard, 1982, T.D. broken arm as proof
Billy Billy Buck Buck was also injury inducing. Back and neck pain of your later years can be directly tied to playing Billy Billy Buck Buck. Again, two teams – one team was bent over at the waist forming a human chain against a wall – usually brick. The opposing team would then, one at a time, run and catapult themselves as far as they could onto the backs of the team in the bent over position. Once again, small light-weight kids like me were usually on the short end of this game. Larger kids (some might say chunky or husky) could really do some damage to the smaller crowd. Back injuries, some mild concussions, and an occasional broken limb (Gate of Heaven School Yard, 1982, T.D. broken arm as proof) would ultimately lead to the end of that game.
Finally, “Red Light, Green Light” was reserved for the tamer amongst us. No injuries – just innocent fun from days gone by.