My friend Min from the SAHP Malaysia Yahoo group was just featured in The Star (one of two leading national English papers in Malaysia) where she was interviewed regarding her hobby – sewing – that she’d recently turned into a business.

Branded Mama Min, these handsewn traditional games, some of them native to Malaysia, will take most Malaysians who are reading my blog down memory lane. I’m talking Five Stones, Snakes & Ladders, Checkers and the like.

Reading the article did the same to me. Suddenly, I remembered taking long post-dinner walks down the road where my mom’s ancestral home was in Batu Gajah. The street was line with Saga trees, and they littered tiny hard red seeds that begged to be picked. And we would, gathering them by the dozens and using them generously in two games: Seven Stones, except that instead of small rocks, we would ask Mom to sew sacks filled with the seeds as they were softer on the hands; and this game the name of which escapes me. It is not unlike a game boys used to play with bottle caps. We would throw a bunch of seeds on the floor and then find two seeds between which we would ‘draw’ an invisible line with our pinkies without touching either of the seeds. This was called ‘marking’ the seeds. After the ‘marking’, we would need to hit one of the seeds with the other by flicking them with our fingers. If we succeeded, we could keep the seeds. The objective was to collect as many of the seeds as possible.

These two were easily my favourite two games because firstly, my mom taught it to my sis and me. And for many evenings, it locked our small family in fierce friendly battles for those blasted saga seeds.

Mom, because she’d been playing the game for God knows how long, was the reigning Champion of the Saga Seeds, whereas dad, the only man in the family, would be the undisputed loser. He’d blame it on the fact that his pinkies were the largest in the family and therefore, could not possibly mark the seeds properly without touching them, whereas Mom, with her long, elegantly manicured digits, had the advantage of narrow, sharp nails with which she could mark all the closest seeds (that were the easiest to flick and hit).

And when it came to Seven Stones, dad’s hands were again his bane. The man just could not catch. How it goes is that after you finished each match, you are given a bonus round where you have to throw all seven ‘stones’ up in the air and then try to catch as many as possible using the back of your hand. To do so, you’d need to sort of curve it into a bowl, the way traditional Thai dancers do, so as to catch as many of the seven as possible.

After that, you’ll need to send them up again, before trying to catch every one of the stones that’d made it on the back of your hand, to finalise the score. Obviously, the more you caught, the higher your score.

The problem was that Dad simply could not ‘curve’ his hand as flexibly as we ladies could. Because they were taut and hard, the tightly-packed sacks would often bounce off with ridiculous frequency. Often, he’d end up without even one stone. It was both painful yet hilarious to watch.

And that is the undeniable value of such games: their ability to bring the family together. Not only do they cost nothing to own, they were ingenious in their simplicity yet rich in the lessons they taught, from simple arithmetic to the importance of teamwork. Most of all, they were fun.

I wish I could share with Rae the joy those saga seeds had brought us. You know what? Perhaps we could substitute them with acorns. Fall is on its way.

Watch out, Lokes. Let’s see how those chubby, soft hands do as we open up our own chapter of The Champion of the Acorns!