Column: You think kids still spend summer days with marbles, jacks?
Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Aug. 12, 2006.
WORTHINGTON — It has been a while since I saw a summer afternoon with girls sitting on a front sidewalk playing jacks. Maybe they do. Maybe I just don’t notice.
You used to see them along nearly every block this time of summer doing their onesies, twosies, threesies. I don’t see boys playing marbles, either. It is hard to find a place any longer where you can draw a circle in the dirt. You have to fashion a circle in dirt before you get out the shooters. (You play for keeps?)
I do see kids, of course. I wonder when I go by if they still say things kids used to say. “What’s your name?” “Puddin’ an tain. Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.” “What did you say?” “I don’t chew my cabbage twice.” “You’re not nice. You better shut up.” “My mouth doesn’t run on shutters. It runs on biscuit cutters.” “Na na na.” I still can’t explain all that patter. I never did understand “puddin’ an tain,” but those are things kids said. This was from a time when girls wore what were called dresses.
They would climb on monkey bars, or they would swing high.
That was when someone would say, “I see London, I see France, I see Maggie’s underpants!”
That was pretty daring.
Boys in that time had buttons on their pants, not zippers. If a button showed, someone would start a line that began. “One o’clock in Water Town …” This could be taken in stride except, maybe, if it were said coming off a stage at a school program. Then it might be devastating.
There was a verse — the first line varied. Maybe, “Betty Lou is feeling blue,” or maybe, “Geraldine is feeling mean.”
“Betty Lou is feeling blue, and I know how to please her. A bottle of ink to make her stink and Harry Brown to please her.” Or Billy Boone to please her, Jimmy Jones to please her. This varied from neighborhood to neighborhood. Someone might ask, “Can you telephone from a street car?” You say, “No.” “Gee, you must be dumb. There are no wheels on a telephone. There are eight wheels on a street car.”
Today, of course, there are no street cars. If there were, you would say, “Of course you can telephone from a street car. Use your cell phone.” Once, when there were no cell phones, there were many, many grocery stores. This was a time in the summer when a boy might call a neighborhood grocer: “You got pickled pig’s feet?” “Yes,” the grocer would say. “Gee, you must look funny!” That’s a real tickler, isn’t it? “You got Prince Albert in the can?” “Yes,” the grocer could say. “Well, you better let him out!”
It doesn’t get funnier than that. “You better quit that. You’ll get in trouble.” “You’re bossy.” “Well, you better quit that.” “You’re not my boss!” “I’ll tell mother on you…” There were many summer birthday parties. Grape Kool-Aid and peanut butter sandwiches. The honoree had to have a swat for every year, of course. “One - two - three …” Swats were not hard to take. You winced when someone said, “And a pinch to grow an inch.” A pinch might leave a black-and-blue mark.
Again and again, of course, you were “it.” “You’re it!” “You’re it.” “I’m not it! You’re it!” There were many sheds in that time. Small garages. Two kids on one side of a shed, two kids on the other side. Toss a ball over the top. “Ante-I-over!” If the ball didn’t make it, if the ball rolled back: “Pig’s tail!”
The handle on a pitcher resembles a human ear. A mother might caution when children were present, “Little pitchers have big ears.” Kids didn’t say that. If kids caught you telling something you heard, you were branded a tattletale. “John said a swear word!” “Tattletale! Mind you own bee’s wax.” “Shame on you!”
In those times, in the dime stores, in living rooms, nearly every place you turned, you saw the three monkeys, and you knew their admonition: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.”