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Lee Hawkers – A 1960s Cape Breton Adolescent Hide-‘n-Seek Game – A Precursor to Paint Ball?
There are segments of sociology, perhaps only found on Cape Breton Island, that need to be recorded, if not studied. The game of “Lee Hawkers” is such a segment; a common summer night cry of “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” heard in the woods surrounding the neighborhood of New Waterford on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This modified hide-and-seek game involving two teams was a part of the mid-1960s teens. Lee Hawkers was a creative hide-and-seek game played in the specific suburb of New Waterford called River Ryan/Scotchtown.
The River Ryan/Scotchtown area was, and still is today, a residential community. Unlike today, back then the neighborhoods were more largely intertwined with forests and fields. Throughout the 1960s, summer days saw teenagers playing baseball, throwing horseshoes, building forts in the woods, shooting practice rounds with BB guns or riding bikes out of town. to Lake Kilkenny for a swim. But what would these typically testosterone-boosted males do for nighttime fun? What mischief could they find hidden in the darkness of sultry summer nights?
The mischief arose when the child’s game of hide-and-seek turned into a more adult-oriented game involving two teams, a ‘jail’ and a few, but specific, rules of engagement regarding catching and release from prison. The best memory is that this game after dark was originally a sport for men only. Two teams of male teenagers took turns being the captured (Hiders) or the kidnappers (Seekers). To start, in a clearing, field, or someone’s dirt driveway, using a tree branch or the heel of a player’s boot or shoe, a large circle (6 to 8 feet in diameter) would be coarsely marked in the sun-scorched ground. This would become the prison that captured Hiders would be thrown into by the Seekers.
To capture or catch a hidden member of the opposing team, Seekers would start their hunt in dark wooded areas for all Hiders. It’s dark. It is the forest. Seekers could jump on a Hider… so usually hunting was done in pairs of Seekers. But why the name Lee Hawkers? Read on… once a Hider was isolated, according to the original search-and-capture rules, a Seeker had to spit (yes a peddler!) at the Hider, pound his back, yelling “1-2- 3 Lee Hawker”. This marked the Hider as a “taken” or “captured”. The Seekers would bring the captured Hider back to the prison (the circle) to keep him safe. The “Lee” (short for downwind) in “Lee Hawkers” was an obvious warning that you should spit, or hawk, in the direction of the wind to avoid getting hit by your own spit (ugh!). And so this spitting, or peddling – the “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” capture sequence – would be repeated until all the Hiders were caught and in jail. Once all the Hiders were captured, the teams would switch roles – Seekers became Hiders and Hiders became Seekers. To hide. Catch. Jail. Change. Were the game was so simplistic. The game was much more complicated and much more dynamic because the imprisoned Hiders could be freed from the “jail”. Can you repeat that please!
The prison was guarded by a couple of Seekers. These Guard Seekers remained on high alert to prevent Hider’s teammates from freeing their imprisoned buddies. If an uncaptured Hider walked through the prison, all imprisoned Hiders were now technically released from prison, free to return to the forest and hide again. How could the Seekers stop these repeated escapes?
The trick was to catch those rogue Hider escape experts before they get through the prison. Using the same 1-2-3 capture sequence (peddling, back pounding, shouting “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”) would not only stop an escape attempt, but also result in Hider being captured again. “In jail with you!” At this point in Lee Hawkers’ evolution, you have a teen-dominated game of hide-and-seek, hawkin’ ‘n hittin’, after dark. A little messy, a little primitive, but relatively harmless.
Enter the teenage girls. They want to play. Co-ed Lee Hawkers. It had new possibilities, a new promise. Hmmm, a thought. A thought that has achieved an age-old goal – having fun while you find a mate. Much like the Stag Line (see Ezine article: “The “Stag Line” – A Cape Breton Dance Hall Etiquette (Part of Cape Breton Social Heritage)”), Lee Hawkers seems to have evolved from an excuse to a dating game wrapped in the guise of team sports. Or was Lee Hawkers an early form of the game now called Paint Ball? Could Paint Ball’s splashes of color have replaced the pin, or the peddler, in Lee Hawkers’ culturally historic Cape Breton game? Or was this game called Lee Hawkers just a teenage trick to play with girls? These are certainly questions requiring further discussion.
The girls were there. But first, the spitting and hawking had to go! And it is so. Lee Hawkers has become a kinder sport for the combined sexes. Catching a Hider now only involved “rapping” (lightly beating) a girl Hider in the back while shouting “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers”. Since the new rules eliminated peddling, Hiders about to be captured would no longer run to avoid the “guber”. Instead, the Hiders would resist capture by the Seeker by lying on their backs to avoid being hit. Based on Seeker-to-Hider’s size-to-strength ratio, the flip and “back rap” attempt(s) could prove to be quite a long struggle. Sometimes it would take the efforts of 2 or more Seekers to turn around and rap a captured Potential Hider.
Now let your imagination fill in the blanks here. Imagine what happened when the Hider was female, the Seeker was male. Hider – female. Researcher – male. Struggle. If the Seeker was male and he discovered a female Hider, he would never call for help from his Seeker teammates. This is the part where subtle changes to the “unwritten” rules came into effect when the girls joined the game. The effort was always different in these capture encounters between women and men. There was an unspoken adjustment in the rules of the game and a certain neutralization of male brute force. The male Seeker would gently wrestle with the female Hider until she could be flipped or rolled onto her back, and the male Seeker was able to pat her back combined with the “1-2-3 Lee Hawkers” shout. . It was amazing how long it took a strong teenager to perform a simple 45-90 degree roll of a woman to gain access to her back. It must be that inexplicable female physics!
Like Lee Hawkers’ game, so does dating, and love too. Brute force in hormone-based games is neutralized. It becomes softer. It evokes the chemistry of sexual attraction. And so goes life.
Lee Hawkers was one of those 1960s Cape Breton phenoms (or at least a Scotchtown-River Ryan) who, perhaps much like the Stag Line, was a dating game ritual wrapped up in the guise of team sports. Or maybe it was the precursor to today’s Paint Ball. Anyway, it was truly memorable!
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