Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mother Goose Day

by Kerry Blair

I'd planned to continue this week's theme by blogging about the conference and the Whitney awards. In fact, I lay awake half the night thinking about what to write and how best to put it. But on my way to the computer this morning I flipped over the calendar page, stopped, and stared. Today is May 1! It's a red letter day; one of the best holidays of the whole year. Today is, boys and girls, children of all ages, Mother Goose Day!
I ask you, how in good conscience can I let such an auspicious occasion pass without comment? Now I'll answer that question myself: I simply can't.

Although the "holiday" itself isn't even a quarter-century old, and was originally tied to a marketing gimmick for a book, the date was based on folklore from the mid 17th century. (Meaning this quaint custom was in in vogue when the first Mother Goose rhymes began to circulate.) Many of my goose-owning, Goose-quoting ancestors must have believed that a wish made on a goose on May Day (May 1) would certainly come true.

Today is May Day, and who are we to argue with wisdom of the ages? If you have a wish that needs granting (don't we all?) the first thing you have to do is find a goose. (I have two, if that helps.) Then, while looking said fowl in the eye, call out loudly: Mother Goose, Mother Goose, go and set my good wish loose! If the goose runs away, your wish will come true.

Oh, wait! You'd better not try it with my geese. They were raised in our family room from the time they were a day old. (Yes, really. Doesn't everybody keep poultry in the house?) Subsequently, even though we relocated the goslings to the poultry barn about the time they reached my height, they've never met a person they don't love. It's much more likely that Simba and Nala (African geese, don't you know) will follow you home than it is they'll run away with your wishes. I suggest you try your luck with a park or lake goose instead.

But back to Mother Goose Day 2009. A little errata: There may or may not have been a "real" Mother Goose. There was a "Mother Goose" buried in London at the right time period, but there is also a Boston woman who claimed the honor. (That her son published books of Mother Goose rhymes makes that latter lady a little suspicious to me.) There is little argument that regardless of whence they originated, the stories and ditties passed through the ages were penned by many authors, some of them famous enough to surprise you. (Okay. Maybe not you, but me for sure.) The only thing that surprises me more is that after almost 500 years of sharing a charming cultural phenomena, these stories and rhymes are in danger of disappearing within a generation or two.
When I wrote "surprised" I meant "dismayed."

Case in point: a couple days ago at Cubs I watched a boy stick his thumb into a cup of dutch oven cobbler and then lick the gooey treat off his finger. Smiling, I said, "Little Jack Horner sat in a corner."

He said, "We're outside. And my name is Tyler."

I said, "Uh, huh. I was quoting a nursery rhyme."
He said, "What's a nursery rhyme?"

I said, "You know, Mother Goose."

Tyler clearly didn't know Mother Goose. (But ask him about Pokemon or Transformers and then try to shut him up.) This disturbing exchange led to an impromptu survey right on the spot. Of the dozen boys gathered around the dutch oven, only two could recite a rhyme associated with Mother Goose. Two more were familiar with Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but while it was admirable, I just couldn't count it. All the rest of those kids had presumably grown up (with "grown up" being a relative term for 8 to 10-year-olds) with wild things and hungry caterpillars, but no Mother Goose.

See why it's so important we latter-day parents, grandparents, and authors support this day for all we're worth?

The preface to The Only True Mother Goose Melodies (1843) is illustrated by a beak-nosed woman and two young children. It reads:
Hear What Ma'am Goose Says!

My dear little blossoms, there are now in this world, and always will be, a great many grannies besides myself, both in petticoats and pantaloons, some a deal younger to be sure; but all monstrous wise, and of my own family name. These old women, who never had a chick nor child of their own, but who always know how to bring up other people's children, will tell you with very long faces, that my enchanting, quieting, soothing volume, my all-sufficient anodyne for cross, peevish, won't-be-comforted little bairns, ought to be laid aside for more learned books, such as they could select and publish. Fudge! I tell you that all their banterings can't deface my beauties, nor their wise pratings equal my wiser prattlings; and all imitators of my refreshing songs might as well write a new Billy Shakespeare as another Mother Goose; we two great poets were born together, and we shall go out of the world together. No, no, my Melodies will never die, While nurses sing or babies cry.

They won't if I have anything to say about it. Quick! Tell me what you best remember about Mother Goose! (And drop by on Sunday -- our "off day" -- for my thoughts on the Whitneys!)


At 5/01/2009 11:36 AM, Blogger Janette Rallison said...

I'm just amazed anybody would want to go by the name, "Mother Goose". I think Mother Swan sounds better. Or maybe Mother-my-goodness-you-look-like-Angelina-Jolie. But Goose?

Still, you're right about the disappearance of said goose, so I will do my part and recite rhymes to everyone I meet today.

At 5/01/2009 11:45 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Janette: and while you're at it, will you please return Brother Frog? This is your last chance.

I've hesitated to mention your nefarious scheme here, what with you being an icon to young people the world over and all, but...really! Stephanie may have foolishly met your first demand, but the rest of us do NOT bargain with amphibian-nappers and/or literary terrorists.

Even as you read this, we are assembling a crack(pot) SWAT team. All the wishes and leprechauns and less-than-stellar godmothers in the world will not save you.

(And I can't believe you actually showed me the picture at the conference and I STILL didn't catch on. I just hope The Frog barfed in your carry-on. He does tend to get airsick.)

At 5/01/2009 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must have been an inquisitive child, because I always wanted to know the underlying story - for instance, what was the big emergency that sent Wee Willy Winkie running through the town in his nightgown, and why wouldn't Peter Peter spring for a better house for his wife than a pumpkin shell?
(I also thought Mary Mary got a bum rap, she was probably contrary because she had a brother who cut up her paper dolls all the time! ...No wonder she preferred to hang out in the garden.)
As for my children, I tried to include the nursery rhymes into their education, but none of the characters had super-powers, so the excitement was lost on them.
When I tried to sing them as lullabies, I just got "don't sing mom" (everyone's a critic.)
I tried. I failed. I'm sorry.

Oh dear Janette - now I understand why our local unit of the national guard was called up - better cough up the frog!


At 5/01/2009 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I best remember about Mother Goose was finding out that the rhyme "Ring a ring of rosies, a pocket full of posies" was actually a reference to the bubonic plague! I was so intrigued that I used the rhyme to start off my research paper on the subject for health class. (I only got a B -- perhaps the teacher did not appreciate the inclusion?) A lot of the other rhymes are political in origin, too, but they're so much fun to say. I spent many happy hours reading the rhymes aloud to my boys when they were younger -- before my big book of rhymes fell apart and couldn't be used any longer. I hope they remember some of them.

Melanie Goldmund

At 5/01/2009 1:26 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

What a fascinating post, Kerry. I have a book of her rhymes and I may just inflict them upon/delight my children with them today.

Looking forward to your thoughts on the Whitney's. Your speech made me cry, and then laugh like mad at the end.

At 5/01/2009 1:49 PM, Blogger Janice said...

My cub scouts did Mother Goose gone bad for our spook alley last year. Our room was the Little Miss Muffet room. Little Miss Muffet was played by a three foot tall doll. One eye would twitch if you shook her right. She was also tied up in a massive web. (The boys tied a lot of knots) We also had lovely glowing spiders that dropped from the ceiling. So I think I've done my part in spreading the Mother Goose magic.

At 5/01/2009 1:49 PM, Blogger Janette Rallison said...

I want a copy of your speach, Kerry.

And by the way, your frog is happily playing with my five cats. At least I think he's happy. He certainly hopping fast enough.

At 5/01/2009 2:23 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

My grandmother had a book of Mother Goose in her house. Whenever we went to her house, we'd curl up in my grandpa's recliner and read it. When she passed away, that was the first thing we all asked for, when asked what we wanted to keep from her house. Of course, it was snatched up long before I ever got there. But I went to and found a copy with the exact same cover and ordered it immediately. That book brings back feelings of unconditional love and security from my grandparents.

At 5/01/2009 3:05 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I remember having a really big book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. I don't remember many of them, though. I can't remember if I had a sanitized version or not. Weren't the original Grimm fairy tales kinda gruesome? (Stepsisters slicing their feet to fit in Cinderella's shoe?)

In mostly unrelated news, I just picked up a bargain book at Borders - 2-minute mysteries, by the creator of Encyclopedia Brown. I loved those books when I was a kid. Should be fun airplane reading. =)

Side note: I was only familiar with the term "red letter day" from a Pet Shop Boys song. I assumed it was some sort of British thing. Your context makes more sense. =)

At 5/01/2009 6:11 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

My mother had a wonderful, fat Mother Goose book and I've always had a soft spot for the poems, rhymes, and jingles in it. I especially loved Three Little Kittens have lost their mittens. When my children were young and my youngest was about two she was sad on Christmas morning when everyone got a fat book except her. She didn't want a Little Golden book. She wanted a big book. We bought her a fat volume of Mother Goose and she loved that book until it literally fell apart. I'll help you celebrate Mother Goose Day.

At 5/01/2009 8:38 PM, Blogger LexiconLuvr said...

I was raised on Mother Goose rhymes. (And Aesop's fables) My favorites are Old Mother Hubbard and There was an Old Woman who lived in a shoe. I don't know why. I guess I just like older ladies as the heroine huh?

My parents have a delightful set of books dedicated to nursery rhymes. It is the only thing I requested in my portion of the inheiritance. =]

Here's hoping Ol' Goosie grants my wish!

At 5/02/2009 12:41 AM, Blogger achick47 said...

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick Jack jumped over the candle stick
As an adult I learned another line to that one but can not repeat it here LOL
I loved all of Mother Goose and am buying one for my twin granddaughters birthday they are one. Then each time I go see them I can read to them.
Love your blog.

At 5/04/2009 2:43 AM, Blogger Paige's Pages said...

Ah I loved the blog! My mother was a preschool teacher while I was growing up so I was taught all the nursery rhymes. When computers first came out ( you know the mammoth ones) my dad bought me my first computer game... Mother Goose! The name of the game was to find all the objects that the charecters where missing so they could sing their rhymes and have a party at ole' king Koles palace. It was great! I don't have any of children of my own, however I already have a collection of mother goose books to share with the next generation. :)


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