Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Lonely Cheese

          In the 1930s, was it only in New England that little girls played singing games in the playground?  Does anyone else who was a little girl in the 1930s remember?  For that matter, does anyone else who was a little girl in the 1930s even read this?  And I wonder  -- do little girls still play singing games at recess, or are they all just standing out there sending texts and tweets?
We did not have “Duck duck goose” in those days, and we did not have boys involved, except sometimes at birthday parties, when we sang about London Bridge and ducked under linked arms to avoid being trapped.  I seem to remember some sort of tug of war involved at the end?
But in school, at recess, a few bossy girls would organize the rest of us into circles to act out what I now recognize as age-old songs and chants.  Verses I haven’t heard since the 1930s still linger –
“LITTle Sally SAUcer, SITTing in a CORner” --the first girl, crouching just inside the circle, rubs her eyes. The next line is lost but after that comes the moment I always liked-- “RISE up, SALLy, WIPE away your TEARS” at which she starts promenading the inside of the ring.  “LOOK to the EAST and LOOK to the WEST and LOOK to the VERy one that YOU love BEST.”  Big suspense, until Sally stops in front of some lucky child who then becomes the next Sally and we start all over again.
We had more elaborate steps, which I now forget, to  “Go in and out the Window”, which betrays its old-world origin in the line “Now follow me to London (as we have done before.”)  I’ll bet it’s on Youtube—hang on.  Yes, the search brings up an ad for Pella Windows, but then a cartoon version with exactly the tune I remember.  It includes the line about London, but leaves out the last line, which came back to me as I watched – “Now go and choose another.”
So many of these games involved choosing the next lucky person. There was always the dread of not being chosen.  Or with “The Farmer in the Dell” the threat of being the very last choice, when “The Rat takes the Cheese”.  I forget where the others would have been crowded together – the Farmer, the Wife, the Child and all the rest, but what heartache there is in the last verse -- and to make it even worse, everyone else is so happy:
 “The Cheese stands alone,
                                           The Cheese stands alone,
                                           Heigh-ho the merrie-o—
                                           The Cheese stands alone.” 




  1. When I was in elementary school we played skipping games, and now that I think about it they were fairly violent (cinderella dressed in yellah went upstairs to kiss a fellah, by mistake she kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take (1, 2, 3, etc)). We also played this game called "4square" which involved a slightly squishy ball that you bounced around 4 squares that were painted onto the ground.
    Mostly though my friends and I played on this mountain that was beside our elementary school and had wonderful tree roots that grew into interesting shapes.
    I also remember in middle school when my first friend got a cell phone we used to play snake on it.

  2. As of last Fall, the girls of Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School were still playing singing and clapping games. Difficult clapping games which I could not master.

  3. This post got me thinking back on the skipping/chanting/singing games we used to play in the late 1950s/early 1960s, and it's remarkable how many of them did have an element of hostility or exclusion. (Don't even get me started on dodge ball.) And though I have no children or grandchildren of my own, I understand that the present-day texting and tweeting can get even worse. Sheesh.