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Playing Annie Oakley


When my sister was small enough to fit into a suitcase, we were all playing with guns. Not real guns, of course, but guns just the same. My hero at the time, because we lived in what we thought of as the Wild West, was Annie Oakley.

My brother and two sisters and I spent hours playing “Cowboys and Indians” out in our backyard and in the backyard of our neighbours who were real Indians. They were Cree and were our best friends in our elementary school days.

We rode our pretend horses around the trails that surrounded our houses. We were on the outskirts of town, a new subdivision going in, developing very, very slowly in our northern town. The hills of excavated soil to be backfilled the next spring provided lookout points and we slapped our thighs  and made clicking noises to spur on our horses, galloping up the hills of dirt, down the gullies of the back alley, and around the sheds and our houses. We stopped behind shrubs to spy on each other, ambushing a careless rider, and killing them with our sixguns.

The irony of our Cowboys and Indians game was that we white folks always wanted to be the Indians and they wanted to be us. Sometimes we took turns. No one ever got hurt, as we were the best of friends, but the goal was to see which team would have “the last man standing” and for the rest of us, who could die the most dramatically. In those days I thought that when you died, no matter what you were doing when you got shot, you had to lie down on your back and spread your arms out (like Jesus on the cross), and close your eyes.


After all that play with guns, none of us ever had the idea of really shooting someone. We knew it was just a game and that you didn’t play with real guns. We had a healthy respect for guns and never confused pretending to shoot our “Cowboy and Indian” friends in the backyard with shooting anyone with a real gun.

In this picture, my sister was probably about 3 or 4 years old. She was very well adjusted even then, and so she is to this day.

So what has changed in this world that people don’t understand the difference between play and reality anymore?

Author: wordsfromanneli

Writing, travel, photography, nature, more writing....

35 thoughts on “Playing Annie Oakley

  1. One glaring problem seems to be people who can’t accept that being different is okay. I’ve always thought that differences in people made them more interesting. It would be such a dull world if we were all the same.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. What an adorable picture, Anneli. Is this the same sister who was photographed next to the pick-up truck? She certainly has a devious look on her face. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good question, Anneli! I wonder the same thing. Something is badly skewed and everything is tainted with political correctness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The attitude of people in Montana is almost completely opposite the attitude of people on the coast. They welcome hunters and are not freaked out about selling ammunition and hunting licences. They are responsible gun owners. And yet it’s on the coast that we have much more crime and gun problems. On the coast, guns are used for crime, not sustenance. I don’t dare talk about hunting here, lest I be confused with a mass murderer. It’s a huge, complicated issue with many sides to it.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. “Play and reality”. There are a lot of people around now who don’t understand the meaning of either word.

    Guns? When I was a teenager in the 50’s, I always had a rifle in the car during big game season and a shotgun during grouse season. That’s what was done. Sometimes I could get in a short hunt for a Whitetail before class if I got up before daylight or a hike in a good grouse area in the afternoon after class. Now even in the same school I attended then (in a larger city) if anyone thought a student had a gun in the trunk of their car it would be a case for Homeland Security. Somehow, something has changed, and not for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Recovering from the ‘great’ depression, the dust bowl years and food rationing of WWII guns were tools. We were meat hunters and fishermen. Very little game escaped the cook pot.
    Even at a very young age we all knew the difference in play guns and the guns(tools) used to put food on our tables and we handled our tools with care and respect.
    Happy Holidays

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I think that a lot of computer games didn´t do good things to a lot of youngsters. Parents have less time for their children – the lifestyles changed a lot. All is faster and hectic. Most children don´t spend time out in the nature. It can´t be healthy to sit at the computer playing games every day.They became a part of the “not real” world in which they live most of their free time. So what’s real- or not real for them? And what did our parents say to us? “All was better when we were young”. It’s a world full of brutality nowadays …. Sad, so sad! Where did love and kindness go? I miss it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I played with guns too and my dad taught me how to shoot a 22 when I was very young. He hunted a bit, but never used a real gun on my own. As for what has changed – the move from rural to urban, the advent of modern communication (we know so much so quickly), the complexities of international relations…. One thing that hasn’t changed is racism. My parents told me how they were treated as young children not speaking English and now we see that on a much larger scale with the immigration issues of today.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Anneli, this is a great post. It pins down what is really important. I teach preschool and your bottom-line questions hit to the heart of today. Play is how children learn; from cowboys to mommies to monsters to… you name it. Let children play, and also teach them (reading-aloud is the best way), don’t hover, and support them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s a great picture. The point you make is a good one, though. We played at cowboys and indians, Star Trek and Aliens (“We come in peace… Set phasers to kill.”) and soldiers when I was a boy, but the thought of actually hurting anyone was the last thing on our minds.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your childhood play reminds me of my short story, Home Avenue, in my memoir anthology of the same name. We had diversity in our neighborhood, we knew it, spoke OUT LOUD about it (which I show in my short story), and we still all hung out together. No big deal. Also, my dad had a rifle display case in the hallway leading to my bedroom. It would’ve never crossed my mind to touch any of them without parental guidance. Good post, Anneli.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Parents were not as busy with jobs and careers in those days. At least one parent was home and there was much more guidance and teaching about what was right and good. I love modern conveniences and the Internet but I think now with both parents having to work if they want a certain lifestyle, very young kids are given electronic gadgets to take the place of face to face people time. The results are now a couple of generations of people with less compassion and social skills. There is so much more to be said on it as it’s a huge and complex issue but just off the top of my head, those are things that come to mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good points, Anneli. I was at Panera Bread one day and saw a family of four eating lunch at a table. The kids were a bit too small for phones yet, and their parents were both on their phones ignoring their little ones. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Profound, A world that is no longer neighborly

    Liked by 1 person

  12. That photograph of your sister is adorable, Anneli. Such a fun post which created memories with waves of nostalgia.
    I loved the musical, “Annie Get Your Gun.”
    “I can do anything better than you. . .” was one of my favorite musicals!
    My brothers liked playing “cowboys and Indians,” too. We enjoyed, “The Lone Ranger” and also playing “good guys versus bad guys” as well as bank robbers versus the sheriff. I mostly admired Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans. 🙂
    Gene Autrey was an entertainer we liked, too.

    We were only taught not to play Germans (or Russians) versus Allied’s. My Grandma (born in Germany) made sure we understood the ramifications of this “bad” deed. She insisted the Germans and Russian descendants in New York were nothing like the Nazis.
    Note: This all started with “Natasha,” a cartoon character on the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” show, inspiring our WWII backyard play.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Today, there is growing disconnection, a move away from reality, and a move away from compassion. Times have changed. Then, communities were closer knit. Today, we hardly know our neighbours. Society has many among us who are suffering for a variety of reasons. We operated more as family units, our families weren’t perfect yet we felt a loyalty to something bigger than ourselves. In fact, it was often difficult for extended families to get together. There wasn’t money to fly. There was a sense of family, be it neighbours, or extended families; that thread held us together. We sat at a table and ate together. Often in silence, yet together. We respected and protected one another. We felt their ragged pain. People were mainly kind; they circled ’round when another was in need. Certainly, there appeared to be less greed.

    Your word was the contract you made. You honoured your word.

    There is still so much gentleness, kindness, and goodness in the world, though. We need to hold to that belief and let our hearts guide us in times of uncertainty.

    We played similar games in my neighbourhood and all grew up to be wise, gentle souls. Through our play and our parents’ and guardians teachings, we mixed together, learned all of the above. We would never harm another. We were “one.” We wanted to help each other rise. Certainly we grew up on the land and that was a powerful motivator to protect what we “loved.”

    Unfortunately, there will always be tragedy and times where people stray off course. Humans are complex. If we can just remember to live from our heart place …

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Ah, yes. It was a great compliment when the person who shot you said, “Good die!”.

    Liked by 1 person

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