Kage Baker liked hopscotch. Also butterscotch, Scotch Broth soup, single-malt Scotch (especially with brownies), and See’s Scotchmallow candies.
Most of those were passions acquired in adulthood, except for Campbell’s Scotch Broth. Campbell’s stopped making that one available in California around the turn of the last century; you can still order it from Canada (the label is half in French) but that’s only happened very recently. Kage never found it in her ongoing Google project of locating extinct delectables.
Scotchmallows are, happily, still a staple at See’s Candy Kitchens. They’re not even seasonal, but can be had at any time. And we were never far from a dram of good Scotch – the specific brownies Kage favoured were only available from our Faire friends, the amazing Jacobs family; though Pepperidge Farm Brownie cookies would do in a pinch.
She was never very good at hopscotch. Rheumatic fever as a small child left her with joints beginning to stiffen well before puberty, and hopping was not one of her strong points. However, she loved the game. She enjoyed drawing on the sidewalk with coloured chalk, and she liked selecting laggers. And she could throw and place her laggers with inhuman skill and precision. Kage was born to use artillery.
Laggers, Dear Readers, in case you grew up ignorant of hopscotch, are the markers you use when playing the game. They must be thrown so as to land in the numerically designated square of the hopscotch layout – and all those squares had to be hit in sequence to get through the pattern properly, which means you had to accurately predict where you were going.
You’d start at square 1 and go through to the end, making a full trip; next turn, you cast your lagger for the next square. Oh, and you went through the pattern hopping on one leg. If you missed, or hit the wrong one, you lost your turn and had to try again. Same if you fell over while hopping, or put your foot down, or missed a square.
Hopscotch patterns vary wildly. They can be hand drawn, or painted on the playground in permanent paint. They can run from 1 to infinity, but are usually from 1 to 10. There should be at least 1 double square, where you could stand with both feet; and there might be squares with other requirements, as imagination allowed. Like, if someone else’s lagger was already in a square, you had to leap over the whole damned thing.
Kage, as I said, was not so great at the hopping. But man, could she lay laggers down where she wanted!
The laggers she liked best were stones: they had some weight, and tended to stick the landing. She liked ’em faceted, too, so there was at least one flat side where the lagger could settle – otherwise, it might roll or skip too far. Glass was always nice, as long as it was aged a little – smoothed and darkened by kicking around the pavement in the sun, a big chuck of amber beer bottle or emerald 7-Up bottle was perfect.
However, living up in the Hollywood Hills offered a fine variety in stones, as well: quartz white as sugar; rough agates striped like silk; or the finer quartz crystals that were translucent, pale lavender or mist grey or clear as glass. You could even dig jasper and jadeite out of the hillsides, if you knew where to look. And we did. We always had interesting rocks in our pockets, and laggers were one of the things they were for.
I was a maniac for hopscotch, and used to bring my own laggers to school in my book bag. It was not honourable to have someone else throw your lagger, so I had to rely on my own short-sighted aim: but I had the same exotic rocks, so even when I threw a wild cast, it was at least a fine-looking stone. And once I could actually land the lagger in the correct square, I was set; I could hop for yards on one foot, and leap over squares rendered uninhabitable by other kids’ laggers.
Magic marks and eldritch markers. Predicting where your shots would land, and making the throw come out just right. Leaps of faith over the danger zones, clutching at the air to keep your balance … It was like walking a labyrinth, such as are set these days in some Catholic churches. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has one, and Kage loved to walk it round to its center. She always grinned at me as we paced it out, and I know what she was thinking: Oh, I wish I had a good lagger here!
We always need laggers, Dear Reader, to mark our path and hint at the right way. I’ll bring one, for the next time I am there, at Grace Cathedral. It would a great and good thing, to hop my way through the sacred maze.
I can toast Kage with Scotch whiskey when I reach the end.
Such subtlety to the game – far more than I ever knew!
Like all good games, it is a microcosm of Life.
Loved Hopscotch. My favorite lagger was a nice long key chain. Don’t know why. Too easy to hit the line. But it was a bit of a status to use it at our school in Whittier. Maybe a little more daring than a stone lagger. thank you for sharing this.
That would be a tough one to throw! No wonder it was a mark of distinction in your school.
Wow, this was written almost four years ago! I found it when looking for laggers and hopscotch for a story I was writing about a child whose development matched jumping over laggers more than going from milestone to milestone.
I loved hopscotch as a kid, and like Kage, was better at throwing than hopping. I used a small beaded chain, which generally landed well. Some of the girls were mean, though, and said I landed on a line when I didn’t. Boys never played hopscotch at my school.
This is a wondefully loving description of the game. Thank you for writing it.
Preparing for a much anticipated trip to my massage therapist, I unclasped my necklace and tossed it on the bathroom counter. It was then and there I had a flashback of hopscotch. I tried to remember what we called that thing we chose to toss in the appropriate square. Mine must have been a chain of some sort. Thus the recollection. An old friend, Patsy, just a couple of years older than me, called it a marker. “No! That’s not it!”. Maybe a lager?
“A lagger!?” She accused me of imbibing in a frosty cold one while pitching my “marker” on the hopscotch court at Colfax Elementary school in North Hollywood, CA! I asked my older and wiser sister. Of course, she’s an expert on all things vocabulary related. She said. “A laggard”. I’m not sure if she was closer to accuracy or me. Either way, it was a fond memory, and that is how I came upon your story. I thoroughly enjoy the brief trip back to the 1950’s. Thank you!
Melissa – “Laggers” is certainly what we called it in my childhood. I like your suggestion of “lagers”, though, being fond of beer – Porter or a good amber would be my preference over lagers, but the European ones are fine. Don’t know how one could keep it from spilling, though … OTOH, hopping through with a beer in your hand would make the triumph at the end a lot of fun … A triumphal drink!