Competition ran rampant in our household and winning was all important. We played board games, card games, participated in sports, battled to make the best grades and even invented some of our own war fare in the world of childhood recreation. We didn’t have a garage, nor a paved driveway, but a front and back yard and a black cinder driveway that began at the edge of the sidewalk and ended at the front door to the house. It was one of our playing fields.

I don’t know if cinder driveways even exist anymore or for what it is even used today, if at all. If you have never seen black cinder, it is actually volcanic stone composed of small to large stones of irregular, sharply pointed stones. And I do emphasize the words sharply and pointed. It was fairly light, porous and packed well, which I suppose was why it was good for driveways. Either that or it was less expensive than gravel or concrete.

During the hot long days of the Indiana summers we tried to occupy ourselves with a variety of activities to keep from getting bored. We played baseball or kickball in the back yard. We built tree forts and played hopscotch, tag, marbles and jacks. And as little girls we of course played dolls and house. These activities made up my sister’s and my recreational pastime, along with all the other boys and girls in the neighborhood. On certain days, when we were bored with our typical recreation we challenged each other to all kinds of crazy activities. Running across the street in front of cars, ringing neighbors’ door bells after dark and running away, taking a tomato out of someone else’s garden-okay so we weren’t totally innocent in our play and safety was not always a factor. But in the fifties, we didn’t think about safety the way we do today, so we plugged along with our games and activities just like children of previous generations.

“Can you run across the driveway faster than me?” was the usual start to the cinder challenge. It was the game of chicken on cinder. Once the challenge was accepted, the shoes and socks came off, one of the kids volunteered to be referee and the game began. The driveway was only wide enough to accommodate one car, so we didn’t have to run very far. But, running across cinder on bare feet hurt-there is no other way to describe it. The faster we ran, the less pain we felt. The competition was over quickly and when a winner was declared, we usually had multiple re-matches  until we tired of the sport, or our feet hurt too much to continue.

Of course, this was one of those activities we weren’t really supposed to do, so it had to be done quickly and surreptitiously without Mother discovering our game. Our feet were susceptible to small cuts from the cinder if we stepped on a particularly sharp stone at the wrong angle, so the game wasn’t without risk. We frequently heard the admonition, “Don’t do that again!” when we had to admit to our small transgression and seek a bit of first-aid or TLC.

Eventually the cinder was replaced by gravel and we either outgrew the painful races or substituted them for another sporting adventure. I don’t even remember who won all those races because there were so many and no one really kept count. For me the memory signifies a small piece of the competitive spirit that was instilled in me as a child by my parents, and for that I am grateful. Today, I doubt that cinder is even used for driveways, but I will have to research that possibility. And, while I am at it, I will take a look at Wikipedia and see exactly to what we exposed our small, bare feet. On your mark, get set, go!