Monday, May 12, 2014

School days, school days, dear old golden rule days

Here are the rules for how the game of London Bridge Is Falling Down was played when I was a child many years ago in Mansfield, Texas:

1. Two people decide to form a game of London Bridge Is Falling Down (as opposed to, say, Mother, May I? or Red Rover, Red Rover) and appoint themselves as the leaders.

2. The two put their heads together privately and decide what each side will “be” but this information is not shared with the others. Typically, one side might be a golden apple and the other a silver pear, or one side might be a white stallion and the other a shimmering unicorn.

2. The two people form a bridge with their arms and everyone begins singing “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down” and so forth, and everyone marches under (over?) the bridge. When the song reaches “my fair LADY!” the two leaders’ arms (that’s four arms in all, people) come down on the word LADY! and “capture” a person.

3. Whilst everyone else waits patiently, the two leaders take the captured prisoner off to one side, out of earshot of the others, and the prisoner is asked, “Would you rather be a golden apple or a silver pear?” or whatever (the possibilities are endless. In a 21st-century, politically correct version of this game, for example, the question might be, “Would you rather be kissed by Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie?”) .

4. When the prisoner has made his or her choice, it is revealed to him or her which team leader he or she has chosen and he or she lines up behind said team leader, putting his or her arms (his or her own arms, I mean) on the team leader’s waist.

5. The now-expanded “bridge” returns to the group.

6. Steps 2 through 5 are repeated until every marcher has become a prisoner and has decided whether to be a golden apple, a silver pear,
a white stallion, a shimmering unicorn, the object of Brad Pitt’s affections, or Angelina Jolie’s and has lined up on one side or the other.

7. Finally, a great tug-of-war game ensues between the two sides until one side loses or Miss Erma Nash, the principal, comes out from her office and stands at the schoolhouse door waving a white towel to indicate that recess is over and it’s time to return to class.

As a bonus on this trip down memory lane, I end this post by revealing the erroneous version of the song “School Days” we sang:

School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days.
Readin’ and Writin’ and ’Rithmetic
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick.
You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful, barefoot beau
When you rode on my sleigh
“I love you so,”
When we were a couple of kids.

Did you spot the error?

Yes, of course! Riding on a sleigh is what you do in “Jingle Bells.” We should have sung “When you wrote on my slate” but we didn’t know what slates were in my little corner of the world. We had tablets of lined paper that our mammas bought at Wynn & Cabaniss, Sell’s, or Curry’s grocery store.

Today’s kids, on the other hand, don’t know what a hickory stick is. It’s their loss. Or maybe ours.

Thus ends another fascinating glimpse into the dear, dead days beyond almost beyond recall.

P.S. -- Today would have been my father’s 108th birthday. The photograph above is not of my father, but of Miss Erma Nash, our principal, who seemed 108 to us.

P.P.S. -- I received an e-mail from an old school friend, Fred Stone, class of 1959 (one year behind me) . He takes issue with my saying that Miss Erma waved a white towel to signal end of recess. He is almost certain it was her little white lace hankie. That would be more in character, I admit. I stand corrected.


  1. Oh, my. Wouldn't you just LOVE to drop in any ole school today and ZAP! them back into the dear old golden rule days? Imagine as their clothing becomes overalls, pigtailed hair and dirt under the fingernails from choretime...Texting & phones vanish...Walking is back in fashion...I know, it wasn't perfect, but the times have grown more evil and life WAS simpler then.

  2. I heard a radio interview yesterday about sexual harassment among junior high age kids, and I remembered that when I was in junior high, boys not only didn't make indecent remarks to girls, they cleaned up their language when girls were around. Teachers seemed to have a dignity then--as per your photo--that is lacking in our era of instant familiarity. I have 20 year olds call me by my first name everyday, and I can't but what it rankles, although I'm sure they're unaware that customs were ever different.

  3. We played it exactly the same way in Brisbane in the 1950s. We also had slates to write on in our first 2 years of school. I can remember a lot of it very clearly.

  4. I don't remember London Bridge being played this way, but we did a similar thing with the child being trapped on the line 'And here comes the chopper to chop off your head!'

    Our teacher never waved a white towel though.

  5. Mother, May I? and Red Rover, yes; London Bridge, not so much. And I had no idea it was so complicated! We also played Red Light, Green Light. And Kick the Can! Good memories!

    Note to Snowbrush ~ I'm in my 40s, and the other day I met a man in his late 70s (I presume). When he asked me a question, I responded with, "Yes, sir," but he brushed that aside, saying, "No, no; that's not me." Hard to know what to do these days, I guess...

  6. Never played that version of "London Bridge" in my youth, but endured many episodes of "Red Rover." Can't remember it turning into a tug of war, though. My memory is getting faulty.

  7. Ooh, I just remembered another one we played....Simon Says! I played Red Light Green Light, too. Also hopscotch, marbles and chinese jump rope. We put playing cards on our bicycle wheels with a clothespin so it'd make a cool noise. We stomped on beer/pop cans so they'd form around our shoes and we could clomp along in them. Also put twine through holes in a coffee can, stepped up on them & walked, making us tall and noisy..

  8. I'm enjoying everyone's comments on this post, but I didn't expect to touch off so many memories!

    Hilltophomesteader, I'll have you know I wore neither overalls nor pigtails.

    Snowbrush, I too feel disrespected when youngsters call me by my first name, but "Mr. Brague" sounds like they're addressing my father, somehow. I don't know the answer. "Hey, you" is always good.

    Helsie, interesting that Texas and Australia played the same game.

    Elizabeth, your version sounds less like "London Bridge" and more like "Tower of London" (which I just invented).

    LightExpectations, I vaguely remember Red Light, Green Light, but Kick the Can was not in our universe.

    Pat (an Arkansas stamper), I never said Red Rover ended in a tug of war. Your memory is probably just fine.

    Hilltophomesteader 2, all of those games sound familiar except chinese jump rope. What, pray tell, is that? (In our little macho southwestern world, boys did not jump rope at all, which may explain my ignorance.)

  9. I've remembered; it was 'Oranges and Lemons'!

  10. " I'm in my 40s, and the other day I met a man in his late 70s (I presume). When he asked me a question, I responded with, "Yes, sir," but he brushed that aside, saying, "No, no; that's not me." Hard to know what to do these days, I guess..."

    Where DO you live? I don't remember the last time I was called sir. Maybe he said "that's not me" because he's going through a sex-change.

  11. Snow - hahahahahaha.

    Rhymes, quite rude of me to answer Snow first, so do person me there, but I was laughing, though he may well have had a valid serious point.
    Your description of the London Bridge game was so spot on that for a few brief moments I was transported back to the infant school playground. If someone had asked how it was played I'd not have been able to say, but after reading it, it all,came flooding back. I suspect I have not known how game worked for a good thirty years so thank you for that instant trip back in time to my childhood years.