Medicare Changes (and Poll)
Steven's Dragon - Part One

Songs of a Long-Ago Childhood

Little kids love to play with words. They like riddles and rhymes and they understand puns at a surprisingly young age. One of the earliest word jokes that had me giggling then was about some older kids who got in trouble for phoning neighbors and asking if the refrigerator was running. When the neighbor answered yes, the kids said, ‘Well, you’d better go catch it.”

(Hey – it was funny then when I was only five or six.)

The older kids making the calls liked fooling adults; we younger ones liked the pun. (I think there was a variation involving Prince Albert in a can, but who today would understand anything about loose tobacco packed in tins.)

Doesn’t just about everyone remember this riddle – which works better verbally than in print: What’s black and white and red (read) all over? There was a time when my friends and I found it hysterical.

One of the rhymes every kid in the U.S. memorized must be this one:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky.

Something a friend said recently reminded me that I learned two additional versions of it when I was a kid, and I was surprised to discover that although I’d not thought of them in at least two or three decades, I still know them – or close enough.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – in Latin:

Mica, mica, parva stella,
Miror quaenam sis tam bella.
Splendens eminus in illo
Alba vella gemma caelo.

(Any Latin scholars reading this who see where correction may be needed, please leave a note.)

I have no memory of where I learned the Latin translation or where I learned what my friends and I were told was “The Harvard Version” of the rhyme:

Coruscate, coruscate, diminutive stellar orb
How inexplicable to me is thine existence
Elevated at such an illimitable height
In the illustrious depths of space
And resembling in thy dazzling effulgence
A crystallized carbon gem of unexampled splendor.

Nursery rhymes and fairy tales go back centuries and variations on them are abundant, but I wonder if kids who grow up now in a world of DVDs, PlayStations and the internet still learn nursery rhymes and read Grimm’s fairy tales. It could be that we - today’s elders - are the last generation who will know the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and Rumplestiltskin, Mother Goose rhymes and Aesop’s fables, all of which were high on my personal top ten list when I was eight or ten years old.

What stories, puns, rhymes and riddles do you still remember from your childhood?


I had written a post ahead on how times have changed... one two, velcroe my shoe... coming up this week and linked to you!!! When my son (now 19) went to pre-school, the teachers were so surprised that children were showing up not knowing these rhymes.

It is a cultural loss, imo, but happening none-the-less.

Moglich-Warscheinlich, mein' Schwartzhenn',
Legt ihr Ei in das Relativwenn.
Sie legt keine Eier ins Positivdann
Weil sie postulieren nun einmal nicht kann.
from The Space Child's Mother Goose by Frederick Wisnor (1900-1958).

My Daddy taught me this one:
"One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead brothers got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each brother."
I didn't realize it was so violent until now! When I learned it at age 8 or so, I was entertained by the use of opposites.
I can bring this rhyme instantly to mind without even trying, but cannot remember anything else from that time. Strange.

I have another Twinkle version, tho' spelling may be off:

Scintillate, scintillate, asteroid miniffic;
fain would I fathom thy nature specific.
Loftily poised in the ether cretaceous,
closely resembling a gem carbonaceous.

Oh, I was raised by a Victorian. How bout the stories in St. Nicolas Magazines available in the early 1950's in anthology form. Kipling. Read aloud Kipling. LM Montgomery. Younger and I found myself with Peter Rabbit and his family. And too, Stevenson and my fathers 1906 volume. Water Babies. Ditto, The Wizard of Oz. We were a reading family.

What an amazing coincidence! I was counting myself as one the lucky ones just this morning because I actually have a copy (on VHS) of "Fractured Fairy Tales." I plan on sharing it with my sister's 2 year old grandson.
My favorite "more traditional" nursery rhyme would have to be "Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle." In fact, I'm always delighted when I find art that depicts it.

I think that nursery rhymes, nmonics, and stories is how we learn as children about our world as well and sustain some sense of wonder at it all. How about verses like these for elders --

Hickory Dickory Dock
The Times Running out on the Clock
We've got plenty of time
To celebrate in rhyme
And Listen more than we Talk.

Very few children today even know who the Brothers Grimm is sad to think they may only learn a few nursery rhymes among their peers in kindergarten, and that they don't usually have the experience of having a story read to them (with all the possible interaction and learning that can occur from that). What concerns me is that young children are pressured to 'grow up' faster and sooner by the mass media... They are learning their fairy tales and stories within a visual context (rather than a literary one), a medium which allows them to absorb more material faster than relying on the development of their auditory memory and reading ability. The deeper question is to look at whether the storylines of those electronic 'games', TV shows and movies our children are so easily addicted to are derivatives of our historical stories or whether they are creating/experiencing new stories (and if so, what they are). What is the culture they are living within? And what happens to them when all they do is play and replay the same story/game/sequence of events over and over again? Do they develop the abilities to be flexible and creative at the same time...? And what stories do they learn about growing older and about being old? Be interested to hear what you have to say on this.

AS a child, I owned a hardback copy of "A Children's Book of Verse". I read it and read it and read it.

There was one particular poem that stuck in my memory ere these 50+years and my daughters know it as well.

When they were small and we were riding to school or anywhere, if the weather was rainy and foggy the verse always popped out:

"One Misty Moisty Morning"

One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather,
I met a withered old man a-clothed all in leather,
He was clothed all in leather with a cap beneath his chin, singin':

"How d' you do and how d' you do and how d' you do again"

I would recite it aloud and assume a deep London affected type voice and throw in a little mystery effect. They loved it.

Another well marked page in my old book was "The Land of Counterpane". The picture that accompanied the verse was that of a cherub-faced young boy, a-bed with some wasting illness (or so I attributed it as such). I can't read the poem now without a mental picture of that little boy...

Wow, Ronni! You just gave me the best idea for a great gift to my granddaughter that will enter the world the end of December!

Your topic this morning Ronni struck a major chord with me, no pun intended of course. As you know I doodle a bit with music but now that I have retired all my real passion for music is for the very, very old music. Songs that in a very real sense carry the same history and culture that can be said of many of the nursery rhymes. And since you did mention the word “song” in the title of your post….well….

I sincerely fear the more recent generations are losing touch with the music that I consider a part of not only America’s heritage, but each and every one of our family’s heritages. The songs our generation grew up with for the most part were the early songs of rock and roll and some of those songs are still being popularized in this day and time. But there are other songs which in a sense are, I believe, even more important in keeping alive. Songs such as….

In The Good Old Summertime
My Wild Irish Rose
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Oh, You Beautiful Doll
It’s a Grand Old Flag
Oh Dem Golden Slippers
Five Foot Two

And of course the list could go on and on as you may well know, just as the list of nursery rhymes can go on and on. These are the songs that our grandmothers and grandfathers…even our great grandparents birthed in their lives and were handed down to us but for the most part they are slowly disappearing. Many of these songs you and I sang in grammar school. We sang these songs together in unison and they brought us joy.

I often site the example of the song “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” which was recorded and released for the first time in 1908 and was on this nation’s pop charts as the Number One song for seven weeks running. No one ever thinks about the fact that this song use to be a popular song. Although….that is at least one song which may not be lost. And that is simply because it is still associated with one of America’s more popular sports. Not the same can be said for scores of others which are just as important.

I would have truly hated to have missed out on the magic of this music and these nursery rhymes but I fear many of these treasures will ultimately fall to the wayside. They will never be missed….because they were never heard.

Amazingly enough, I have a Russian song repertoire. My mother not being a native French speaker couldn't teach me French rhymes or poems. I'll have to blog about this as I had never really noticed before.

Ah..those wonderful days of Jacks and Jills and Twinkling Stars.Of Grimms Fairy tales...and Hans Christian Andersen.Surely Ronnie, we all grew up in a similar world though we're a million miles apart!And sure, kids today have missed out much of the simplicity, the joy and non-complexity of growing up.There was so much more-Enid Blyton and her Advenure and School Stories....Noddy , and all those elves and goblins and pixies.I could read her books 24 x 7!

From my Latin class in High School in Brisbane, Australia.

Latin is a dead language,
as dead as dead can be.
It killed the ancient Romans
and now it's killing me.

Do you remember autograph books? They always had great rhymes.

Some of the wonderful poems that my children remember are from Shel Silverstein. For example Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too, from his book "Where the Sidewalk Ends". I just found a wonderful performance of it by him when you clik on the book (Where the Sidewalk Ends) at his web site

Ronni, I think that many households nowadays are what you might call "post-literate," in that the written word just isn't very important any more. Which is partly how the Mother Goose rhymes and Grimm's and Andersen's fairy tales get passed through the generation. And I think a lot of parents censor the old stuff out of their kids' lives because it has elements that they don't think are appropriate.

I have made sure my kids know "The Owl and the Pussycat" by heart, and they also know a number of Mother Goose rhymes (because of the "Wee Sing" series on audio cassette and CD). I have barbershop CDs with many of the older songs listed above on them, as well. I sing songs to them that I remember from my childhood, and we tell stories and so on. Maybe the next generation will have a revival similar to the folk revival of the 1960s, just to keep the best of the old stuff from getting lost forever!

My father and my aunt were great storytellers. When I begged for another story my aunt would say:
"I'll tell you a story
about Jack and Nory
And now my story has begun."
This would make me unhappy--it wasn't a real story, so she would say:
"I'll tell you another
about Jack and his brother
And now my story is done."
It was agonizingly frustrating.
I Googled 'Jack and Nory' and found it was also a British rhyme.

The book I remember most from childhood being read to me was "The Little Lame Prince". It's quite long but I was enraptured, even at five. I also loved "The Princess and the Goblin".

When I learned to read I spent most of my time reading the fairy tales volume of the Collier's Junior Classics. My favorites were "The Goose Girl", "Bearskin" (Grimms), "Wassilissa the Beautiful" (Russian) and "The Old Man Who Caused Withered Trees to Flower (Japan). From the same book my son's favorites were "Molly Whuppie" and "Teeny-Tiny". The library had some great recordings--he could listen to Vincent Price read Kipling's "Just So" stories over and over, as well as Carol Channing's "Winnie-the Pooh".

By the time I was in my twenties I had accumulated a large collection of fairy tale books. I detested the way that Disney sanitized the folk tales collected by the Grimm's. So I would gather different translations of the same story and my son and I would read them together line by line comparing the differences.

I don't doubt that my grandchildren, if I have any, will know these stories by heart as well.

I used to leave a message for my friends to call Mr. Fox when you get in. Leave the number of the zoo. Sweet little kid!

You all brought up a lot of happy
memories. I share,read stories, nursery rhymes, and sing songs, from childhood when I my children (now 26 & 25)were young. My mother in law and my sister did the same thing.
How lucky are my children. I expect
them to do the same thing to their
future children

Is your refrigator running? Classic!

What about the others?

Do you have Prince Albert in a can?
Better let him out, he can't breathe in there!

Do you have pickled pig's feet?
Don't go barefoot and nobody will notice!

Haw haw haw

I love the Harvard version of Twinkle, Twinkle and I remember it now that you have written about it. Nothing else comes to mind now - but I have a headache...LOL

Oh, how I remember this one:

"In winter I get up by night, and dress by yellow candlelight,

In summer quite the other way, I have to go to bed by day..."

There was more to it, something about being made to go to bed and hearing people outside still going about their daily routines. My parents made us be in bed by 8PM, whether we were sleepy or not! That poem really resonated with me. How I used to HATE lying there in the summertime, with so much daytime still grandchildren on the other hand, have rather *varying* bedtimes :-)

So were our parents "right" or "wrong" about this? Who knows...I just know how I longed to be grown-up some day, so I could stay up as long as I wanted to every single night. As an adult, however, I found I would give anything to be able to get the business of the day completed so I could get to bed before midnight! Be careful of what you wish for...

When I was very young one of my favorite books was one my mother had kept from her own childhood: "A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson. The poem Pamela quotes about having to go to bed so early depending on the season is from that book. It was very true then, but another from that book has turned out to be true for me as an adult:

When I have grown to man's estate
I shall be very proud and great
And tell the other girls and boys
Not to meddle with my toys

I thought it was funny then, but as I grow older, I find myself less willing to share my "toys" with others.

Here's another.
Do you live on the streetcar line? Better get out of the way, the streetcar's coming.
Does any city still have a streetcar?

How bout
Three six nine, the goose drank wine,
the monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line.
The line broke, the monkey got choked and they all went to heaven in a little motor boat.

Actually children are not really learning rhymes and children's songs like they once did. And I agree with the commenter Alan G - we are losing some of the wonderful songs that are a part of our heritage.
I just watched the movie "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and heard so many songs I remember my grandmother playing on the piano. "Harrigan" and "Mary" were two songs I haven't heard in a long time.
I hate we are losing some very important parts of our past that are not being cherished and passed on from generation to generation.

"It could be that we - today’s elders - are the last generation who will know the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and Rumplestiltskin, Mother Goose rhymes and Aesop’s fables, all of which were high on my personal top ten list when I was eight or ten years old."

Oh no. Not as long as there are grandmothers like me to read to the little ones. I have read many, many of the old stories to all of my grands and they just can't get enough. I have a book that I bought at Borders Books a few years back and it has all the old favorites and some I was not familiar with like "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and the "Princess and the Pea". Also it has the old favorites like "Hansel and Gretel" and "Snow White"...

A poem from my childhood that I bet no one else has ever heard of:

"When I was at a party said Betty age just four,
A little girl fell off her chair right down upon the floor.

All the other little girls laughed, but me, I didn't laugh a single bit, said Betty seriously.

Wh didn't you laugh said Mother, or don't you care to tell?

I didn't laugh said Betty cause twas me that fell"

I have fond memories of my grandmother reciting rhyming stories to me. One was called "Two Little Bootblacks" which was a bit of a tongue twister.

The other, which was my favorite, "The Painter of Seville" which I mentioned in a comment some time ago. I had never been successful finding the poem, but much to my delight, Claude at "Blogging In Paris" found it and sent me a copy.

Grandma always recited from memory, in the style of the time, with grand embellishments she had likely learned in her "Elocution" classes.

Oh my!!!! I could write reams on this! I remember Miss Banks reading to us daily in 3rd grade in Toledo in 1955. One day she read us a poem that I have carried on throughout my life by Ogden Nash that began (paraphrasing a bit here:

"Belinda lived in a little white house
With a little black kitten and a little grey mouse,
A little yellow dog and a little red wagon
And a realio, trulio little pet dragon.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions up the stairs
Mustard could fight like a tiger in a rage
But Custard kept crying for a nice, safe cage."

I went to the library after school that day (remember when you walked home from school and no one worried?) and got a book with that poem in it and took it home and read it to my little sister who was in kindergarten. She loved it, too.

My brother was born in 1962 when I was a sophomore in high school and I read it to him.

While awaiting the birth of my son in 1974, I bought some children's books -- I was determined to raise readers--and did!) and finally had my own copy of the poem and read it to Eric probably 1,00O times at least.

Two years later Kate came along and she joined the reading sessions and "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" became a favorite of hers -- so much so that when she was in kindergarten, moms were allowed -- encouraged even -- to come and read her child's favorite poem or story to the class. Guess what I read? And they loved it, too.
The 80s brought the birth of my nephews Matt and Ty and Aunt Kay read about Custard to them -- it was something that actually held their attention when I babysat!

I gave the book to my son and daughter-in-law (who read to her boys *before* they were born) when my darling Drake was born in 2002 and he and his little brother Connor are both great fans of Belinda and company.

I just did the math on this and realized that Ogden Nash's poem gave my family over 50 years of fun! I hope that one day my grandsons share the poem with their children. That I can still recite parts of this tells me my long-term memory is just fine . . . so why can't I remember what I did last week! (laughing here!)

Thanks Ronni for bringing back lovely memories!

I find it interesting that reminiscing about our childhood brought more replies than any article you have written, Ronni. When I was small Saturday's found me engrossed in a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales when my grandmother wanted me to go out to play. It's too bad that the political correct crowd decided that these fantasies were too violent for tender ears and discouraged reading them. One thing that is better now (and that hasn't been mentioned) are the Dr. Suess books. I read every single one of his books to my children so often that we can all recite them today. Shel Silverstein (mentioned in a previous blog) is wonderful as well. So all is not lost, just replaced by different rhymes. I'm sure that everyone knows that the original nursery rhymes were written as political satire; "Jack be nimble, Jack be qick, Jack jumped over the candlestick". I don't know who Jack was but I guarantee you that those who first heard it knew who he was and what it alluded to.

Oh so many. Nursery rhymes and jump rope songs were influential in sparking my love of language. My dad taught us most of them. One favorite was: Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy was he? He liked the quirky ones. With nine kids, this was one he used often: I'll tell you a story of Jack in the Dory and now my story's begun. I'll tell you another of Jack and his brother and now my story is done.

LOL - I have been trying to get a song out of my head all day. I was having a bowl of my girlfriend's absokutely deliscius homemade pork and beans for lunch when all of a sudden an old cub scout song

"There were beans, beans as big as submarines
In the store, in the store
here were beans, beans as big as submarines
In the quartermaster's store"

popped into my head and I've beensinging multiple verses of that (ants ants wearing army pants etc etc) ever since :D

Sir, good day to you define cretaceous Then define capacious tell me which one fits better

I'm so glad you're discussing this. I'm looking for a children's song from sometime in the early 1900's and am hoping you will be able to help.
Some of the phrases went like:
what kind of vegetable is a policeman's beet,
does a ship have eyes if it goes to sea?
are there springs on the ocean bed?

Was looking for "When I was at the party," said Betty aged just four. Couldn't remember the rest. Thank you very much. Ailsa

cathy i hate to tell you this but ive heard that poem before my great grandma used to say it all of the time and yes i know my comments a little late but oh well

Thank you for the poem about the little girl who fell off the chair. I have been looking for it so I can vary it and send to my mom for mothers day. She always told me that poem as a child, and with such drama. It is a great memory.

Thank you for the poem about the little girl who fell off the chair. I have been looking for it so I can vary it and send to my mom for mothers day. She always told me that poem as a child, and with such drama. It is a great memory.

I actually remember this poem from when I was in Year 3 at primary school, and that was quite some time ago. It was my favourite poem.

um... I'm actually 13, and I know almost all of the stories you mentioned. I used to listen to my mom read Aesop's Fabels to me all the time when I was younger because I had a really hard time reading and writing. I started reading the Brother's Grimm a while ago and am still trying to finish the entire series (with slight difficulty) and all of those jokes used to be what my brother would tell me to make me crack up.

And from just looking around, I feel like I'm much more mature than most of my peers, even though my growing-up enviroment is and has been a lot different than theirs.

I get sort of scared when I say a rhyme in class or pose an out-of-the-box idea, becuase all my friends think I'm wierd.

It might not be that they dont know, they just dont want to stick out. There's a lot people dont know about the lives of kids and so it's really easy to mistake fear for ignorance sometimes.

Sorry for posting so late, by the way ><''

The rhyme that "Cop Car" was TRYING to say actually goes like this:

One dark night in the middle of the day, two dead boys came out to play.
Back to back they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard the shots and came and killed the two dead boys.
If you don't believe this lie, it's true...
ask the blind man, he saw it too.

My dad (rest his soul) taught me this when I was about 9 and said I'd NEVER forget it. I never did.

Correction, it was "Mrs. R," not "Cop Car" who was attempting the rhyme.

In Twinkle Twinkle Little Star the fourth line which reads:
Alba vella gemma caelo should be Alba velut gemma caelo

I've just read a lot of strange variants of that most famous of surreal child's rhymes. The "correct" version goes as follows. (But of course since, like language itself, children's rhymes and myths and fables all mutate by region and by mishearing over time, I can't actually call it correct, merely original.)

One fine day in the middle of the night,
two dead men got up to fight.
With a blind man to see fair play,
and a deaf man to shout "hooray!"
Back-to-back they faced each other,
drew their swords and shot each other.

There was a similar one I hear as a child but can't remember. If anyone knows it I'd love to collect it again. It describes a man in a theatre falling from the stalls (seats on the ground in the centre) to the gods (the highest rows of seats near the ceiling set back over the circles so you can't even drop things onto the stalls) and as a result breaking a front bone in his back.
Any clues? Any versions?

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