Childhood Memories of My Big Brother John

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by Curt D. Baker, Land O’Lakes

Playing games at the breakfast table. John is reaching for a card, and Curt is the toddler in the high chair.

These are my memories: It was the 1950s, we lived on a farm, and life was slower and simpler. After school and chores, there was time to play: cards, board games, tag, or if somebody cleared a field recently, baseball. But the best entertainment was created by us, and those games were passed down through the generations, including some I got from my big brother John that I passed along to my own kids, and grandkids. John was the master game-inventor.

I remember my favorite game. In our farmhouse, the middle room on the first floor was carpeted and the kitchen had linoleum. The old potbelly stove was the focus of “You’re Out.” You’d stand at the stove and toss a bundled-up sock wherever you could, run through the carpeted room around the dining room table, and back to the kitchen where you took advantage of the slick linoleum to slide into the stove (just like in baseball) before the sock could be retrieved and you were tagged out.

Left to right: Gary, Curt, and John Baker, about 1953

An outdoor game John invented (or maybe Gary) involved a football that if caught on one bounce, could be drop-kicked back. If not, you had to kick it back where it was on the ground. This was basically a combination of football and soccer with the two big oak trees as one goal and the corn crib door as the other.

Two more games John invented for us –there were lots of them — were haymow basketball and batting cobs. We played haymow basketball on the second floor of our barn, where our stepdad Melvin kept a part of it cleared for us as a makeshift court. (We used a volleyball as the basketball.)

For batting cobs, we’d head out to the steer yard, shoo the animals into the shed, grab an old axe handle for a bat and a carefully-selected corn cob as a ball, and there you go. The steer yard became a bonafide baseball field. And spinning those cobs really made them do tricks on the way to the plate. Hard to hit. We didn’t run bases, just judged an out or a hit depending on where the cob landed. If a fly ball (or in this case, “fly cob”) landed in the feed bunk, it was considered an error by the invisible defense.

I could go on and on; these games are just the highlights, the ones we liked the best and played the most. But I am certain of one thing: having that example he set for those things is absolutely what led me to invent games for my own boys. I invented game after game for them, and they still talk about them today. I’d say that’s an impact, and using imagination to make up games that were really fun, and all from simple things like a volley ball, a rolled-up sock, or a corn cob. Amazing.

In June 2021 I lost my big brother John to cancer… I miss him every day. But he lives on in our memories whenever my sons and their kids play his games.

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