Kick the Can
I watched a particularly poignant episode of The Twilight Zone over the weekend. It was about a group of people who lived in an old-age home, or whatever the acceptable term is these days. A bunch of kids were playing outside the home, upsetting some of the residents while causing feelings of nostalgia in others.
The game the kids were playing was also the title of the episode, which was “Kick the Can.” Several of the old folks were reminded of the times in their youth when they, too, had spent seemingly endless days playing this game. Watching the game on TV brought back some childhood memories for me as well, memories that, while not negative in any way, were also not particularly warm and nostalgic.
I was fortunate enough to grow up on a street where there were a lot of neighborhood kids running around, and we often played organized games in various sized group. Some of the more popular games were baseball, kickball and hide-and-go-seek. On more than one occasion the grown-ups (old men in their thirties and forties) on the block attempted to introduce us to kick the can. You could tell that they had enjoyed playing the game as kids, and thought it would be fun for us, the next generation, as well.
But we kids didn’t think it was much fun at all, and I’m really at a loss to explain why. Sure, we tried to play the game a couple of times but, for whatever reason, it just never caught on. In fact, as soon as the grown-ups went back inside to ease themselves into their overstuffed couches, we’d immediately revert back to one of our regular games.
I was fairly certain I remembered how the game is played, but I just looked it up anyway. It turns out I was pretty close, which you’ll agree is not bad for someone who last played the game over fifty years ago, and only twice at that. Basically, a can is set up in an open area, and one person is designated as “It.” (That term probably wouldn’t fly today, as it would be considered too detrimental to the poor child’s self-esteem. He’d probably have to be called “The King,” or something equally ego-boosting.)
Next, all the players try to get close enough to the can to kick it (obviously) before they are tagged by It. There are many variations of the game, which I certainly don’t feel like going into right now. If you’re that curious you can always look it up yourself. There’s this thing called the Internet.
Why kick the can, so popular with kids in the 1930’s and 1940’s and before, would lay such an egg in the 1960’s is anybody’s guess. Sure, that previous generation was growing up in a depression, and so maybe an old dented can was all the sports equipment they could come up with, but I don’t think that’s the reason.
We certainly didn’t grow up in poverty, but most of our games, such as kickball and curb-ball, could be played with nothing but a single ball. And hide-and-seek required no equipment at all. Nope, I have no idea why we never took to the game kick the can, as had generations of children before us. We just didn’t like it.