There was a childhood game we played on our front lawn at the farm, on warm sunny afternoons when a sufficient number of cousins showed up to join us. It was better than Simon Says, Hide and Seek, Red Light or Mother May I, although we gave all of those a thorough going over too.
If this game had a name, I don’t remember what it was. Everyone played a role, and the ‘play’ had a predictable plot that hardly varied. And yet we repeated it over and over. There was a parent (usually a mother), a wicked old witch, and the rest of the cast were the children.
The mother gave each of her children a name, based on some previously agreed upon category, the most popular being ‘fruits’. These names were not shared with the witch, so Blueberry, Banana, Lemon and Purple Grape had to keep their identities to themselves.
After making the following little speech –
“I’m going down town to smoke my pipe and I won’t be back until Saturday night – DON’T LET THE OLD WITCH IN!” –
the mother would saunter off to the sidelines leaving her children home alone (on the front veranda) to fend for themselves.
Enter the old witch center stage, respectfully knocking on the door and asking to come in. Well of course the children say no because they are good little children who always do what mother says. Then the witch explains to them that she is making a pie and needs to borrow some fruit. Do you have any apples, she might ask. She continues to guess until she hits on the name of one of the children, and then off that child must go (across the lawn to the snowball bush beside the lily pond) to where the wicked witch resides. Here the witch changes the child’s name to a category of her own choosing – birds, for instance, and Blueberry might become Sea Gull in the blink of an old witch’s eye.
Mother saunters home, noticing immediately that one of her children is missing. The kids are afraid to tell her the truth and make up various stories as to where their sibling might be, but eventually they have to admit that the old witch got her.
Mother and children don’t learn much from this, and keep repeating the same mistakes of going down town and answering the door until all the children have been kidnapped by the witch and all their names have been changed.
Now it’s the mother’s job to march across the lawn to the snowball bush to confront the witch with her crime. The witch tells her that the only way to get her children back is by guessing their new names. There are no fruits here, only birds. If mom looks ready to give up, the kids or the witch can give her hints. Maybe the witch is having second thoughts about all these kids cluttering up her living space and making all that noise.
One by one the children are released and returned to the front veranda, renamed as farm animals this time, and on the game goes until all of them begin to suffer from identity crisis issues and start asking – “hey, wait, who am I again??”
Why did we love this game so much? Why was the mother so negligent, and the witch considered wicked? She was just taking abandoned children to a safe place after all and never harmed them. Unless naming someone Watermelon can be considered a horrible thing.
I know there are many variations of this game, although the pipe smoking rhyme seems to be the one thing that doesn’t change. Did you ever play this? Or was there another childhood game that you loved and will never forget?