Thursday, July 27, 2017

Zoe vs. the Non-Canonical Miss Mary Mack

The other night when I picked Zoe up from camp, she said she was going to teach me a song called "Miss Mary Mack." I told her I knew that song and had myself sung it on the playground when I was a child.
So we started to sing it together. When we got to the part about the boys pulling down their pants, I thought, "Here's where things get awkward," but they didn't. And you probably know why. Because instead of Miss Mary Mack borrowing fifty cents from her mother to see "the boys pull down their pants," the real line was "see the elephants jump over a fence." Hmmm.
"Is that how they told you it goes?" I asked her. She looked at me like, how else would it go?

We went back to singing it her way, and when I got home I ran straight to the Source of All Knowledge, aka Google, and found out the song I'd sung as a child was wrong. The official, canonical, version across the Internets had elephants. I even asked a friend to see what she remembered, elephants or pants-dropping boys. Also elephants.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. I went to a Catholic grade school  in 1980s Queen and changing a playground song to include slightly scandalous body humor was of a piece with that.
Besides, there is no "canon" when it comes to childhood songs. As long as children sing in playgrounds their songs will vary according to time and place.
One thing I know for sure, though, is I now have to use the word "canon" or "canonical" in regard to these songs because someone on a website did, and since that's absurd, it's my favorite. "Goddammit, Martha, it's Diggy Diggy Diamond, STEP right in. Diggy Diggy Diamond, STEP right out. Not hop, not slide, not place your foot, STEP!---for it is canon!"
You're probably aware that the histories of many of these childhood songs are steeped in horror and violence. "London Bridge"---Anne Boleyn, "Ring Around the Rosy"---the plague. And then there are the ones rooted in racism (I'd point the finger at you, "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo," but you'd just think I was playing).
According to one source, "Miss Mary Mack" is a reference to a Civil War ironclad warship on the Union side called the Merrimack (black with silver rivets). And so elephants were a reference to Republican Northerners and the fence stood for the Mason-Dixon line. Certainly sounds plausible.
Still, I was curious if that was the whole story, and if Miss Mary Mack was also a person.
In my research I'd come across many images of a little girl dressed in black and realized another of my childhood misconceptions was that Miss Mary Mack was a widow, a widow who needed to borrow pocket change from her mother. I can't use the excuse of my 1980s Catholic school for this interpretation because I think it was solely mine.
In any case, having reached the limits of space-time and Google, I decided to do what anyone in my position would have done. Summon the spirit of Miss Mary Mack from another dimension.
The following encounter I describe is 100 percent true. (Give or take 100 percent.)(It's "take.")
That night I waited till late, after the Husband and Zoe were asleep, and then I went in the bathroom, closed the door, and locked it. Then, looking into the mirror, I recited: "Miss Mary Mack all dressed in black" three times. Then I spun around, also three times, and for good measure finished up with the Hokey Pokey.
Almost instantaneously a woman appeared in the mirror. She looked either like an old woman with a child's face or a child with an old woman's face. She was not in black but appeared to be wearing a floral muumuu.
"Miss Mary Mack?" I asked.
"I go by Ms. now," she replied. "And as you can see, I don't wear black anymore. And the silver buttons have been replaced with zippers and sometimes Velcro, cause who's got time for that?"
"Quacka dilly oh so what do you want?"
"Well, I wanted to know if you started off as a real person or a ship."
"Eeny, Meeny, lemon squeezey."
"That . . . doesn't make sense."
She shrugged, fluttering her muumuu. "Fudge, fudge, call a judge."
"Do you only speak in childhood rhymes?"
"Skidamarinka dinky dink, skidamarinka I don't. I also do stand-up. Here's one I heard from Little Bunny Foo Foo: What time is it when an elephant sits on a fence?"
I stared.
"Time to get a new fence!"
She disappeared from the mirror and I realized she was bent double in silent heaving laughter. Eventually she straightened and wiped her eyes.
"This isn't going like I thought it would," I said.
She pouted sarcastically, "Aw, poor thing wasn't expecting Mary, Mary, quite contrary?"
As I turned to go, she got the parting shot:
"Waddely achee waddeley achee, doodley don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Childhood songs, I had learned, were best left to childhood.

Zoe: 169; Universe: 0
If you enjoyed this post, you may like this one where I take on T. S. Eliot and the Urban Wasteland that is a playground in Brooklyn.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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