Here’s something that’s been bothering me: “A kid’ll eat ivy, too. Wouldn’t you?”
That’s just irresponsible parenting, pure and simple. You don’t encourage children to eat landscaping. You just don’t.
But nursery rhymes are rife with such aberrant advice and odd behavior. As a kid, I never worried much about monsters under my bed. But I do remember reading nursery rhymes and thinking, “These people are twisted.”
So yesterday, I committed to some intensive long-term research, while waiting for my bagel to heat up. To you, that may not qualify as long-term research, but I usually set the toaster to “dark,” thank you very much.
And my research paid off! Nursery rhymes are extremely twisted. Most were based on actual European historical events, and many have had lasting effects on American culture.
Tom, the piper’s son, stole a pig. Not his fault. Tom was a victim of his father’s bad decisions. Then, as now, piping rarely pulls in a family-sustaining income.
In “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” a blackbird pecked off the nose of the laundry maid, prompting someone to invent drop-off dry cleaning.
A troubled truant named Jack Horner spent his childhood sitting in a corner, shoving his thumb into desserts. Mr. and Mrs. Horner finally tired of this public school curriculum, and home schooling was born.
They called him “Simple” Simon. Yes, he was. Expecting freebies from Pies Art Us; trying to catch a whale in a bucket; plum-hunting in a thistle bush; fetching water with a sieve. Yes, he was.
Wee Willie Winkie ran around an obviously un-gated community in his pajamas, rapping on windows and yelling unseemly questions in keyholes. “Are the children in bed?” The maniac was deftly detained by Britain’s original neighborhood watch group, the Vikings. Mr. Winkie’s legal team was led by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred’s ancestor, Erik the Allred.
“Georgie Porgie” is alleged to be George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, who allegedly had sex with a king. And a queen. And the queen was married. It was that season’s top-rated episode of “Ye Olde Jerrie Springer Houre.”
A crooked man lived in a crooked house with a crooked cat after pocketing some crooked money he found on a crooked road. This man went on to establish Chicago politics.
Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall. This was in the days before large imaginary wall-scaling eggs had access to Medic Alert bracelets. Fortunately, he was found by his snooty neighbor, Mrs. Hollandaise, who dutifully dialed IX-I-I. But all the king’s men couldn’t help Mr. Dumpty, since his medical treatment was not covered during that fiscal period. Welcome to Universal Health Care.
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary” was “Bloody Mary” Tudor, who invented vodka. She was the daughter of the nefarious Henry VIII, a dodgy Midwestern ex-cop who went through wives like the rest of us go through paper towels.
The tolerance-challenged militant who penned “Goosey Goosey Gander” found a man who wouldn’t pray, so naturally he threw the man down a flight of stairs. Gloria Allred filed an amicus curiae brief, FoxNews reflexively issued a goose-meat recall alert, and Sean Hannity called for a boycott on foreign-made stairs.
Three little kittens lost their mittens. Then whined about it. Then found the mittens. Then, like little kitty idiots, they ate pie with their mittens on, so the mittens got dirty, triggering a whole new round of whining. So they washed their mittens and hung them out to dry, which was pretty amazing, considering cats don’t have opposable thumbs. And then a rat showed up. It was just one of those days.
The Jack Sprat story is supposedly an encoded allegory about Richard the Lionheart, good King John, and Robin Hood, proving once and for all that they had hallucinogenic drugs in the Middle Ages.
I met a man with seven wives. He was miserable.
“One, two, buckle my shoe.” According to my research, these words “have no traceable connection with any events in history.” Much like the stuff I write, and America’s current fiscal policy.
And then there’s “three men in a tub.” Imagine the message that’s sending to our young people.
But let’s wrap up on a lighter note. “Ring around the rosy” describes one of the tell-tale symptoms of the Bubonic Plague. Didn’t know that, did you? At the time, medical experts (barbers with leeches) thought the disease was spread by bad smells, so everybody carried pouches filled with flowers: a “pocketful of posies.” Now ponder the line, “Ashes. Ashes. We all fall down.”
Sleep tight, kiddies! And don’t let the bedbugs bite!