I left my wife with twenty-four children,
Down in the kitchen with starving conditions
Without any gingerbread left, left, left, right, left.
Siobhán told me she first learned this marching call from our grandmother when she was a girl of about five years old. She learned it in Santa Monica, CA, but told me it was possible that our grandmother had learned it in Texas where she grew up. She explained to me that this marching call is said most often when you want to march together on the same foot. She recalls learning it when she and our grandmother would take walks around the neighborhood together, and our grandmother would call out in a voice of military precision this rhyme in a staccato and brisk manner. She described how you have to start marching with your left foot when you say left in the first line, and each step is taken in rhythm with the call, landing on a specific syllable. The steps go on: left (left foot), wife (right), twen- (left), chil- (right), Down (left), kitch- (right), starv- (left), -dit- (right), -out (left), gin- (right), left (left), beat (right), left (left), beat (right), left (left), right (right), left (left).
Siobhán believes this marching call was our grandmothers way to turn an ordinary walk around the neighborhood into an adventure. Like the speaker in the rhyme, it is an admirable quality to make sacrifices to help your family in need. The speakers courage is alluded to with images of men leaving home to join the military to protect their country and their family with the hopes of a better future. The speaker must be brave enough to leave his starving family on their own while he can fight for a better tomorrow. Siobhán not only explained how patriotic our grandmother was, but also how proper she was with mannerisms such as posture. She explained how the tone with which our grandmother called this out almost forced your shoulders back and chest out as you marched with exquisite poise.
I can recall when my grandmother would say this, and often times she would also start it when we setting the table for dinner or completely other household chores. It was her way to call us to attention and stay focused on completing our chores as young girls. In this respect it is worth noting the gender divide insinuated by the marching call. The speaker, male, has to leave his wife – in the kitchen with the children. This speaks to gender roles of men and women; men being the protector and provider of the home, while the woman rears the children and is responsible for household duties. This marching call is effective in teaching children qualities of family values, courage, and their identity based on gender.