Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Moss and Mumblety-peg
The game of mumblety-peg is so old that even Mark Twain mentioned it as one of the favorites enjoyed by young boys. It was outdoors, in the summer, and played in the grass. To do it right, it required a jackknife that could be opened both halfway and all the way, to take advantage of all the required configurations required in the unwritten rules of the game. Of course, young boys sometimes make up their own rules. Even how to pronounce it, lest you get a strange stare if you said anything other than mumbley-peg.
Growing up in Netcong, lots of boys had pocket knives. In fact, they were as common as cell phones are today, and nobody thought much about a boy having a jackknife in his pocket. The pocket knife was a friend and a helper, especially those fancy ones that had various tools that you find on the fabled Swiss Army knives.
Perhaps nobody gave it any thought, but there were circumstances about mumblety-peg and the venues that were taken for granted. Kids didn’t play in the winter, early spring, or late fall. It was a summer game, played on dry grass. Better yet, on a nice level patch of dry moss. There, it could be determined at a glance if the blade was stuck in the ground, how deep it was, and whether or not it would stay. A mossy surface took the guesswork out of calculating lean and depth of blade penetration. And most times, moss was more pleasant to sit on than grass.
The young loner who only occasionally played mumblety-peg with neighborhood kids was not at a loss when he was alone, because he had a nice patch of moss right next to his house, and he spent many summer hours enjoying his mossy, shaded mumblety-peg stadium as both defending champion and as an up-and-coming contender in mumblety-peg competition. His jackknife didn’t take sides and the loser of the competitions didn’t complain when he lost.