“There was no way we were going to see what made the sound, we were way to scared.”
The informant went to an elementary school that had a wooden structure in the middle of the playground that held all of the playground equipment. The structure was a bit ominous looking, with a pointed roof and fencing over the windows when it was closed down. The kids would sign up for shift to man the shack, and it was their job to hand out things like balls or jump ropes when other kids would request them. At the end of the day, it was the child’s job to get everything back and put things where they should be. The shack was then closed by fences being pulled over the windows and the door being shut.
There was a rumor among the students that someone would break into the shack and live in it overnight. This was reinforced by their own reports of things being moved around by the next morning after closing it up. The person who supposedly lived in the shack was homeless and came and went when nobody was around. On one occasion, when the informant stayed late for daycare, he and his friends apparently heard a crash sound come from the shack, although they opted to not investigate.
According to the informant, the rumor of the man in the playground hut originated some time around when he was there, so it wasn’t terribly old. But it lasted through his entire time there and didn’t really lose believability among children, even into middle school. The instance of him hearing a noise come from it at night was, he admitted, likely just something falling over, but it was more than enough confirmation as a child for him.
The most interesting part of this story is the fact that the rumor didn’t fade as the children got older. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that the story itself isn’t so farfetched that middle schoolers would rule it out as impossible. Something like an axe murderer or magical being living in the shack would lose realism as children got older and rationalized things, but the possibility of someone sneaking onto campus and taking up temporary residence in an unlocked hut is there. It’s easy to say the stuff got moved around just naturally, or someone cleans up the shack at night from the school, but the fact that nothing in the story is “out of this world” makes it even more haunting to a certain extent.
Context: The informant is a 23-year-old white female from Florida who grew up with her parents and two older siblings. When the informant was in grade school, a common accusation between kids swinging on adjacent swings, when someone got too close to them, was, “You’re in my shower!”
Analysis: The informant says she remembers the phrase because “I thought it was a weird thing to say, i was like, okay, whatever you say…” This indicates that it was not a widespread saying but perhaps unique to a small area of schools or perhaps even just the one school that the informant attended.
It can be assumed that when someone had possession of a swing, they would be unwilling to give it up or to experience interference from other swingers. The connotation of a shower being a very individual, private space, therefore, transferred onto the swinger’s small area of free movement and they would understandably be indignant of someone invading their “private,” designated area.
My informant used to play a variant of Wallball at his Bay Area elementary school called “Butts Up.” Like with regular Wallball, the game was played against the wall of a building or room, with one ball and many participants. Players had to throw the ball against the wall without the ball first bouncing off the ground. If the ball touches a player and then touches the floor, that player must run to the wall before the next time someone performs a successful wall bounce (player -> wall without touching floor). If a player makes it to the wall in time, he or she is safe and may resume play. If the ball makes it there first, that player receives a point. Additionally, a player may attempt to perform a fast catch, whereby the player catchs the ball immediately after it has bounced off the wall, before it touches the floor again. If the player successfully performs a fast catch, then the player who threw the ball gets a point.
My informant’s version of the game uses letters instead of points. Each point spells out the word B-U-T-T-S and when a player has gotten all 5 letters, they must stand against the wall with their butt in the air while every other player gets a chance to peg them in the ass with balls. Additionally, instead of a rubber playground ball, Butts Up was played exclusively with a tennis ball, and players were allowed to catch the ball in between throws, instead of just fast catches. Also after a player has been ass-pegged for spelling BUTTS, instead of being out, the player simply returns to the game with a clean slate, albeit a sore ass. Another one of my informants also said that some kids from his elementary school, back in New York, played this version of Wallball, and even called it by the same name of “Butts Up.” According to him, this version of the game was reserved for the hardest of hardcore children.
One of the games my informant used to play back in elementary school was a game called Wallball. According to him, Wallball is played against the wall of a building or structure with a playground ball or tennis ball. The object of the game was to hit the ball with your hand and have it hit the wall without first touching the ground. If the ball hits the ground first instead, you must run to the wall before someone else is able to successfully hit the ball at the wall, or else you are “out.” However, my informant says that usually a player could receive 3 or 5 outs before actually being forced out of the game. Games were played with a large number of students. There were a few additional rules in his version of Wallball. Players were not allowed to bobble the ball, any player bobbling the ball was forced to drop it and run for the wall just as if they had failed to make a proper hit. If a player was able to catch another player’s ball after it had hit the wall but before touching the ground, the player who hit the ball received an out. A player was also allowed to peg another player with the ball, thus forcing both players to run for the wall. This was only to be performed if teachers were not watching because teachers would usually stop the game if they saw this. Players were also forbidden from having “Tea parties” which is where a player hits the ball back to his or herself 3 or more times in a row. Also at any time, one player could challenge another player by throwing over his or her shoulder. Both players then had to run to the wall before someone else hit it there. Perhaps this challenge rule was instigated to replace pegging in the presence of teachers, but never left the game even when teachers weren’t present. This version of Wallball is very similar to the version of Wallball that I played in elementary school, except without the challenge rule.
According to my informant, he and his classmates would play a game they called Handball during recess. The ‘court’ was a specific area in the school between a set of stairs one one side and a railing on the other. Games were played with a rubber playground ball. If a player hit the ball at either of these points, that player was out. Also there was a small hole in the court, and hitting the ball there also merited an out. Additionally, there was a grey line partway up the wall, and if a player hit the ball above this line, that player would be out.
In a way, this game seems to be similar to regular handball, where the player must hit the ball against a wall in between a lower and upper line. However, my informant’s version of the game involved a large number of players, usually 15 to 20 at the start, and had more specific boundaries that can be attributed to the nature of the court they used. Overall, this appears to be a mix of regular handball and playground wallball.
My informant first heard the American expression when she was in elementary school. The saying is pretty popular and is easily recognized by most Americans. She says that she commonly used the expression on the playground at school or while playing with friends. Also, it is not something that you merely say, but “is a rhyme that you kind of sing.” She remembers saying the phrase while hopping over cracks.
When she was younger, my informant explained that it was not something that she necessarily believed. She had stepped on plenty of cracks and nothing bad ever happened to her mom. However, she did say that it was considered bad luck. However, my informant was and is not very superstitious. So although she knew the saying, she personally did not think it was bad luck, “especially since there were so many cracks on the ground at [her] school!” My informant, now an elementary school teacher, also said that she has overheard her students using the expression as well. The American proverb seems to still exist and remains a traditional “playground” proverb.
The famous adage has been used and continually reinforced in film. The 1988 children’s movie The Land Before Time shows a variation of the expression with the character “Ducky” saying: “Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll fall and break your back.” Nevertheless, the scene shows how it is used in child’s play. The characters Ducky, Cera and Littlefoot hop over cracks as they rhythmically say the line. The movie, made almost twenty-five years ago, is still popular among kids today, especially for those who become interested in dinosaurs. The Land Before Time’s popularity helps perpetuate the continuation of the well-known American adage.
The Land Before Time. Dir. Don Bluth. Perf. Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon and Judith Barsi. Universal, 1988.
My informant remembers playing this game during recess in elementary school. She and her friends were especially fond of it during second grade. The following is her account of it:
One kid is the “musher”, and he or she holds one handle of the jump rope in each hand. Two or three (depending on the length of the jump rope) other children are the “huskies” who stand in a line with the rope of the jump rope wrapped around them. The “musher” stands at the back of the line. The “musher” calls out: “Mush!” and the “huskies” begin to run. The children run around the playground like this, pretending to be a dogsledding team.
Sometimes there are “dogsled races” in which two or more “dogsledding teams” will race each-other on the playground. I was on a particular “dogsledding” team that only lost twice. It is a game played for pride, not actual prizes. Often the more dominant child will be the “musher”, and the more submissive children will be the “huskies”. Some children will take turns, rotating between who is the “musher” and who are the “huskies”, but usually a dominant “musher” will remain in that position for the majority of recess. Being the lead “husky” not the most desirable position, since the first child usually gets rope burns on their stomach from straining to run against the jump-rope. Some “mushers” will snap the rope to get the “huskies” to run faster.
I remember playing this game when I was in elementary school as well. I always liked to be the “musher” because I was a very bossy child. I remember that when my team would race against another, we would first have to designate where we were racing to, since there was no common racing path that we all used. This was a game often played in the spring, even though we mimicked a winter sport. This may have been due to the shortage of jump ropes in the winter, since they are usually a spring and summer toy. I believe this game is important because it allows the children to work on their team-working skills while using their imagination. While it was fun, it also brought about a lot of problems. Often the teachers would ban the game because kids would pull too hard on the ropes and hurt the other children. Some kids even began to whip one-another with a jump rope once after they lost a race.
My informant remembers chanting this with her friends in elementary school. She believes that it was around third grade that girls began singing this to each other in line-up before school began.
Oh, my gosh! I think I need a manicure! (looks at nails)
The sun, I swear, (presses hand to forehead) is greasing up my well-done hair! (touches hair)
Go! Go! Fight! Fight! (bobs head back and forth), Gee I hope I look alright! (points to herself)
Forty-three, fifty four, I don’t know the stupid score! (Makes confused face)
I remember this chant from elementary school. It was used to mock the “girly-girls” by singing it in a high-pitch tone and using dramatic eye-rolls for emphasis. There was no purpose to the chant, other than to show your friends that you knew it. I believe that it is important because it reflects upon the American societal image of a “girly-girl” and the fact that girls themselves recognize how ridiculous it is.
My informant told me about a childhood chanting game that she learned in second grade. She and her friends would play it during recess. She describes it as follows:
“You stand in a circle with a bunch of girls. One skips in the middle and everyone sings:
Little Sally Walker, walking down the street
she didn’t know what to do, so she stopped in front of me
Hey girl, do your thing, do your thing, switch
Hey girl, do your thing, do your thing, switch
After the line: “she said”, the girl in the middle stops in front of a girl in the circle and dances until the song ends. Then the two girls switch and the new girl skips around the inside of the circle as the song repeats.”
I personally have never played this game, but I faintly recognize the lyrics. It reminds me of many camp songs that I learned when I was young. It is a good way to learn rhythm and cooperation through song and dance. It is also something to do to simply pass the time.
My informant told me a story about his younger brother:
“My brother, sister and I all went to an inner city Roman Catholic grammar school. It was located next to a church, and every day during recess, at exactly noon, the bells would ring the Angelus and all children were supposed to stop in their tracks and quietly say a prayer until the bells stopped. The nuns patrolled the playground and no one moved. We kids actually liked to freeze in odd positions like statues. My little brother was a new first grader and afraid of doing anything wrong. During the first week of school he played during recess, but when it came time to freeze for the Angelus he couldn’t make it through because he had to go the bathroom. But he was young and nervous and afraid to anger the nuns by walking across the playground to the school’s bathroom. So he just pooped in his pants. I was assigned to clean him up and couldn’t understand how my brother let this happen.”
My informant told me that he often tells this story to his sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces at family gatherings. It is a funny story that always makes everyone laugh.
I found this piece of folklore interesting because my grandmother told a similar story involving peeing herself in class because she was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. It seems like a common theme amongst children when they have to face obeying the rules even if it means soiling themselves. There is also always something funny about pooping your pants, no matter how old you are I find that people always find stories that involve soiling yourself funny.