After-dinner socializing became child's play

Over Thai food one night and spaghetti the next, David has solemnly asked who's willing to play sardines in the new house. My mother and sister and I are staying with David's family for two weeks and have just helped them move. Compared with their old, cramped house, the new house is palatial, filled with enough closets and unfamiliar nooks and crannies for a kid to hide in for a long time. Unfortunately, David seems to be the only kid around.

Everyone feels bad about disappointing him. But we each have our own ideas about how best to enjoy evenings in the new house - and those don't include crowding into various closets.

David is at a loss. He's already learned how to unlock the bedroom doors using a key found propped above a door frame. And he's become an expert user of the house's intercom system. The intercom even has a radio feature, and he's made sure we have our choice of music. Who can blame him for wanting to unlock the final secrets of the house?

To my surprise, tonight he may get his wish. His aunt and uncle and grandmother have come for the afternoon and evening, and after dinner he poses his familiar challenge. Amazingly, seven people say they'll play sardines.

We are briefed on the rules: David will hide first, and the rest of us will search for him. Each time one of us finds David's hiding place, the person will hide with him. Eventually, only one person will be left searching, and when that person finally comes upon the hiding place, everyone will be crammed into it - hence the name.

David darts away, and after 60 seconds we scurry to look for him. The long hallway off the dining room looks the most promising, and I rush down it, heading first for the master bedroom. Knowing that a person can hide in obvious places that beg to be overlooked, I take care to check every corner.

Stepping into the hallway again, I hear a muffled snort. When I open the big linen closet, everyone tumbles out from under a thigh-high shelf, gasping for breath and roaring with laughter at how tightly they'd been packed in - like sardines.

Since I was the last to find David, it's my turn to hide, and I choose the master bedroom's walk-in closet. Tucking myself deep in a corner, I would have been hard to find except that my elbow catches the light. With a giggle Aunt Kathleen props herself next to me, and Grandma Betty darts in to join us.

A minute later Maureen, David's mother, whispers, "Who's still searching?" and we realize that everyone is hiding and waiting to be found.

Kathleen hides, and we all go tearing toward the hall after the 60 seconds, not bothering to look under the dining room table - which doesn't even have a tablecloth and which, we thought, could never conceal anyone.

She must have looked adorable hiding there, dressed up for dinner but crouched like a puppy under the center of the table, a bright, expectant look on her face.

After everyone finds her and we start the next round, I notice that our ranks have grown. David's father and brother have slipped into the game. The brother is "it" for the final round.

At first the rooms are crowded with people, but before I know it, David and I are the only searchers left. How can that be, when I've investigated every room? Dutifully I reopen doors and peer under furniture from new angles. Still I miss the spot, and running around begins to get tiring.

David and I are starting to get hints from the sofa, where my mother and Maureen are camped out. Having quit early, they've been watching the final round with humor and now call out impatiently, "You're getting warm ... no, cold!" and insist that we head back down the hallway. This is humbling.

David finds the hideout. Everyone is crammed into the master bedroom's walk-in closet - behind those same clothes that, during other rounds, I had run my hands under obsessively. What can I say?

Laughing, the group disperses to various couches, settling back into more-familiar socializing. David has reason to be proud, having just gotten five adults and three teenagers to forget about their ages and their well-worn habits of interacting for a good hour. As one of the teenagers, I cherish having gotten to play like a child again without having to leave the company of the grownups.

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