My mom shared the following rhyme, which she learned from her mother, with me:
“One bright day in the middle of the night, two dead boys got up to fight. Back to back they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other. A deaf policeman heard the noise, came and killed those two dead boys.”
She says of the rhyme, “I learned it from my mom, and she described it as a jump rope rhyme…double dutch jump roping was very popular for many years in elementary schools. And my mom grew up all over the place, so I don’t know exactly where she got this from. She was born in Atlantic City but she was also raised partly in Biloxi, Mississippi and um, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. So I don’t know where this came from originally but, yeah, she was born in 1928 so it would’ve been from the ’30s.”
My mom jumped rope as a child, but she didn’t use this rhyme for that purpose because it seemed “kind of ghoulish” to her. She says she had jump rope rhymes of her own, but can’t remember any of them as well as she remembers “Two Dead Boys.” I imagine that this particular rhyme stuck with my mom because it is somewhat macabre, and things that frighten or disturb us as children tend to remain in our memories. It is interesting, although not particularly surprising, to me that a piece of folklore used in children’s play would have such dark imagery. Children’s folklore often involves subject matter usually deemed inappropriate for them, but expressed and performed with coded language or, as in this case, with whimsy and humor.
For other variants on this nonsense rhyme, see the British Columbia Folklore Society’s blog entry: http://folklore.bc.ca/one-fine-day-in-the-middle-of-the-night/