In addition to all the fun family games we've learned while in Pandemic Lockdown, we've added a new backyard pastime: "Just Whose Yard Does This Belong In?"
I have to admit, we already had most of the rules to the game down before 2020 ever crawled out from under its rock or reared its ugly head or both. But with families across the world having to turn backyards into multi-purpose play spaces, well, things tend to happen. And you tend to notice them.
Here, basically, is how the game is played: You go into your backyard, notice some piece of recreational or sporting equipment that wasn't there the last time you were out there and doesn't look like yours. Then you have to decide which of the neighbors it belongs to.
Then – and this is where the games starts getting fun – you have to return it to either the yard from whence it came or to which it belongs. Not necessarily the same thing, but, close enough. Sort of like a scavenger hunt, except instead of finding things, things find you.
Easy enough, you say. But here's the trick. Suppose I decide this neon foam football with the barest hint of teeth marks (probably human, but, you never know) belongs to the family immediately east of us. Fine, so I chuck it over the fence, being the good citizen and neighbor I am.
However, suppose it doesn't belong to them? Then, they have to decide if the aforementioned, slightly masticated neon football belongs back in our yard to be moved farther westward or if it actually belongs to the neighbors to the east of them and the lonely little football just keeps getting farther and farther from home.
But wait, there's more. Because part of the fun of the game is that you have to physically return the object to the yard to which you believe it belongs from the exact spot you found it. Why? I don't know! It's the rules. Plus I'm lazy and I don't want to walk all the way to the fence and drop it over.
Now, a few years ago, this part of the game was actually the easiest. But ... things have changed. Now, a decidedly mediocre to bad high school athlete such as myself frankly might not be able to chuck, kick or otherwise cause a soccer ball to make it all the way over the fence. And if I do, well, the idea that I have any control over it is, say we say, problematic.
So, it's entirely possible future conversations with the very nice, patient people who live on either side of us will go something like, "So I've returned the soccer ball we've just now determined isn't yours back to you. Sorry about that window. And the dog."
Even if the Lovely Mrs. Smith and I are currently not the big suppliers of over-the-fence equipment we used to be, memories still linger of assorted footballs, baseballs, basketballs, tennis balls, lacrosse balls, hockey pucks (OK, that was a short-lived phase), dolls, shoes (usually just one, for some reason), Frisbees, remote-control airplanes and the odd family pet (cats: you may feed them, the neighborhood owns them) that found their way over the fence and into someone else's yard.
Plus, there may or may not be a couple of Wiffle Balls a grandchild got all of and a golf ball that came out of the thick grass a little hot that the neighbors could toss back over if they find them. No hurry.
OK, I know. We could just ask. That would clear up a lot of confusion and get things back to where they need to be much faster. But where's the fun in that?
Now all this could be an annoying activity if it weren't for the fact that it highlights one of the few potential positives of our current time. Because chucking that ball back over the fence might lead to a socially distanced conversation about how the youngest neighbor is just starting to play baseball, like your own kids used to.
And responding to a text that, "Yeah, that's my Titleist, you can throw it back" also tends to include, "So, how are you doing? Everything OK?"
When the world was bigger, in many ways it was smaller. We smiled and waved and passed each other without pausing. Now, while the world is smaller, it's maybe a little bigger. We message and check and talk.
And throw back that Frisbee.
Gary Smith is a recovering journalist living in Rogers.