USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘childhood games’
general

Soda tab games

DK is a junior at the University of Southern California, originally from Denver, CO.

DK shared stories with me about folklore at her school in Denver:

“I remember the biggest thing in middle school was getting to drink soda at lunch. They sold cans in the cafeteria of like, Sprite and Coke, and sometimes Dr. Pepper, and we’d all get soda to drink at lunch. Once we were done, we’d all go in a circle and wiggle the tabs back and forth while going through the alphabet…when the soda tab fell off, whatever letter you landed on was the first initial of your crush. And then we’d all flip out trying to decide who everyone’s crush was.”

My analysis:

This ritual is found all over schools everywhere, with kids of all ages. At a time when they are changing the ways they socially interact with one another, in more romantic or sexual means, it’s a cute and interesting way of sharing those feelings with your friends. Other variations I’ve heard of include twisting an apple stem until it breaks, or reciting the alphabet while jump-roping. Most importantly this seems to be a group ritual – if you were drinking soda or eating an apple alone, you wouldn’t necessarily do this to see you your crush was.

Game
general

Burlap Jump Rope- Colombia

Informant (“M”) is a 52 year old woman from Bogota, Colombia. She moved to the United States in 1992, at the age of 30. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who she raised in the United States. She has four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, she was the second born. She has a 102 year old Grandmother. Collection was over Skype.

Collector will be specified as “S”.

 

Transcript:

“M:  We had a game that, I don’t know como se dice en ingles, it’s with the rope. Rope?

S: Yeah, like a jump rope?

M: Yeah. We played at recess every single day when I was in third grade, yeah. I remember very specific.

S: What sort of rules did the game have?

M: The rules is that you jump, and when you jump if you get stuck in the rope, you are out.

S: Did they use two ropes or one rope, was there a song that you sang?

M: You only used one rope, there was one person on one side, and someone on another, and you was moving the rope around.

S: You didn’t sing anything?

M: We count, either the person that was in the middle had to count, even if it made them tired.

M: Yeah the person who can jump for the more long time would win. But sometimes we moved the rope very fast, it was one way we made the person lose, because there was no way the person in the middle could jump that fast. But Colombia we used a specific rope, not the plastics or synthetics. It’s made with wheat, what is the name of that plant, the thing that they make of those bags that they store coffee. Very famous in Colombia. Let me look….

(Uses search engine to find name)

M: Burlap, that used to hurt a lot when it hit your legs. YEAH, it was very painful. Burns and it gave you marks in the legs, because we had a school uniform, skirts, and they hit you in the legs.

S: Just one more question, was the person in the middle usually a girl or guy, or both?

M: Doesn’t matter boy or girl, it was a mix, a mixed game.“

 

Analysis:

The game seems like a very standard version of jump rope, similar to ‘Double-Dutch’ played in the United States. The use of Burlap was emphasized by  ‘M’ because of how painful it had made the game, resulting in pain when the jumper lost, possibility attaching an extra ‘cost’ to losing the game. The moving the rope ‘extra fast’ combined with the pain generated by the sort of rope may have acted as a form of teasing among students.

The use of burlap is very common in Colombia, notably used on coffee bags (as the speaker noted), which is a hallmark of Colombian identity.

Game
general

Cooties!

Sara is a very gossipy, religious, fun girl. Sophomore at USC, she’s in the Helene’s and a sorority. She’s from Anaheim, California. And she has an incredibly interesting memory and past.

We all know and remember this one from grade school. Boys and girls at their toddler age played with each other like it was nothing. Being a boy or being a girl did not impact the way they played with each other. They may have played with their given toys (dolls versus the fire truck), but overall gender had no role in a child’s fun. Once children get to that age where they start getting curious about what’s different between me and him, it’s time to scheme up some evil plan that will keep them from playing too much with each other. There is an appropriate time in society for boys and girls to start messing around with each other physically or sexually. Society isn’t ready to see their 5 year old girls sexualized. The idea of cooties makes it seem gross and almost wrong to touch the other sex. All in playful fun, it works in a way that doesn’t damage or influence there hormonal nature at about 8th grade.

Informant:

I remember when I was little, my parents freaked out. Me and my brother…[laugh], we were playing house in our little…house kitchen play thing. And at some point, my little brother pretended to get sick. So I played doctor. But my parents didn’t really like how I was trying to heal him.” Out of context that sounds awful. But she goes to explain that she was holding a magnifying glass looking at her siblings buttox. But nothing out of the ordinary. We all get curious to understand why we were made. It’s that time in the child’s life where all they can manage to do is get in their father’s ear and pester them with millions and millions of “why’s”.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Game
Kinesthetic

Dead Woman game

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following game is a modified version of tag she learned around third grade from her close friends of Indo-Pakistani descent.

The game starts by choosing someone to be the Dead Woman:

Me: And how do you choose who’s It?

Inf.: Well sometimes–like, i like to be It because I’d rather be the one chasing other people than getting chased myself.

Me: Ok, but what if no one wants to be It?

Inf.: Then you could…then everyone goes “Not it!” and whoever says it last–or actually what me and my friends do is we’ll do Nose Goes?

Me: Yeah, i know what that is, ok, and then?

Inf.: And then whoever’s It lays down on the floor, and everyone runs around them going,

“Dead woman, dead woman, come alive,

when i count to the number five

1,2,3,4,5, come alive!”

and then the Dead Woman gets up and starts chasing us, and she can’t open her eyes, so it’s like, she has to–or he, he or she has find us and catch someone without seeing, and whoever gets caught has to be the Dead Woman.

Analysis: Like many childhood games, ‘tag’ being the prime example, this game is basically a chasing game. The interesting variation in this version is that there seems to be a backstory to this particular game: the Dead Woman who comes alive with the enacting of a special incantation and comes after the ones who have revived her. Death holds a certain fascination for all humans, and children are no different. The added fear factor of having someone come back from the dead, when everybody supposedly “knows” that such a feat is impossible, is probably part of the appeal. In this game, then, kids are literally running from death, something that is very representative of Western society as a whole–its obsession with youth and how it refuses to deal with or accept the prospect of death in any form. The fact that the Dead Woman is brought to life via an incantation is also an interesting reflection on society’ s obsession with control and wanting to be able to recreate life of imitate it in the very least–how many incarnations of Frankenstein have there been? How hotly is the issue of cloning and genetic engineering debated?

In my childhood, we played a similar game, but it was called simply “Mummy”. The Mummy had to lie down on the floor, and the other kids would enact a “discovery” of the Mummy (“Oh, look! It’s an ancient Egyptian tomb! I wonder what’s inside!”), only to “realize” that all their poking and prodding had brought the Mummy to life. The Mummy would then get up with an eerie groan and chase after the kids, stiff-legged and blind, until s/he caught someone. Here we see similar themes of bringing someone back from the dead and having them be vengeful because of it, though this time there is no deliberate life-giving incantation. Is the change in the newer version a reflection on humanity’s intensifying urge to (re)create life?

Game
general

Eenie Meanie

Eenie meanie miney mo

Catch a tiger by his toe

If he hollers make him pay

20 (or 50) dollars every day

My mother says to pick the very best one are you are not it

 

The informant told me this version of the familiar counting rhyme. She says that she used this rhyme in elementary school and with her sister and family friends. She says that she has also heard other versions, but that this was the one most common for her. The informant claimed that this rhyme brought back memories of childhood and the importance of decision making and fairness that accompanied it.

When she told me this version, I was startled by the change in the third line. I was expecting: If he hollers, let him go, eenie meanie miney mo. We discussed the differences between our two versions, possibly resulting from the fact that we grew up in different parts of the country. I think her version is more dark and harsh, making the tiger pay for his pain. Also, in the version I grew up with, the last part of the rhyme goes: my mother told me to pick the very best one and it is you. The rhyme I grew up with has a more affirmative ending, instead of “not you”. When I was a kid, fairness between me and my two sisters was very important, as I’m sure it was for other kids that age. Thus, this rhyme and others like it were used to create an illusion of fairness via randomness. However, when I was a little bit older, I realized that the outcome of the rhyme depends on who you start with, and thus it is not entirely random.

Game

Cowboys and Indians

As a child my informant would commonly play a game of Cowboys vs Indians during recess in elementary school. It was a basic last man standing game in which you would case each other around and tagging the opposing side meant you had “gotten them”. The game itself was very simple, but what I found particularly intriguing was the fact that–as he told me–they always had trouble finding Indians, and that he, unlike the majority of his peers would always play as an Indian.

He explained that looking back on this game now, ” I see is as more as a psychological way of expressing dissent and counter hegemonic positionality.” When analyzing this game, it is evident that it was a game with a define good guy vs. bad guy, though at the age they were playing one doesn’t see it as good vs. bad, but more what  subconsciously is comfortable vs what is not as comfortable. “Ya know you’re probably more comfortable being part of a cowboy culture if you’re part of the dominant culture that’s raised in the united states.”

As such, the simple act of choosing to play as an Indian rather than a Cowboy is a possible indicator of a rebellious personality type. Those who choose to play as Indians are more willing to explore outside of their comfort zones whether or not they even consciously realize it at that young of an age.

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