Me: Can you tell me some familiar story or rhyme you remember?
Informant: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”
Me: When did you hear this?
Informant: “This nursery rhyme was something I heard in grade school.”
The informant thought of this rhyme first when prompted for a piece of folklore, and demonstrated that despite an inter-cultural upbringing, this rhyme still featured prominently in her childhood. It would seem the Mother Goose style nursery rhymes, of which this is one, have become globalized and are no longer a purely western phenomenon, since despite an international heritage, the informant still seemed to associate their childhood most strongly with this rhyme, and recited it in its traditional form.
Miss Suzie had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell (toot toot)
Miss Suzie went to heaven
The steamboat went to
Hello operator, please give me number 9
If you disconnect me, I’ll chop off your
Behind the refrigerator laid a piece of glass
Miss Suzie sat upon it and broke her little
Ask me no more questions, please give me no more lies
The boys are in bathroom pulling down their
Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park
Miss Suzie and her boyfriend are kissing in the DARK DARK DARK!
Is like a movie, a movie’s like a show, a show is on TV
And that’s all I know know know!
This is one of the many chants that is recited with a certain clapping pattern that I learned in elementary school. Back then, many girls would say these chants during recess as a way of spending their free time. I remember learning it from my best friend, who had learned it from other girls in her class. Once we both knew it, we would frequently play this clapping game, whether we were at school or at each other’s houses. It was a way of passing time when we were bored.
Looking back at my elementary school days, chanting this rhyme was extremely enjoyable. Not only did it help ease my boredom, but it also provided me with fun. Chanting the words with my friends made me laugh because of the words in the chant. It implies inappropriate words without actually being inappropriate.
Remembering the chant reminds me of how much fun I had as a kid. When I hear other kids recite these chants and play clapping games, I remember more specific memories that I had as a child. This chant gives me a connection to my past. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this chant because it has been implanted in my brain from reciting it so much.
Contextual data: When asked about childhood games or rhymes she knew, my informant immediately thought of this game. My informant was born and grew up in Hawaii. She says she first learned this in first grade at school through a friend. She says at the time everyone used to play it. The lines are said simultaneously by two partners, to a simple tune, clapping hands in different patterns every other syllable. At the end of the game, both players freeze, and whoever moves first loses. This can be decided by the spectators surrounding the players, or by one of the players themselves. The following is a transcription of the song’s lyrics (line breaks my addition):
I went to a Chinese restaurant / to buy a loaf of bread. / The lady asked my name, / and this is what I said: / my name is L-i-l-i pickle-eye pickle-eye pom-pom beauty x-y cutie Indiana Jones don’t move!
My informant and I both had difficulty thinking about the significance behind the song or game–in her own words, the game “sounds nice” and “it doesn’t matter when you’re in first grade”–but I’m sure there is some. Perhaps “pickle-eye pickle-eye” is some kind of racial slur against Asian facial features (perhaps the owner of the Chinese restaurant?), and “pom-pom beauty x-y cutie” could reference any number of things, from cheerleading to large breasts. The lyrics are so abstract and seemingly disparate that it’s hard to string them together. Perhaps by this point they’ve changed so much from their earliest forms that it’s actually impossible to pinpoint any original, intended meaning (if there ever was one), and now people find significance in the simple pleasures of playing the game.
Chris Travaglini has a forty-foot weenie
And he stuck it out the bedroom door
His mom thought it was snake and hit it with a rake
And now it’s only four-foot four
This is a rhyme my informant and a group of his friends made up about a classmate when they were in middle school. They made it up at an age when most people are going through puberty and finding ways to deal with it, which would explain why the rhyme is penis-joke based. Also middle school is a time when group-forming, teasing, and bullying are heightened.
The informant is recounting a rhyme/chant her and her cousins would recite when they were younger:
One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!
Uh, I learned it from my cousins, It’s what we’d say right before jumping into this lake we went to every summer. Basically, it made it harder for people to chicken out when we had this whole chant thing going. What it means, I don’t really know, but that’s the context i’ve used it in.
The informant chanted this before doing something frightening and it’s purpose was to bring her group of cousins closer together.
This shows the power of folklore that, by sharing this chant, they are capable of assuaging their fears since they are all experiencing it together.
Part of this phrase was used as the title of the popular Janet Evanovitch novel One For the Money. This use plays on the audience’s familiarity with the phrase. It is used there as a play on words though since it is actually about doing one bounty hunter job literally for the money.
The informant related an activity she did with her children.
When I was a real little girl, My grandpa used to put me on his foot like this and hold my hand. [She crosses her legs at the knee and holds her hands at about knee level as though holding the hands of a toddler.] He was Norwegian and he would sing: “Ah ria ria runken. Hasta netta blunken” [phonetic transcription] [She mimes bouncing the child every other syllable.] I have know idea what it means.
I find it interesting that the informant remembers and passes on this piece of folklore despite not knowing even what it means because, even though she does not speak Norwegian, she is sentimentally attached to the rhyme.