Friday, February 9, 2018

Ring Around the Rosie. Rhys remembers childhood games.

RHYS BOWEN: A few weeks ago I read the obituary of a woman who had spent her life collecting children’s rhymes, jump rope jingles and games from around the world.

I’ve always found it fascinating that so many of the songs and chants have made it across the Atlantic. When I was a child we used the following jump rope jingle (skipping rope, we called it)
It went, “Teddy bear, teddy bear touch the ground.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around
Teddy bear teddy bear go upstairs
Teddy bear teddy bear say your prayers
Teddy bear teddy bear turn out the light,
Teddy bear, teddy bear say goodnight.

I was really surprised when my children jumped rope to an almost identical chant.

When I was growing up there were lots of such things, clapping games, jump ropes, bouncing balls. And my kids, mainly when we lived in Texas, used to play similar things.
Clapping games: cross down when Johnny was one (clap clap) he learned to suck his thumb
Thumb Johnny, thumb Johnny, half past one.
And so on up to twelve.
Do you remember that one?
Or how about Oh Mary Mack, Mack Mack, all dressed in black black black?
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back, back, back.

And then all the jump rope games with counting: do you remember some of them? We had a big jump rope that two girls turned and we all had to run through.  One part that I remember:
Come, come to the fair. No no the fair’s not there
I must not miss a beat!

It is interesting to me how some of the rhymes have become altered or corrupted when they crossed the Atlantic. And some of them were not at all childish or innocent when they started out.
The well-known rhyme “Ring around the rosie, for example.
When it started out in England it was at the time of the great plague of 1665.
Ring, a ring of roses…. Was the rash that one got at the start of the plague
A pocket full of posies… you carried herbs to try to ward off the disease.
Attishoo, attishoo, we all fall down. .. you caught the plague, sneezed and died.
And in the US that has turned into something more harmless. Ashes, ashes.

But some have not changed. The farmer in the dell is the same in both countries.

Many of them were political comments at a time when criticism of a king could cost you your head. Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie. He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said what a good boy am I.
John Horner was Henry VIII’s chief dissolver of monasteries. He kept the best property for himself—the plum.

When I was a child we played a lot of singing games at parties. Here we come gathering nuts in May. Poor Jinny is a-weeping. Oranges and lemons—that was another scary one. Two children made an arch. The others filed beneath it and the last verse was “Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head. Chop, chop chop chop, last man’s dead.” And the arch grabs the child.

 They have now vanished, haven’t they? But then parties were simple affairs, games like musical chairs, some sandwiches and cake. That was it. No theme parties to Disneyland or the roller rink or a sports event. Simpler times.
So I’m curious. Do you remember any of these games? Did boys play them or just girls? Did  your kids play them? And I’m really glad that somebody has assembled a collection of them. In fact I went on line and there are lots of children’s books with these games in them. But try getting today’s cool kids to hold hands and walk around singing “Poor Jinny is a weeping.”
I think not!


  1. Although I don’t think many children play them any longer, there are so many fun rhymes . . . and I do remember playing some of them as a child and then playing them again when the children were small. I remember the Teddy Bear jump rope song; Mary Mack, too. Ring Around the Rosie, Farmer in the Dell.
    How about London Bridge and The Itsy-Bitsy Spider?
    And the hand-clapping chants; One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; Humpty Dumpty; Jack and Jill; Baa, Baa, Black Sheep; Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?

    1. London Bridge - another of those with a dark origin, the practice of burying people in the foundations as a sacrifice to keep the structure upright.

  2. I can still picture the big jump rope going round and round right down from the front steps of Woodleigh Elementary, with two girls standing on the sidewalk turning it. "Teddy Bear" was a popular rhyme we used, as was "Miss Mary Mack." Then, there was the following: Down in the valley where the green grass grows,
    There sat (jumper's name) pretty as a rose.
    Up came (a boy's name in the class) and kissed her
    on the cheek,
    How many kisses did she get this week? (Count until jumper misse
    I don't remember any boys taking part in our jump rope games.

    One of the favorite games in our neighborhood was "Ghost in the Graveyard" with the following rhyme:
    Red light, green light
    Hope I see a ghost tonight
    Wish I may, wish I might
    Hope I see a ghost tonight.

    And, then we all knew the nursery rhymes. I don't think kids today learn nursery rhymes.

    1. I loved Ghost in the Graveyard (a version of hide and seek)!

    2. Cathy, it was so deliciously spooky.

  3. I don't remember boys taking part in any of our "girl" games. They were more apt to be having chicken fights. We girls jumped rope to a myriad of songs and rhymes. Anyone else remember double dutch ropes (two of the long ropes so the jumper was always jumping) and Chinese jump rope where the "rope" was made of strung together rubber bands stretched between the holders ankles. The jumper made a cat's cradle with their feet. I think I can still do that one, but I wouldn't want to try double dutch again! We also did various pat-a-cake sequences.

    Kids today don't seem to participate in those simple games!

  4. I was more of a hopscotch girl, myself, although I do remember the Teddy Bear jumprope rhyme and a few others like "Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss her fella," which was a counting rhyme. Some kids still learn such games. Christian home school groups view them as wholesome, and teach them.

  5. Hopscotch, jacks, jumprop, tether ball. In our neighborhood we played Mother May I and Red Rover with big groups of kids. Hide and seek, of course. Rhys, did you have the game one plays with a baby's toes? This little piggie went to market. This little piggie stayed home. This little piggie had roast beef. This little piggie had none. And this little piggie went weeweeweewee all the way home, ending with a tickle to the belly, of course.

    1. And Itsy Bitsy Spider! I still do that one, even before Pattycake, with babies I love.

    2. OH yes, Edith. And horsey, horsey don't you stop with the baby on the knee.

    3. Rhys, there's a regional version of the bouncing the baby on your knee horseride: "Trit-trot to Boston, trit-trot to Lynn, watch out little baby or you're going to fall in!" Big dip at the 'in' and baby shrieks with laughter. The thing you had to watch out for was the Saugus River.

    4. I had forgotten that one! My mother often played it with various little ones. "Trot trot to Boston to buy a loaf of bread, trot, trot home again. The old mare's dead!" Babies sure loved it!

    5. Edith, hopscotch and jacks were two of our regular neighborhood games, too. I can still feel like I'm back in my neighborhood on my porch playing jacks or out in the street (we didn't get much traffic) playing hopscotch. Mother, May I and Red Rover were games played at home and at school. And, the Little Piggy has been a favorite of mine forever.

  6. Ah, the days of double dutch. Life was so much simpler back than. ;) But I was anything but the typical boy.

    Most of us in the neighborhood played tag, jacks, marbles, Red Light/Green Light.

  7. The only one mentioned I don't remember is the about the fair, but we had a different one about a fair, something about blue ribbons for his love's hair, but it's not coming to me right now. Red Rover was big in my neighborhood, too, Edith, as was Hide and Seek. For five years we lived in a house with a big empty lot next to it, and all the kids would come over and play until the streetlights came on.

    We jumped rope. Because I was nearsighted as a bat I was never any good at it, but one male classmate (who later died of AIDS in the 90's) would often play with us. He was also known to do a darn fine impersonation of Mary Wells on the playground, too, in sixth or seventh grade.

    I used to collect nursery rhymes, including some Old World ones that were not common here. I wonder what happened to those old books?

  8. jump rope. "My mother and your mother were hanging out the clothes. My mother hit your mother right on the nose. What color blood ran out? Red! Blue! Green!....and longer you jumped, the more inventive the colors: turquoise! chartreuse! burgundy!"

    Chinese jump rope, clapping games, cats cradle. Kick-the-can.

  9. We had Mary Mack and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear... We've been doing Itsy Bitsy with our grandson since he was old enough to hold his head up. And we had very fancy handclapping-with-a-partner routines that I've forgotten (ANYONE?)

    Anyone remember "A my name is...." Recited with a ball that you bounce and go through the alphabet, bounce bounce bounce and then lift your leg over the ball ... bounce bounce bounce Leg over...
    'A' my name is AMANDA (leg over) and my husband's name s ALVIN (leg over) and we come from ALABAMA (leg over) to sell you APPLES...
    If you missed coming up with a name/place/item you were OUT, or if you missed the ball.

    I was big into jump rope with one rope or two or with a length of elastic stretched between two people - I gather it's "chinese jumprope" though we did not call it that. Now I wonder what we used for the elastic. Did they sell loooooong rubber bands?

    1. One year there was a fad for two ball. We threw two balls, like juggling against a wall to a chant. It seemed there was always the game of the year and everyone did it. Jump rope one year, then jacks, then balls... But always active and outside. No wonder we were fit

  10. I remember these. I was no good at any of the jump rope ones - no coordination. But I did "Miss Mary Mack."


  11. Thing is, a lot of elementary schools seem to have abolished recess for some reason. That was when the jump-rope games flourished. (And they wonder why the kids are all fat.) I remember many of those rhymes, and turning the rope a lot, which you had to do when you missed. Donna and Billy sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Donna with a baby carriage. How many babies will she have? One, two, three…

  12. No one has mentioned Hide and Seek or Statues yet. I loved those, too.

    1. Ah Cathy, I was writing about both as you were posting!

    2. As well as the Ghost in the Graveyard hide and seek game, we played regular hide and seek, too. And, something is ringing a bell about Statues.

  13. Ah youth. I was the hopscotch queen. Selecting just the right object to toss on the correct square was a science in itself. I recall using a key chain. It stayed right where it landed, not bouncing off like a pebble might.

    Did anyone play "Statue?" This involved being swung around on the end of someone's arm and then dropping into the most awkward, funniet position. I'm not sure what the point of it was. And King of the Hill? One person at the top of a hill or slope, being dragged off by everyone else. Sort of like politics today.

    I think my favorite game was hide and seek, played with my teen-aged baby sitter, in the dark, all house lights turned off. Now THAT was fun!

    My favorite gifts to give a newborn are Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses" and "Mother Goose." Armed with those two classics, any baby is prepared to go into the world of childhood, never mind the blood and guts, the sexism, the complete political incorrectness. These are the first books I remember and the ones that set me on the path of a lifetime of reading.

    "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
    And what can be the use of him is more than I can see."

    1. Ann, I remember "A Child's Garden of Verses," too. I have a really old copy of the book. Now, I need to go pull that off the shelf and take another look at it. Love the poem you've noted, and the one about swinging is a favorite, too. As I mentioned above in my post, it seems that Mother Goose/nursery rhymes aren't read so much these days. When I was growing up, kids could recite so many of them by heart.

    2. How I love to go up in a swing,
      Up in the sky so blue,
      I do think it’s the loveliest thing,
      That ever a child could do.

  14. I remember many of these, though I was not a very skilled jump rope participant. 'A my name is...' - think I liked the puzzle better than the jumping. And 'blank and blank, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g' - no one wanted to be the one kissing some random boy in the class. Louise Penny used the 'ring around the rosie' in her latest book. The reference to the plague and creepiness. It's kind of like the 'real' fairy tales and what 'really' happened. Thanks for walk down memory lane!

  15. Since my grandmother's maiden name was Mary McEcheron, I always thought it was "Miss Mary Mac" - Mac being a common nickname for Scots and Scots-Irish. When I was young, I thought it was about her, and was very impressed so many other kids knew it!

    I wasn't great at double dutch, but I loved the solo jumprope game, where you loosely tied one end around your ankle and jumped over it with your other foot as you spun it around. Very tricky, and in fact I have a nasty scar on my left knee - still! - from getting tangled and falling to the pavement.

    Another game that boys and girls would play together was Whip. Hold hands in a line and the leader starts to run and weave all over, everyone following. The goal was to whip the line until the last person let go. Then he or she became leader, and everyone shuffled down. Does anyone else recall this one?

    1. I've played that on ice too... Very scary. All those games that would be banned now for fear of lawsuits--leapfrog, tossing someone in the sir. Ah, the good old days of skinned knees and broken limbs!

  16. While the builders were finishing our new house, when I was in first grade, we lived with my grandparents in a neighborhood that had become racially mixed, and I picked up and brought with me when we moved a kind of tag that the no one else had ever played:

    "I'm going downtown to smoke my pipe
    and I won't be back till Saturday night."

    One person said it while sauntering away, then turned and chased all the rest in a kind of tag. If you tagged someone, they became the saunterer.

  17. I do remember those rhymes, but I was a bit more rough and tumble as a girl. My brother is only 11 months older (Irish twins) so I did whatever he did. Subsequently, there was a lot of tag, red light green light, kick ball, hockey, fishing, war ( I punched a neighbor in the nose when he said I couldn't be a soldier and had to be a nurse because I was a So, while I know the rhymes, I was never very good at jump rope or patty cake. I was too busy tackling kids and tying them up. Spoils of war, amiright? LOL.

  18. I remember some of the rhymes, but a lot feel unfamiliar. Definitely did know Miss Mary Mack, though. I had a very peripatetic childhood, though, and I think that has left me with less intense childhood memories than what I observe from people who were better rooted. I will say, though, that while I think of myself as very uncoordinated, I do remember being able to participate in jump rope games well enough to fit in. It was a sad day for me when kids got old enough that they were interested in real sports more than those kind of games, because I was never any good at anything played with a ball. Still am not, truth be told.

  19. Up the ladder, down the ladder, ABC. Up the ladder, down the ladder, HOT. And then you jumped as fast as you could to save your life! We had jump rope games. There was cradles where you rocked the jump rope like a cradle and each person would jump through. Then it got faster and more intense as you tried to run in, jump once, and run out. We played lots of jacks. And hopscotch. Red Rover, Swing the Statue, Red light/green light, Mother May I. A lot of these games took place in the evenings out in the front yard with the neighborhood kids. Crack the whip was popular. Many variations of tag. I played war with my big brother. We would throw dirt clods at each other and then have to go around and pick them all up. Those clods did not crumble upon contact! At church school we did London Bridge, Ring around the rosie, and Loopy Lou. Fun times! Later we graduated to kick ball, four square, and tether ball.

  20. I loved hopscotch, four square, capture the flag, sardines, mother may I?, ghost in the graveyard, and we had a game called colors that was a hybrid of tag and kick ball. I think red rover has been banned in most schools. That game hurt!

  21. Clapping games..hmmm.. My father went to sea sea sea To see what he could see see see But all that he could see see see Was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea!

    Huh. Amazing. I bet I could still clap that. ANd sadly, that has taken the place in my brain that might have been filled with learning Italian.

  22. I remember a few of these. But not a lot of guys would probably know many of them. I was the guy jumping rope instead of playing football at recess.

  23. I read that same obituary. So interesting. "A sailor went to sea, sea, sea . . ." When I had a Brownie troop (for six years), we played "Duck, duck, goose" almost every week. I loved jumping rope as a kid! Thanks for the memories!

  24. Oh, I can't believe I forgot to mention this one. Kick the can. I didn't see it mentioned by anyone else (of course, I could have missed it), and it was one of the main games we played when I visited a friend in her neighborhood, a couple of streets over from where I lived. And, in my neighborhood, Cops and Robbers on bicycles was a big hit, too. I think we played another version of it, Cowboys and Indians, too, but I'm glad to say that it definitely wasn't often.

  25. I may have heard the rhymes, but it was hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, Simon Says and tether ball (once we were on a playground) that we guys did. Mostly, though, since I was out in the country with no near neighbors, I ran and climbed trees and read.