Unwriting The Unwritten Rules

With a set of jacks, a hopscotch marker, and a jump rope in hand, entire afternoons could pass before anyone thought to say, “I’m bored.”

While we envied the skill of the Double-Dutching older girls, we took our turns at the single rope and were content. Pigtails and ponytails flying, we jumped to rhymes still known today: “Teddy Bear,” “Spanish Dancer,” “Cinderella.”

We giggled at verses filled with favorite beaus, kissing, marriage, and baby carriages, but the rhymes weren’t freighted with adult meaning. Their short, easily memorized lines were nothing more than markers for the entrance and exit of jumpers from the ropes.

One possible exception was a cautionary, sometimes taunting verse whose lines were bandied about well beyond the jump-rope circle:

Step on a crack; break your mother’s back.
Step on a line; break your mother’s spine.
Step on a hole; break your mother’s sugar bowl.
Step on a nail; send your father off to jail.

Today, I’m aware that tripping on a crack might result in broken body parts, but the broken parts would be my own. I’ve broken a sugar bowl or two, but I’ve done it on my own — no hole required — and when I stepped on a rusty nail in a boatyard and required a tetanus booster, no one ended up incarcerated.

Still, children engaged in sorting out the world sometimes believe strange things, and a few of my chums thought the connection between sidewalks and broken spines just might exist. The believers were easy enough to spot. They walked to school with bowed heads: not praying, precisely, but watching their feet — determined, for their mothers’ sakes, to miss each crack, each hairline fracture in the sidewalk.

Sidewalk cracks didn’t bother me: at least, not after a friend and I tested their life-destroying power for ourselves.

One Sunday morning after church, while we waited for our mothers to finish their conversation, my friend grew pensive. “Have you ever done it?” she asked. “Done what?” “Stepped on a crack when your mother was around.”

I hadn’t, and even after she raised the issue, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. “No,” I said. “Have you?” She shook her head. “Well,” I said, “should we try it?” We looked at one another; at our mothers; at the sidewalk. “I don’t think anything will happen,” she said. Neither did I.

Getting up from the step where we were sitting, I walked over to the nearest sidewalk crack, and slid my toe across it. My mother kept talking, and my friend snickered. “You didn’t really step on it.” “Well, you step on it, then, and see what happens.” In a flash, she bounced up, jumped down, and landed on a sidewalk crack with both feet, looking at her mother as she did. When nothing happened, she began jumping up and down on the crack as enthusiastically as any rope-jumper.

The flurry of sudden activity caught our mothers’ attention. Turning to us, they said, “You kids must be ready to go home.”

All was well.

On the other hand, even as we freed ourselves to walk the sidewalks of the world with impunity, we continued to struggle with other unwritten rules: most of which went unrecognized until the right set of circumstances brought them to light.

When my mother, an excellent seamstress, altered an old pattern for a back-to-school dress, she spent hours matching the crisp emerald and sapphire plaid in its knife pleats and dropping the waistline to just the right spot.

Over the course of repeated fittings, it became obvious that I wasn’t fond of the dress. In fact, I dreaded the thought of having to wear it to school. Finally, my grandmother intervened, asking what it was about the dress that I didn’t like. “It’s the colors,” I said. “Everybody knows that blue and green don’t go together.”

How I’d arrived at such an odd conclusion is impossible to say, but quite clearly I felt my new dress violated an unwritten rule about color combinations.

Before long, my grandmother, our family’s problem-solver extraordinaire, decided to set me straight. Leading me outdoors, she pointed to the trees in the front yard. “Aren’t they pretty?” she asked. I agreed that they were. In their late summer foliage, still full, leafy and green in the sunlight, they fairly shone.

Then, she pointed to the sky. “Isn’t that pretty, too?” I agreed that it was. “Well,” she said, “don’t you think the green trees and the blue sky belong together?”

Surprised by such a silly question, but already grasping its purpose, I said, “Of course they do.” With only the faintest hint of a smile, my grandmother erased yet one more unwritten rule: “Don’t you think your friends will wish they had a dress that looks like the trees and the sky?”

I remember and retell the story of my blue and green dress from time to time, particularly when issues of color arise. Most recently, it came to mind when a friend arrived for a dinner engagement dressed in a blue shirt and pure, snowy white pants. Puzzled by my sudden laughter, she said, “What? What’s so funny?” 

“You’re from the midwest. You should know better. Look what you’re wearing.” It took a few seconds — but only a few — for her to begin laughing, too. “You’re right,” she said. “I’ve been down here so long I’d forgotten the rule. Back home, everyone still thinks it’s wrong to wear white before Memorial Day — or after Labor Day, for that matter. It’s just the way it is.”

Even while we still were telling tales and laughing over the silliness of it all, it occurred to me: someone ought to tell Mother Nature that white’s not right before Memorial Day. I think she’s ignoring the rule.

Comments always are welcome.

96 thoughts on “Unwriting The Unwritten Rules

  1. I simply love the lyrical quality of your writing in the first part about your childhood memories. I must have stepping on one too many cracks because my mother did break her back.

    Your grandmother was a wise woman. I had one of those blue and green plaid shirts with the pleats. I loved it. Thanks for the good memories.

    Lovely post!

    1. Thanks, Jean. We lived with a lot of rhythm and rhyme when I was a kid. Perhaps that’s part of the lilt that you heard. I am sorry to hear that your mother had such an experience, but I feel quite confident you weren’t the cause.

      I wonder why pleats fell out of favor? I suppose polyester had something to do with it. You can’t pleat that stuff. But there was nothing quite like a nice pleated skirt, or a shirt with a pleated front. Of course, the came with a lot of ironing attached, but that was all right. (I wonder if anyone keeps sprinkled clothes in the refrigerator any more?)

  2. It has been a long time since I have been around children. I wonder if those childhood games and rules still exist or if the cyber world and high-tech toys have destroyed that pleasant innocence and let boredom take over when the batteries lose their charge.

    1. Actually, they do still exist — partly because of the home school movement. I was looking for a good site to link as a source for some of the rhymes, and I found many, many current listings for the various games, their history, the associated rhymes, and so on. And not so long ago, I was walking past a grade school when I noticed a circle of kids sitting on the grass, playing a clapping game. That’s about as retro as you can get!

      1. Linda, have you heard of “Who Sir, Me Sir?” We played lots of that in college. I always loved hearing my beau call my name but I was never very good at my response. I think I have good rhythm but I wasn’t fast enough; I would miss a beat trying to come in.

        1. I haven’t heard of that. But when I looked it up, I found that it’s part of the dialogue in the Sophia Loren/Cary Grant movie, “Houseboat.” I haven’t figured out which came first — your game, which then was taken up in the movie, or the movie lines, which turned into a game. It looks like fun, though.

  3. Blue and brown is another “verboten” color combination that I see in nature all around me — especially when I drive any distance beyond the city limits after spring planting or after the cotton has been stripped. I wonder that you didn’t mention the subtle, pervasive cultural unwritten rules embodied in those old jump rope rhymes about what was a proper future for a young girl to aspire to (that all girls should want to attract a man, get married and have babies) or the proper order of things (that marriage comes before babies, not after).

    That said, I used to beg my daddy not to throw away his old golf balls but to give them to me to play jacks with. Golf balls bounced higher on concrete and lasted “forever,” unlike those rubber balls that came with the jacks. I wished my dad would have taught me to throw spinning tops, shoot marbles and play with a yo-yo, as he described doing when he was a boy, but alas, those were “boy” toys. I suspect he would have jumped at the chance to teach my brother to throw tops, which is best done on concrete, or shoot marbles, which is best done on dirt, but my brother had severe asthma as a child and was not allowed to play outside much, as dust and pollen would “set him off.” and bring on an asthma attack.

    That photo of the white poppies against the blue sky is just spectacular.

    1. It’s funny that you should mention blue and brown. They’ve become attractive to me in a new way, and I really enjoy them.

      I guess I didn’t do the cultural critique for two reasons: I never noticed it as a child, and those issues don’t particularly bother me now. (Add: a third reason — it didn’t really fit into the context of this post.) I’ve had my own experiences of dealing with expectations for a woman, and moved on down the road. However, had I gone the cultural critique route, there’s another jump-rope verse I would have added that made us laugh then, and still makes me laugh:

      Johnny gave me apples,
      Johnny gave me pears.
      Johnny gave me fifty cents
      To kiss him on the stairs.

      I gave him back his apples,
      I gave him back his pears.
      I gave him back his fifty cents
      And kicked him down the stairs.

      Johnny’s name can be changed as needed.

      Isn’t it funny how the smell of those hard, red rubber balls lingers? Like you, I preferred the golf balls. Mom never let Dad buy me a train set, but I had my yo-yos and my bag of marbles. Every now and then Dad would bring home a big ball bearing from the factory for me to use as a “steelie.”

      It’s a shame about your brother. I had my own difficulties with allergies — particularly to corn pollen. Farming was done differently then, and when the pollen was in the air, I was miserable. Shots finally took care of the problem, but there was no detasseling for me.

      I’m glad you like the photo. I took it where TX35 crosses the Colorado river. There’s a little dirt road that leads down to a boat ramp under the bridge. I saw it as I was crossing, made a U-turn, and had myself a lovely half-hour with some great flowers.

  4. This is beautiful dear Linda, I loved to imagine while I was reading your childhood memories. Wise women… and good memories. The most beautiful thing to give a good memories, stories to the children. Thank you, Have a nice day, Love, nia

    1. It’s good to see you back, Nia. And I like the way the Reader is showing your posts, now. I think the new WordPress system is good. And you’re right: passing on memories is one of the best things we do. You’ll have so many stories to tell your grandson — I know he’ll cherish them as much as I cherish mine. Wise women and good memories is one of the best combinations in the world. ~ Linda

  5. Of the four jump-rope consequences, breaking your mother’s sugar bowl seems inordinately weak compared to the other three. I expect it was just for the sake of the rhyme, but surely someone could have come up with a more-severe consequence that rhymed: fail at every chosen goal; strike her to her very soul; etc.

    1. That’s an interesting observation. I’m sure the need to create a rhyme was partly responsible for the choice, but I wonder if some historical circumstances might also have played a role.

      We’re used to sets made up of sugar bowl and creamer, but from the late 1800s until the 1920s (give or take either way) the serving sets even on more informal tables included a creamer, a sugar bowl, a spooner, a covered butter, and a celery vase. A broken sugar bowl could easily have broken up an entire set of tableware: a far worse circumstance than just a broken bowl.

      And of course there’s sentimental value, too. Sugar bowls and creamers often were brought to this country by immigrants. The same grandmother I wrote about here brought her sugar and creamer from Sweden, by ship, at the turn of the century. Because they were small items, they were more easily carried, and they often were family heirlooms.

      I mentioned this somewhere, so if you’ve heard it — well, here it is again. When Grandma died, my father went into the house ahead of some inlaws who were, shall we say, extraordinarily acquisitive. He grabbed the sugar bowl and creamer, putting one in each pocket of his jacket, and brought them to our house. He and my mom had them for years, and now I have them. When I evacuate for hurricanes, they go with me, bubble-wrapped within an inch of their lives.

      So, for me, all of the consequences seem equal in weight. I don’t know what will happen to the set when I’m gone — I need to figure that out. But I’m not going to be the one to step in a hole!

    1. What’s odd, GP, is that I don’t remember being taught any of those verses. We simply knew them: learning them from the older kids, I suppose. There were variations galore, too. My cousins knew similiar verses, but they weren’t exactly like mine. I think it was a good example of oral tradition: things just get passed along, with changes occurring as they go.

      As for ruthless — they seemed pretty mild to me at the time. They still do, actually. Of course, I grew up with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the same Grandma who straightened me out on green and blue also was the one who told me stories from the Old Country (Sweden) about trolls, elves, and indescribable creatures who lived in the woods. I still keep my eye on mushrooms when I’m in the woods. You never know what they might be capable of!

      1. I can’t say who first said that rhyme either, but I do remember girls on my block saying it while doing hop-scotch on the sidewalk.

        1. It’s like those silly jokes we told. I heard a kid repeating one a couple of months ago, and was so surprised. You know: “Why did the boy throw the clock out the window?” “He wanted to see time fly.”

    1. It’s funny, Janet. It didn’t start out to be a Mother’s Day story, but that’s pretty much where it landed. There was a lot of fun remembering going on as I wrote it. As for those cracks: avoiding them now probably is more important than even. There certainly are a lot more to navigate, and not all of them are in sidewalks.

  6. You had my attention all the way through… I did not grow up with a lot of those sayings or rhymes as they were considered silly and not at all true. Yet most of my life I followed some very silly rules. Now that I am surrounded in nature, I’ve become more of the wild child. I rebel the rules. Funny you should post the image of the white poppy. I saw the first one of the season in the pecan orchard just yesterday. I do love them dancing against a blue sky.

    1. We were rather fond of silliness in my family, and in many ways truth was beside the point: at least, when it came to story-time. Of course there were real rules – no candy before dinner, be home when the street lights came on, and so on. But the 1950s was a decade of rules that make no sense now, even in retrospect. I wonder if some of them weren’t simply a way to normalize life again after the chaos of two World Wars and the Depression. It’s hard to say. I wish my folks still were around — I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask.

      There’s nothing like a white flower. I’m so happy you’re seeing them. I see that Argemone albiflora is highly resistant to deer — an extra benefit for you.

      1. On an image of Ronnie deer I noticed a white poppy in the background. It looks like he’s wearing a poppy hat!
        I am fortunate that my mom is still here to ask many questions. But there are many elderly folks around who would love to share their stories and thoughts. They have so much to say, and much wisdom.

  7. What a delightful post you’ve prepared for today, Linda! Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane — I enjoyed many years of jumping rope, and I suspect every section of the country has rhymes particular to it. At least it seemed so to me, for my Southern cousins hadn’t heard of some of the ones we regularly used and loved (and vice versa).

    I got a kick out of your disapproval of blue and green together. Perhaps because I still like blues and greens, that combination doesn’t particularly offend me. Pink and red, however, makes me shudder!

    And yes, I still believe whites should only be worn during the period from Memorial to Labor Day, despite today’s trend that anything goes. After all (she said in her most prudish tone), there should be some standards!!

    1. My cousins and I had the same experience, even though we were in roughly the same area of the country. Our playground games varied, too. They never played Dodgeball, which surprised me. On the other hand, I don’t remember that we played Red Rover much at all, and that was a staple for them.

      Isn’t it funny how we form such firm conclusions about “the way it’s ‘sposed to be”? One thing I’ve noticed is that my involvement with native plants and wildflowers has changed my understanding of what belongs together. A field of mixed wildflowers delights me now, in a way it never has.

      It tickled me to discover that the question of when white is right still is a hot issue. There are pages and pages online about how to make the decision. It seemed that at least half were on your side, and the rest were iffy to wishy-washy. Lucky us, that we can do whatever we please — even if it’s sticking to the rules!

      1. How about, “if it’s hot enough outside to be uncomfortable, then it’s hot enough to wear white”, seeing as white clothing reflects the heat (and of course it should be cotton; )

          1. I thought about winter white while I was writing this, but decided not to complicate things. I had a winter white angora sweater that was a Christmas favorite for years, until I moved south. I do still have a winter white skirt that I haven’t worn in years, but it’s so lovely, I can’t bear to part with it.

          2. Yes — to your winter-white-is-wool comment. In my experience, it also can be a wool blend, or some other fabric, but it’s always that lovely, creamy light ivory.

            1. I’ve always loved angora wool; and had a couple of versions over the years… It may have only been my imagination, but it seemed to stay on the bunny better than on my sweater; )

        1. That’s exactly right. And the “hot enough to be uncomfortable” rule of thumb would make our season for wearing white stretch from about the end of April through October.

    1. Good point — provided, of course, that you want to be found. I accidentally bumped into a couple of videos of snowshoe hare hunting, and I’m all for those nice, white bunnies getting themselves lost in the drifts.

    1. You’re right; they are sweet memories, and I’m glad you enjoyed them. It pleases me so much when I find families like yours, where some of my memories still are being lived out as realities.

  8. So many touchstones here – jacks, jump rope (did you play Chinese jump rope, too, with the two parallel bands around your ankles?), the rhymes, the “rules” (my mother was an etiquette freak!). I was just writing the other day about playground games and my fierceness, flinging balls at people in dodgeball and Spud, running at the weak girls in Red Rover, and insisting that I be the quarterback in the touch football games with boys.

    Despite the tomboyishness, I also loved hopscotch and jumping rope, as well as the hand slapping games (Say, say, my playmate, come out and play with me, and bring your dollies three, climb up my apple tree, slide down my rain barrel, into my cellar door, and we’ll be jolly friends, forever more, more, more, more, more!) Those verses and pastimes will be in my head until the day I die!

    1. How can it be that I’ve never heard of Chinese jump rope? I couldn’t quite figure it out from reading about it, so I found a video, and discovered it has the great advantage of being playable indoors on rainy days. I’d never heard of Spud, either, except as a name for potatoes, and for the guinea pig who was a police mascot in East Texas because he was shaped like a potato.

      The clapping games were such fun. I love that one of our favorites goes back to a 1784 edition of Mother Goose rhymes in England:

      Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
      Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
      Some like it hot, some like it cold,
      Some like it in the pot, nine days old.

      I’d never heard of “Say, say, my playmate,” either. But I found a wonderful, far more extensive, and quite humorous version on YouTube.
      The level of skill required is remarkable. I can’t even imagine how many hours it might take to be able to do the whole set without missing a beat — or forgetting the words!

      1. That Youtube video is exactly what we did with the clapping – every hand motion the same! We had a few more verses also, but not quite these. Sorry you missed out on Chinese jump rope – it was a blast! I just checked online for a Spud description and it, too, is spot on. very fun reminiscing; thanks for the trigger!

  9. When I entered second grade my family moved from a neighborhood with a lot of children, to one where there were few my age, and even fewer to match my older siblings. Though my new neighbor, Mary Schierer, was my age, she went to the parochial school, and we mostly played on weekends. Jacks, hopscotch, jump rope, tag, hide and seek… those fell by the wayside. No kids to play the group games, too busy a street to play some like hopscotch on the sidewalk. At the same time my reading skills bloomed, and I took to spending most of my time indoors.

    Rules were a funny thing in my life growing up. My mom challenged many societal rules simply out of need (if it NEEDED to be done, SHE needed to do it) and inclination. She was handy with a hammer, a saw, a paintbrush, a wrench. We had rules of behavior in how we treated others. We had few rules for getting homework done, coming in “on time,” checking in, what we wore, what we read… I’ve long called it “benign neglect” on Mom’s part. So I grew up with a very mixed message on rule following. That might have done me well in the long run, figuring stuff out on my own, what rules and expectations were/are important to follow and which can be ignored. But it didn’t always make it easy getting here.

    1. Even though I was an only child, I was lucky enough to grow up in a house across from the grade school, so many of my friends passed by on their way home. Many a game of “pickup hopscotch” happened because of that lucky circumstance. I was quite a reader, too, but I loved being outdoors during the day, so much of my reading took place after bedtime: in the closet, with a flashlight.

      You’ve pointed to a reality I think is so important. Much of the time, the nature of the rule isn’t nearly as important as it being expressed with clarity and enforced consistently. The mixed messages can be hard to deal with — even when we’re adults. Of course, developing the skills needed to cope with ambiguous situations is important, too. In some ways, that benign neglect might have left you better able to cope than kids who only had to “follow the rules” to gain approval.

      An interesting sidenote is that I was introduced to Reggae in London — 1975, I think — with the Heptones’ song, “Book of Rules”.

    1. I’ll bet you’ve passed some of those games on to other children, too. One of the nice things about them is that so many didn’t require much in the way of equipment. Hopscotch could be played with only a stick (for dirt) or a rock (for cement) to make the form, and a rock to throw as a marker. And more than once, we used a piece of clothesline or utility rope for jump-rope. It was a little harder, but it was doable. We not only had fun, we learned a little creativity.

  10. You stirred up memories. Regarding the sugar bowl – the only time I ever remember mom spanking me was because I broke the bowl of sugar. I was putting away things off the supper table. I dropped the bowl and broke it. I felt so abused; I didn’t think I deserved the spanking.

    When I grew up and understood a mom’s reasoning, I knew I was likely doing my chore with a nasty carelessness. Besides, sugar was rationed. I probably deserved the spanking but most likely my mom should have told me why she was spanking me. I’m sure it was more than the bowl being broken. Since I can never remember any other spanking, you can deduce that she was not an abuser. I did get swats on the head during hair combing times. That comb was just too handy! My daddy spanked my brother, but never me. Of course, my brother needed it! :D

    1. I’d forgotten that swat with the comb! I got those too, from time to time. Usually, it was because I was wiggly, and impatient. Of course, Mom could be a little too fussy about my hair, so I think she bore some responsibility. But I was the one who got the sit-still swats.

      I wasn’t spanked often, but I was spanked enough that I still remember the weapon: the balsa wood lid of a Velveeta cheese box. Those lids were sproingy, which helped to make a swat memorable. Once I’d experienced it, all it took was the sight of the thing to get me to straighten up.

      I still have some gas ration coupons from those days. Mom used to talk about the food rationing: sugar, butter, oils. I wonder how our country would respond to rationing today? I remember the gas lines from the 1970s, of course: my only taste of rationing in this country. In Liberia, there wasn’t any rationing — there simply wasn’t much to buy.

  11. Yes, those children’s little limericks are so important. We were all given the benefits from my parents and we passed them on to our three grandsons. They still remember them, but being boys in their teens now, only coyly.
    You’ll be happy to know we still have the sugar bowl, a wedding gift from 1965. We use it daily!

    Klap ‘s in de handjes,
    blij, blij, blij
    op het boze bolletje

    1. Yes, that’s right. Once we reach a certain age, we’re far too sophisticated for such games and rhymes. Then, we add more years, and suddenly we find them fun again. I laughed when I ran your verse through Google’s translator. It seems that might be one of those naughty verses that we loved so much as children.

      Isn’t it fun to have those heirlooms — and to use them? My favorite is an oil lamp that belonged to my grandparents. I don’t light it often during the summer, but it sits above my computer on a shelf, and as soon as the weather cools, it shines again.

    1. That video is wonderful. I especially like the little girl with the two pig-tails on top of her head — and the enthusiasm of the teacher. It was interesting to follow along with the lyrics. I think Dutch would be a hard language to learn — the printed words didn’t look like what I was hearing.

  12. I grew up in the 50’s in an inner-city Catholic neighborhood where everyone had 12 children (we had 11 and were considered slackers). There were 56 kids in my classroom and 5 classes to each grade. That’s a lot of kids and three times a day, they exploded onto the playgrounds for recess.

    The grounds were segregated by gender (an arrangement that was enthusiastically endorsed by both authorities and children alike) and because there were so many kids, even from a short distance, the voices of the individual rarely rose above the din of the crowd. The girl’s playground emitted a high-pitched hiss while the boys gave off a dull roar.

    But among all that hissing and roaring, there were the signature sounds of that era: the tick of jump ropes on asphalt, the click of marbles, the hiss of a yo-yo string and the pat..pat-pat..pat..pat-pat of sneaker skipping across the chalk lines of a hop-scotch pattern.

    1. Our playgrounds weren’t divided between boys and girls by fiat, but we accomplished it ourselves. There was some mixing — especially with games like dodgeball and tag — but for the most part, boys played marbles, messed with yo-yos, and threw pocket knives (who remembers mumbley-peg any more?). Girls were the hopscotch and jump-rope fans.

      But we all loved the monkey bars, jungle gym, teeter-totters, and merry-go-round: all of which had cinders underneath them rather than the rubber mulch in favor today. If most of today’s parents were transported back to our playgrounds, they’d have heart attacks, right then and there. But we had great fun, and as far as I know, everyone survived.

      It hasn’t all disappeared, either. Somewhere in this great state, in a location that will remain undisclosed, there’s this. There’s hope for the country.

  13. Wonderful post, lovely memories which evoke my own childhood rhymes and games. I do think that children still pretend, sing, imagine and rhyme–given time and space to do so. As for color combos, your grandmother was wise–you are a lucky grandchild.

    1. I know you’re right, Tina. Kids who are offered the opportunity to do something other than stare at a screen are more than happy to do so. Often, they don’t know other options exist — as strange as that sounds. Showing them what’s possible and encouraging them to make use of their opportunities is one of the best things we can do.

      Grandma was quite the problem solver. Given her always-full cookie jar, her willingness to let us cut flowers in her garden, and her patience when untangling embroidery thread, she seemed pretty much perfect.

  14. I spent many hours matching plaids in school dresses! I loved this post Linda. Oh and yes, I was one of the older Double Dutchers. I still have my mothers jacks hanging in a little cloth bag on the wall of my studio . Such good memories. I was one of the kids walking with my head down watching the ceacks, though I’m not sure if I thought of my mother. It was more like counting the steps to where I was going. I loved the line containing “sidewalks of the world.” Just looked at the calendar and see it is only May 15, and I am wearing white. Wonder what will happen?

    1. If you Double-Dutched, you’ll love this video. It’s a little long, but it gets better and better as it goes. I’ve been known to watch it when I need a little pick-me-up. The energy of the girls is infectious, and the fun they’re having is obvious. Of course, there’s that skill, too.

      I still remember when the skinny jacks came along — aluminum, probably. We were purists, and insisted on staying with the heavy ones. I don’t have mine any more, although I still have my bag of marbles. If anyone says I’ve lost my marbles, I can prove them wrong!

      At the time I wrote that “sidewalks of the world” line, I wondered if it was rooted in the “sidewalks of New York.” That was one of my favorite songs as a kid. There was something about “east side, west side, all around the town” that made me happy.

      As for your white, my prediction is that you’ll bloom just as prettily as the lily you’ve already seen!

  15. When I was an adolescent of an uncertain age, my grandmother gave me a tartan plaid, pleated skirt for Christmas. My two sisters and I each had a different plaid. Mine was primarily red, green, and yellow, and I could not suffer it. I had never eaten a tomato aspic salad, but I had seen one, and it reminded me of that – something I did not want to wear. It went totally against my usual sensible and thankful nature, but I asked my grandmother to take it back, and I don’t remember if she gave me a different one, or if in disgust she let me do without. But the story makes me ashamed to this day!

    My husband never could understand my sense of design in the garden. He always said, “In nature all the colors go together!” I guess that once one is contriving a certain order in a cultivated garden, “rules” begin to reveal themselves. I’m still trying to figure this out!

    1. I wouldn’t want to wear tomato aspic, either — any more than I’d want to eat it — although red, green, and yellow seemed a fine combination to me until you mentioned the aspic. I’m amazed you had the courage to ask your grandmother to take it back. I never would have done such a thing: but it was one of those unwritten rules that if someone offered you a gift, you accepted it with murmurs of appreciation even if you were already finding ways in your mind never to see the thing again.

      What saying that makes clear is that I didn’t see my blue and green dress as a gift. That’s something worth exploring, all on its own.

      I’ve never gardened, but I can see both sides of the design issue. I love the colors all together, but also understand how much work lies behind some of the most pleasing gardens I’ve seen. My hunch is that those which seem the most casual and unplanned actually required the most effort to achieve.

  16. Would you believe that I’d almost forgotten about the ‘wearing white’ rule!

    Just yesterday out of the blue an old rhyme floated through me head, “Deedle deedle dumpling, my son john…” and as it spilled thru my memory I wondered, ‘did a particular incident trigger that little poem that was first recited as the stocking was placed back on his foot?

    Who knows, but it was wonderful reading your post and being reconnected with so many light and happy childhood customs!

    1. You live in a land of color, both actually and metaphorically, so white for you is the blank canvas, not the end result. White (and ivory and cream) clothing is a way for me to fend off the hot summer sun, while for the yachties, those white trousers and blazers are symbols of status.

      I’ve read that the white’s-for-summer rule developed in the 1920s, as a result of well-to-do people heading for the Hamptons and other desirable destinations, where they played croquet or drank sundowners in their white duds. Wearing white became a sign that you were part of the wealthier leisure class; you weren’t going to be doing anything to dirty your clothing.

      I’d forgotten your little verse, so I looked it up Of course it all came back immediately, but this surprised me: “The rhyme is first recorded in The Newest Christmas Box, published in London around 1797.” There are some thoughts that it might have been derived from the cries of hot dumpling sellers on the streets.

  17. A wonderful story. It makes me want to tell about how I went back to some of those old rules even after I had satisfied myself that their causality was untrue. But most important, I always enjoy reading of your thoughts and experiences.

    1. That brought a smile, Shimon. Going back to rules once rejected — for any reason — is a delightful example of Paul Ricoeur’s “second naïveté.” My best-beloved professor (the one who posted a sign saying “Creato, Ergo Sum“) also had a sign in his office saying, “Interpretation: It’s not just for scripture any more.”

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and it’s always good to have you drop by.

  18. those prickly poppies against that startlingly blue sky are gorgeous! I remember once when I was young, less than 10 I think when I was wearing a pink shirt and orange shorts and my older sister had something to say about the combination but I didn’t care. Later when I was about 13 or 14 or so, our father bought my sister and I pantsuits for Christmas one year. I don’t remember what color hers was both were plaid and mine was pink and orange and it was hideous. by that time I cared for neither color. as I recall, my sister didn’t like hers either but our mother made us wear them now and then to make our father happy.

    1. Glad you like the poppies. That fence they’re snuggled against surrounds the LCRA pump station just off 35 in Bay City — almost your neighborhood.

      Your pink-and-orange stories remind me of poor Ralphie’s experience in “A Christmas Story.” Remember the pink sleeper his aunt sent him, with the rabbit ears and bunny feet? I think we’ve all been encouraged to wear something to make the giver happy. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but for a kid, it can be distressing.

      On the other hand, pink and orange isn’t always a bad thing. Our lantana’s pretty nice.

    1. There are common sense rules we teach our children (look both way before crossing the street), and rules we have to adhere to if we want to be accepted (homeowner associations come to mind), but you’re right: many of the rules that control us are only in our heads. Stopping now and then to consider, “Why do I believe this?’ wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Trying out life without so many self-imposed rules would be even better.

  19. A wonderful post that has me smiling. I think I was born a rule breaker! Your Grandmother was one smart cookie! I particularly enjoyed that last photo, stunning!xxx

    1. You? A rule breaker? Oh, surely not. Then again, now that I think about it…

      Grandma was a smart cookie, and she baked some good ones, too. She didn’t leave us a lot of material possessions, but she passed on a wealth of wisdom.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photo. I very nearly didn’t have it. I accidentally deleted about four hundred photos from a card before uploading them to the computer. Thank goodness Otto (who commented just above) told me I could get them back. I downloaded a free program, and voila! These white poppies (and a whole lot else) reappeared.

  20. I loved the photograph of the little girl, what you would term vintage, though I am sure you probably remember seeing them when you were growing up. I hope I am not ageing you too much. To me those type of picture capture such a time when things seem innocent. And your story, very cute.

    1. The photo of that little girl actually is from one of my early birthday cards. I scanned and cropped it, and dressed it up a little with a frame. I haven’t kept all of my cards — birthdays, valentines, and such — but I have a few. They are vintage — but so am I.

      On the other hand, I still have a bit of that little girl inside me, and I enjoy telling her stories. I’m glad you liked this one.

  21. We didn’t wear white after Labor Day either, but I pay no attention to that rule now. I remember the “break your mother’s back” warning. I didn’t step on the lines, but I think it was more OCD than really believing that I’d break my mother’s back. LOL

    1. Maybe we all should collaborate on a poem called “When I Am An Old Woman, I Will Wear White After Labor Day.” I’ll bet the red hat ladies would love it. I never took pause over broken mirrors or walking under ladders, but I did stop and think about those sidewalk cracks for a while. It does take a while to sort out what’s truth and what’s apple butter (to quote grandma again).

    1. Absolutely. She’d had practice, though. This is the same grandmother who bore my Auntie T, who landed in the slammer, and was accepted back home. Green and blue plaid’s nothing compared to that!

  22. Wow… what a trip down memory lane.

    I do have to admit that I still think about breaking my (late) mother’s back, when walking along old sidewalks in downtown Charleston. I even have twinges of guilt if I wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, though I ignore them.

    Remember this one? “A lady never crosses her legs. She crosses her ankles.”

    1. Oh, my gosh. I not only remember that ankle-crossing business, I find myself occasionally correcting myself in places like a doctor’s office. There will be no elbows on the dinner table, either — and there shouldn’t be any books, although that one has pretty much gone by the wayside.

      Don’t you still have some brick sidewalks or streets in Charleston? That would present some real problems for the committed crack-avoider. You’d have to turn yourself into a contortionist to make it down the street — just going a block could take an hour.

      1. I don’t think we have much in the way of brick sidewalks. Some houses might have a bit of brick accenting the approach to their front door.

        We DO have slate sidewalks, particularily on Wentworth Street downtown. Those are the devil on bare feet in the summer! We have a few cobblestone streets down around the old wharf areas. Both of those require close attention on fancy dress evenings in high heels or you’ll go arse over tip. Not very lady-like! lol

        1. Your comment about the cobblestone/heels combo reminds me of what happens when a fashion-conscious sort who hasn’t been around boats much shows up on the docks in six-inch heels. It requires very, very close attention to make it down to a boat without going embarassment or worse.

  23. Even though I read most entries you post I haven’t had much to say beyond “Great Blog”.
    This one got to me though.
    “I ain’t superstitious”

    1. You know what I still do? I “stamp” white horses. That was supposed to be for good luck, but it was a strange little custom. Every time we saw a white horse in a field, we’d lick our thumb, press it against the opposite palm, and then make a fist and hit it. What was that about? I have no idea!

      1. Never heard of that one before but now that I know how to do it I’ll give that a try.
        The only hold-over I can think of is that I never open a can or bag ‘upside down’.

        1. On my way home this afternoon I saw a ‘Pale Horse’.
          Not a ‘White Horse’ mind you but I tried the ‘Stamp’ anyway.
          We’ll see how my luck holds out.

          1. I’m not sure precisely how white the horse has to be. Maybe with a pale horse, you just don’t get quite as full a dose of good luck. In any event, some good luck is better than none, so stamp away!

            I laughed at the “upside down” opening. I’ve been known to do that. Cereal boxes are my specialty. I’ll fuss and fuss, and then finally realize that I’m trying to open the “wrong” end.

  24. I had never heard that whole rhyme – so to me, the cracks WERE the lines. I totally ignored actual cracks in the sidewalk. So glad I didn’t inadvertently hurt my mother. Ha!

    It’s easy enough for me to follow the white rule – anything I have that falls into that category isn’t warm enough to wear except during summer. Well, that was true in Ohio. I might backslide down here in NC… :)

    1. One theory I used to hold about midwestern white-wearing was that after all those months of snow, no one could bear to look at more white until we were well past spring, with all its pretty flowers and green leaves. Even at Easter, the only white you’d see were the kids at Confirmation or First Communion. Otherwise? It was all pretty pastels: pink, yellow, lilac, blue. Of course, we had matching hats and purses, too.

      I’m glad you weren’t worried about those sidewalk cracks. Childhood can be enough of a trial without having to pay attention to such silly things!

    1. How kind of you, Linda. I don’t participate in blogging awards, but I appreciate the mention, and I’ve certainly enjoyed your blog over the months. Here’s to many more months — and years — of happy blogging for you.

  25. Interestingly, the other day we were talking about some children’s rhymes that were rather dark – such as “Ring around the Rosie,” with its allusion to small pox, and death if I remember correctly. I also recall reading the Brothers Grimm to my girls when they were children and gulping at endings from time to time. It made me wonder if there was some wisdom in exposing children to death at a younger age, in genres appropriate to them. Of course, they would have known well of death in that there were not funeral homes etc to compartmentalize it. Children’s literature and such, it seems, can be serious business – as surely as adult literature is sometimes really rather childish!

    1. I’d heard that “Ring Around the Rosie” referred to the Black Plague rather than smallpox, but a couple of English friends and Snopes argue otherwise. The Snopes explanation makes sense. I thought this was interesting:

      “Folklorist Philip Hiscock suggests the more likely explanation is to be found in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the “play-party.”

      Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment… Some modern nursery games, particularly those which involve rings of children, derive from these play-party games. “Little Sally Saucer” (or “Sally Waters”) is one of them, and “Ring Around the Rosie” seems to be another. The rings referred to in the rhymes are literally the rings formed by the playing children.”

      That’s ever so much better than smallpox or the plague! On the other hand, I never was bothered by the Brothers Grimm and such. I didn’t find myself really upset by stories until I saw Disney’s “Fantasia” and “Bambi.” It raises interesting questions about differences between stories that are read or told, and those that are experienced visually.

      There’s no question that children’s play is important. That’s why the growing tendency of parents to deny children unsupervised play — especially time outdoors — is so important.

  26. My mom was born and raised in Angleton, TX, just south of Houston. We moved to Colorado when I was nine, but she and my step-dad returned to her roots in their early 70’s. She loved to write, and your writing style reminds me a lot of hers. She passed away in January from Alzheimers and for years before that I grieved the gradual loss of our close friendship. It was so hard not being able to communicate with her. I know she’s with Jesus and having a fine time. I look forward to seeing her again. She wrote a short biographical story which brings back such vivid images of a little girl visiting the old general store in the heat of summer to spend her pennies. It was set in the 1930s. My step-dad recently sent me six three-ring binders full of emails she had saved for me. What a priceless treasure! A family history. Storytelling is such a gift. Thanks for sharing your talents. :)

    1. There’s rarely a week these days that I’m not at least passing through Angleton. It lies across my path to several favorite prairies and wildlife refuges, and is the gateway to a lot of Brazoria County history. I’ve written a few stories involving the area, including one about Brit Bailey, who lives on at least in the name of Bailey’s Prairie, and perhaps in other ways as well, if the tales are to be believed.

      Watching Alzheimers take a loved one is so difficult. It’s wonderful that you have those binders, now. They certainly are a way to bind past, present, and future. Now that I’m older, with a different perspective on many things, I regret that our family wasn’t larger. I have so many things with no one to pass them on to. Some will be going to an Iowa museum, though — and I’m reminded again that I need to do that now, lest they end up in a dumpster at some point.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your delightful comment. Do you have an online site? It seems not, but if you do, I’d enjoy visiting.

  27. Oh, this is delightful! I only knew the first line of the verse about stepping on a crack breaking mother’s back. I recall sometimes observing that admonition as I walked down the sidewalk. Then there were the times I was angry with Mom, tempted to step on the crack, but didn’t…..until……one day I did, having convinced myself it wouldn’t happen……and it didn’t.

    Growing up in the Midwest the whole wearing white thing was so true. That’s one reason why I loved the West when I finally visited, then later moved there and on to Calif. where anything goes, any time of the year.

    I learned the blue and green rule. Also, redheads don’t wear red or other red shades — ’til I saw a red haired Agnes Morehead on stage in mauve and she was gorgeous.

    1. I think a lot of people know that first line. We used it as a kind of taunt, as well using the entire thing as a jump-rope rhyme. As far as I know, it didn’t harm us much. Isn’t it interesting to think back to those times when, as children, we began to reason things out for ourselves, and to test hypotheses. Every now and then we were wrong, but most of the time, the consequences were minimal. Sometimes, as with the crack-stepping, there were none at all.

      The rules for redheads never crossed my mind. Of course, I’m a brunette (or was) and I didn’t have any red-headed friends. But it is true that for some strange reason, combinations of reds, purples, pinks, and oranges just aren’t much used. It’s a shame, too, because they can be vibrant and compelling. I’m glad you reminded me of Agnes Morehead. I’d forgotten her over the years.

  28. How did I miss this one? Oh, it brought back all sorts of memories from white pants to the rhymes. I used to hold my breath when we drove past the cemetery and lift my feet from the floor while driving over a bridge. Someone said to. So I did..I remember my mother never liked Barbra Streisand’s red and purple dress in “Hello Dolly!” but I’ve had rather a jolly time painting with red and purple (and on the color wheel they are most harmonious!).

    I think I would love your grandma very much. She sounds like a wise sage.

    1. Jeanie, I’d forgotten that superstition about raising our feet when we went over a bridge. I didn’t do that on a regular basis, but I had an aunt who did. She didn’t like bridges, and she didn’t like water one bit, so it may have started as a reflex for her, but she did it as long as she was traveling.

      While I was scanning the little girl to use as an illustration, I thought of all your vintage cards and images. They are sweet, and they recall those days in a way nothing else can do. And haven’t we changed, when it comes to colors? Those watercolor scarves you’ve made wouldn’t have been possible in the 1950s — at least, not in the world I lived in. Like keeping peas and potatoes separated on a plate, colors need to be kept in their place, too. No more!

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