Memory Lane: The Ancient Games My Mother Taught Me

Image result for images of children playing mother may i

We’ve been talking about games kids used to play. Not video games. No–ancient games, most of which involved running or hiding. Games like Red Light-Green Light, Mother May I?, Hide and Seek, Duck-Duck-Goose, and Huckle-Buckle Beanstalk.

We had a lot of kids in our neighborhood and my mother taught us how to play all these games. She was by far the coolest mom on the block. Although Huckle-Buckle Beanstalk was played mostly at school. Remember? Someone–it can be several kids, or just one or two–goes outside the classroom to wait while “It” hides the box of paper clips. Then the others come back in and try to find it. The object must be hidden in plain sight! And spectators are allowed to shout “warm, you’re getting warmer!” or “colder, colder, freezing cold!”, etc., to help the searchers along.

Mother May I? had the other kids asking “It” questions like, “May I take two baby steps?”, or else “It” would volunteer a command, “Johnny, take one giant step.” There were umbrella steps, scissors steps, spinning steps, crab steps–probably as many local variations to this game as there were localities.

These games were folklore, genuine folklore, handed down from one generation to the next. You wonder how far back in time some of them go. One expects to see a picture by the Limbourg Brothers showing peasant children in the background playing a game we’d recognize as Red Light-Green Light. Only of course they wouldn’t have called it that in the 14th century.

I wonder how much longer we can keep this lore.

Oh, I almost forgot–Statues! Players advance stealthily toward “It,” but have to freeze instantly whenever she turns around. Anyone she catches moving has to go back to the starting line. I really enjoyed Statues.

4 comments on “Memory Lane: The Ancient Games My Mother Taught Me

  1. Of course, of course, I remember “Mother, May I.” And sometimes when the player would respond “Mother, may I?” to an order to take two giant steps, the “It” would say something like “no, you may not; you may take one scissors-step.” And then you’d have to say “Mother, may I” again and wait for the response. The glitch came when someone was told “no you may not, you may do such-and-such” but forgot to say “Mother may I” again, thereby having to go back to the starting line. Lee, am I remembering this correctly?

    I remember “Statues,” too. And a variation on the theme, called “Sleeping Beauty,” in which “It” would swing each player around by the hand, and then let go so the player would spin away and then freeze in place with eyes closed. You always tried to stop in a good pose (also one that you could hold for a while), because after everyone froze, “It” would go silently from person to person, tapping each one to “wake them up” until they all circled the one whom they judged to have the best pose. And then they woke that person up by dancing around her, singing “Sleeping Beauty will you wake up?” For some reason, no one ever resented not being chosen.

    Y’know sumpin’? I think we’ve just invented a new game called “Do You Remember the Games of Your Youth?” Anyone else care to play? 🙂

    1. Phoebe, I suspect the finer rules of Mother May I varied from village to village, and that the same is true for most of these games. But I can’t remember any differences between the ways we each had to play that game. Close enough!

  2. Another fun one is “Simon Says,” so much fun. And another is “7 UP” where everyone put their head on the desk with eyes closed and stick their thumb up, and the seven students chosen would each tap one thumb. Those whose thumbs were tapped would then try to guess who touched it. If correct they would replace the chosen students.

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