I was the only child in my family that learned how to play jacks, when I was a little girl. Well,I was not so all that little; I was in sixth grade. My grade had big jacks tournaments; everybody played, even the boys, my friend Eddie was one of the best players, so were Jeannie and Beth. Connie and I were pretty good, but not great; sometimes I won, but usually I went out somewhere in the final rounds, especially if I got all the way up to ‘no bounce’ or ‘around-the-world’.
My grade, l had lots of time to practice, ’cause Mrs. Taylor was also the principal. Sometimes she told us to go ‘on recess’, or read in the ‘modules’, while she did her principal work down in the office. She told us she trusted us ’cause we were Big People, and we knew how to behave. Of course I did.
Mrs. Taylor was the principal ’cause Mom and Dad started a big campaign to annex to another school, on account of my school was good enough for elementary kids, but at high school there was only one chemistry class, and no biology. Mom and Dad stayed out late convincing parents that kids needed a better school, and finally their team won, and now our old principal was gone somewhere else. Once we annexed, my school only went up to sixth grade, and Deanna’s grade on up went to the bigger town, where Mom did grocery shopping, to go to school.
I couldn’t wait until I got to go over to that new school where there were about a hundred kids in my same grade instead of just the 30 kids I saw everyday since kindergarten, except for a few that moved in, or one or two that failed, like Patsy. Some kids thought Patsy was a dummy until she started raising her hand and answering any question Mrs. Taylor asked, then I knew she was the smartest kid in the whole class and the rest of us had some catching up to do. My friend Patsy was one of the really good jacks players, too, but not as good as Eddie and Jeannie and Beth. Patsy was more along the lines of me and Connie.
The game of jacks just takes a lot of practice. First was the flip, and one-sies. I put all the jacks in my open hands and flipped them up in the air, turning my hands over, knuckles up, making a little well, so I caught all the jacks. When I was a beginner they went flying all over the floor, but after a while, I caught them all, no problem. Any that escape had to be picked up one at a time like this: throw the ball up in the air, pick up the jack, let the ball bounce, catch the ball with the same hand the jack is in. Then two-sies, throw the jacks out on the floor and pick them up two at a time. Three-sies, four-sies, and on till ten-sies. I got to keep going until I either moved a jack that I wasn’t picking up, dropped a jack, picked up the wrong number, or failed to catch the ball. When I missed, the next person played.
After that, things got tougher, ’cause the rounds got harder with little tricks with the ball or with the jacks: baskets, put the jacks in the other hand before catching the ball, under the fence, over the fence, around the world, and no-bounce. Those last two were super-hard; I hardly ever made it through tens on that one, and lots of times, jacks went flying through the air when I opened my palm to catch the ball. Jeannie and Eddie were so good, I had a suspicion they might’ve made those last two round up on their own, just for something new to do. Any number of as you want can play, but usually a bunch of games got going, so nobody had to sit around forever waiting for her turn.
I still get called upon to demonstrate jacks, because not many people learned how to play when they were little. It’s one of those things, like riding a bike, that you just don’t forget. I am considered an expert, but I bet Jeannie or Beth or Eddie could still beat me if we had a tournament. At least, I’m sure it would be a pretty hot contest.
I guess jacks is a lot like anything in life: if you just work hard enough, you can get pretty good at just about anything. And if you take some time to make room for some friends, it can be a lot of fun.