There I was, under the shade of a tree protected from August's mericless heat. With an ice cold cup of Kool-Aid next to me, my friends and I would literally spend hours setting up battle dioramas , or elaborate attack scenes. There was no limit, no rules, no end to the adventure, for once again, our imaginations were completely unlimited and unbefuddled.
As kids, we didn't have the distractions then that kids do now. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We had tons of imagination , and on those long summer days when you'd just about exhausted your attention span on toys or comics, playing army was always a great pastime. So, again I reiterate the joys of being a kid in the 60's.
Patchy areas of grass where bald spots and weed clumps were present. were great places to set up army men . There were few differences between playing army with toy guns than with army men. The only difference was that you always knew where the enemy was. It was really a blast setting up army men in the grass this way because they were so small that it was like they were in a jungle setting. Each little thing like a tiny branch, or rock seemed like the real thing.
One of our greatest army men set-ups took about an hour, and we played under a giant evergreen tree in our yard for hours. It was in the very heat of August on a scorching afternoon during summer vacation. One kid dug a foxhole and covered it with a rock and some pine branches. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and inspired me to really get creative! It was also so much fun playing with tanks and jeeps and halftracks, hiding them in the grass, behind tall clumps of weeds, or behind trees.
Of course, playing indoors with army men was just as fun, for inside you could re-create those bombed out french villages underneath a dresser, or around a footstool, or just about any other combination of furniture and old boxes. My friends and I used to set up quite elaborate battle scenes in basements, hallways, bedrooms, or wherever we could find a spot. Army men themselves could be quite diverse. I remember some sets that featured dead/wounded soldiers for more realistic play. There were also the giant, 5" soldiers that were full of detail.
Choosing teams for actually playing army out in the fields, or the neighborhood, was pretty much like siding up at school for kickball or some other game.
It usually started with a knock on the door, or a phone call. It would be one of your friends who was organizing a major assault . It was "grab your gear and meet us at Steve's house", or the school ground, or the field behind David Hefflefinger's house. That's how the great army games began usually. Perhaps it was yourself who instigated the war by simply tapping a neighbor's screen door and asking that ever-famous question "Can Allen play?" I've mentioned before about the joys of playing army and army toys in general, but never so in depth as to hopefully bring to mind a certain saturday from your past.
Before the actual playing time began, there was usually a neighborhood meeting place. It was probably behind someone's garage, or some other sanctuary which elimated the deadly risk of being called back into the house for some chore that would eat into your valuable army time . These gatherings usually were for the purpose of "catching up" time, telling what happened to so-and-so yesterday at school, or some other neighborhood gossip. This was a kid's equivalent to that morning cup of coffee. There were certain political protocols that needed to be observed in order to not make this a very touchy chore.
- Nobody wanted to be the Germans.
- You had to be careful not to show too much prejudice in choosing the guys you liked best.
- During actual battle, when you were "got", or "killed" you actually had to acknowledge the fact.
- There was no wimping out, none of the "I gotta go home now" quitting on the battlefield. Any soldier caught doing this ran the risk of not being chosen the next time around-or worse yet, not being called.
There were however, a few options, or circumstances that helped maintain this protocol with a degree of enthusiasm. One was if on "Combat!" earlier in the week that the Germans actually did something really cool. Then it would be okay to be a German-for awhile anyway. Another would be if a kid actually got a new German weapon that was ultimately the neatest. (Personally, I had awesome German helmets, potatoe mashers, lugers, and a pair of rubber boots that looked like German boots.)