Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sea shells, cockleshells … she only says the words

When I overheard my 12-year-old granddaughter chanting jump-rope rhymes, my heart leapt with a sudden and reminiscent joy.

Three, six, nine. The goose drank wine. The monkey chewed gum on the telephone line.

As the singsong rhythm of her voice floated throughout the kitchen, memories flooded with the many summertime hours my girlfriends and I spent hopping and skipping over and under a swaying rope.

The line, it broke. The goose got choked. And they all went to heaven in a little rowboat.

"What jump-rope games do you do with those rhymes," I asked her, expecting a beautifully long-winded explanation of a half-dozen or so.

"A" my name is ALICE, my husband's name is AL, we live in ALABAMA and we bring back APPLES.

I mused to myself; maybe we could play some together. I keep a jump rope on hand for just such an occasion. With a little time and a lot of patience, I think it might all come back to me.

"None," she replied, matter-of-factly.

Raspberry, strawberry, apple jam tart. Tell me the name of your sweetheart.

"Not one?" I asked, not wanting to accept her first answer.

Cinderella, dressed in yellow. Went upstairs to kiss a 'fella…

"No. I just do the words."

Fudge, fudge, call the judge. Mama had a baby…

"Just the words?"

Mama called the doctor. The doctor called the nurse.

"Yes, Grandma, just the words."

Down by the river, down by the sea, Johnny broke a bottle and blamed it on me. I told ma, ma told pa…

I thought, how could this be? Jump-rope rhymes have been in all cultures where skipping is a form of play, dating back at least to the seventeenth century.

Sea shells, cockleshells, Evvie Ivy Over. My dog’s name is Rover…

"I can show you some jump-rope games," I offered with a deep reverential love for teaching her this new way to play.

Engine, engine, Number 9, on the New York transit line. If my train jumps the track, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!

"No, that’s o.k., Grandma; I just like to say them."

A horse, a flea and three blind mice sat on a curbstone shooting dice. The horse, he slipped and fell on the flea. He said, "Whoops, there’s a flea on me!"

"Really, it’s a lot of fun," I tried again, wanting to impart such knowledge so that it would not be lost on future generations. She allowed me to indulge.

Down in the valley where the green grass grows, there sat Suzie, sweet as a pea…

"Jump rope games are all about getting into the rhythm of the rope," I explained.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground.

"You need two people to be the turners."

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear tie your shoe. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, how old are you?

"Then you stand by the rope and tell the turners to throw the rope over your head."

Bobbi and Sally sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g.

"When it reaches your feet, hop over it."

First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes a baby in a baby carriage.

"Pretend you're jogging or skipping."

One potato, two potato, three potato, four.

"Want to give it a try?"

Five potato, six potato, seven potato more.

"No thanks, Grandma. I just want to say the words."

2009 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took three first-place awards. To contact Paula, email, follow her blog at and find her on FaceBook.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Wow, Paula, you remembered a lot of them. In case you want more. Here's a link. Thanks for the trip (no pun intended) down memory lane.