It was exactly 20 years ago (Flag Day 2002) when I chose to leave ‘corporate America’ to write a book.  We published The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas six years later.  It remains my ‘bestseller.’

Early in the story, Simonides and his traveling companions reach the harbor town of Itea and enter an inn to take their evening meal.  An Athenian trireme sits in the harbor and several crew members play knucklebones in the tavern.

“Episcles and Cimon joined three other men who were throwing knucklebones in a dimly lit corner.  With little interest in games of chance, Parmenides and I walked outside for a last breath of fresh air before we took our places on the hard mats the innkeeper had reserved for us.”

Knucklebones is an ancient game of chance where a number of small objects are thrown up, caught, and manipulated in various manners. (“Knucklebones – Wikipedia”) It is found in various cultures worldwide.  The ancient Greeks played knucklebones with bones from the ankle of a sheep, but other cultures use other objects, including stones, seashells, seeds, and cubes.

Girls play jacks in simpler times

The game is the precursor to a game you may have played as a child:  jacks.  I know you remember… You threw a rubber ball into the air, picked up one jack, then caught the ball after it bounced one time. You continued picking up the jacks one at a time. When you collected all the jacks, you scattered them again and started picking the jacks up two at a time (twosies). When you got to ‘threesies’ you had to pick up the three sets of three first, then pick up the remaining jack. You continued until you reached ‘tensies.’  If you picked up all ten, you were declared the winner.

Last week, the students at the Barefoot School reminded me of this time-tested game enjoyed and revered by children around the world.  As we completed second-term testing, Justin – our manager in Haiti – sent pictures of the students relaxing in between tests.  He included this short video clip…

I replied, “When I was a child, I played this game.  We called it ‘Jacks.’”

“Here we say ‘Roslets,’” he answered.

I reflect on the beauty and simplicity of the game and acknowledge that it takes great skill to win it. I smile that a child in a Haitian ghetto can find pleasure in a game that pleased me when I was her age.  This young person does not need to stare at a video screen to be happy.  She is far more engaged when sharing time directly with her classmates.

Some things never change and as we look back over our lives, we can see that we have more in common than those few things that people use to divide us.  When we appreciate and share the small things that surround us, life can be grand.

Mitakuye Oyasin

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  1. I loved reading The Olympian. I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I have enjoyed reading all your books.