Red rover. Dodge ball. Freeze tag. London bridge. Simon says. Do these ring any bells for you?
Recess, blessed recess! What child does not love the word? Children have not changed much in the 50+ years since I was in elementary school when it comes to recess. We’d watch the clock, waiting the morning recess bell to ring. Weather was not an issue unless the rain was pouring down. We went out in drizzle, hot sun, freezing cold and even in the snow. We didn’t care; we could run and yell and as long as we weren’t fighting no teacher intervened.
Recess always involved games of one kind or another. While baseball often dominated the Spring recess periods, not all of us played. We had other interests, like jump rope. There were rhymes that went with the actual jumping of the rope, like “Mary Able set the table and don’t forget the sugar, salt and red…hot…pepper!” On that last word the rope would be turned as fast as possible to see how long the jumper could stay “in.” Another favorite was “Johnny on the ocean, Johnny on the sea, Johnny broke a milk bottle, blamed it on me. I told Ma, Ma told Pa, Johnny got a whipping and a ha ha ha. How many whippings did he receive?” Then the rope would turn faster as the turners counted. We always tried to get Johnny a lot of whippings.
Hide-and-seek was another favorite game, with chants of its own. The person who was “it” counted to 100, then called, “Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie, who’s not ready holler I!” If you had not yet found a hiding place, you sang out, “I!” Then “it” would continue counting and repeat the rhyme again. When there was no response, “it” would yell, “Ready or not, here I come!”
Recently I heard about another playground rhyme, this one for the teeter-totter. The one who managed to put the other person high in the air on the teeter totter would chant, “Buster Brown, Buster Brown, what will you give me if I let you down?” I had never heard that before and it made me wonder how many other games and rhymes I missed.
In A History of Marshall County from Forest to Field (1925) author Scott Powell mentioned play parties. Where I grew up there were no such parties and I am fascinated (and a little jealous of) this Appalachian tradition. Powell wrote of a play party called a kissing party where a newlywed couple would be present and all young single men were expected to kiss the bride. These frontier men were bashful and taught to respect women and at one party many of them could not bring themselves to kiss the young bride. As one after another avoided kissing his wife, the new husband grew angry. Finally, he took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and threatened to beat the daylights out of all of them if the men insulted his bride by refusing to kiss her. Needless to say, all complied and the blushing bride was well-kissed by the end of the party.
I wandered by a playground just before school let out for the summer. A jump rope was turning and I could hear a sing-song chant, although I could not make out the words. It was good to know that some things about childhood never change. Soon the playgrounds will be full of running feet again, and singsong rhymes will fill the air. Maybe I need to find myself a jump rope.
(This article was published in Two Lane Livin' last month. Sharing it here for your enjoyment if you missed the TLL version.)
My thanks to the website Karen's Whimsy for providing great, free clipart.