I enjoy researching old customs to add authenticity to my stories. In my book, The Cattleman Meets His Match, I had a lot of fun recalling games from my own childhood. The book features four young orphan girls. Children have always been children, even in the harsh western plains. Games like hide-and-go-seek and kick-the-can have been around for ages. Clapping games have always been popular (especially with girls).
(found this video on YouTube – it’s not me!)
While researching these games, I came upon many examples from history. Is anyone old enough to remember, Pease Porridge Hot?Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old; Some like it hot, some like it cold, Some like it in the pot, nine days old
Many of the versions I came across either sounded too English or they were a little bit, well, suggestive:Miss Lucy had a steamboat, The steamboat had a bell, Miss Lucy went to heaven and the steamboat went to– hello operator, give me number nine
You get the idea! Besides the modern reference, I wanted to avoid any rhymes with suggestive lyrics. For The Cattleman Meets His Match, I went back to my own childhood, and the songs I sang with my friends:Three sailors went to sea, sea, sea To see what they could see, see, see But all that they could see, see, see Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.
While I don’t know the exact origin of that song, there’s no reason to believe my 1880’s girls wouldn’t have known it-maybe they even made up the words themselves.
I reference Cat’s Cradle in The Engagement Bargain. This game is played with a string loop and two players who perform increasingly intricate trade-offs from player to player. A painting of two women playing a version of Cat’s Cradle dates back to 1795. While the game was often referred to as ‘Scratch Cradle’, I used the more modern reference for today’s readers.
The girls from The Cattleman Meets His Match also used rhymes to decide who would be next on watch. (Remember deciding who was ‘it’?) In my neighborhood, everyone stuck their foot into the center, toes touching, the songs were sung, and the last one remaining was ‘it’. I’ve had other people tell me that everyone put in a fist. Either way, that was how democracy worked in our neighborhood.My mother and your mother Were hanging up clothes. My mother socked your mother Right in the nose. What color was the blood? R-E-D spells ‘Red’ and You are not it!
The girls from The Cattleman Meets His Match also enjoy telling scary stories around the campfire. I can picture Pa Ingalls doing the same. Human nature hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past several hundred years, although I fear how children play together has changed. The games we played as children were passed down from generation to generation. While my kids enjoy riding bicycles, with so many other activities vying for their time, they don’t play as much as we used to.
What about you? What games and/or rhymes do you remember from your childhood?