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Daze of My Life/Take a Gander at This

by Kenneth B. Lourie

As a non-parent, other than to my dog, Bailey; my cat, Smokey; my rabbit, Chester, and occasionally even to my wife, Dina, I have had minimal need to watch “Sesame Street,” sing along with Barney or reread (or in my case it seems, read for the first time that I can remember, anyway) nursery rhymes from “The Real Mother Goose.”

A co-worker and close friend, and also a mother, Winslow (yes, that’s her real name), was kind enough to bring in the hardback version published by Checkerboard Press Inc., copyright 1916, which she had given back in 1992 to her son, William, presumably with whom she had spent countless hours reading these classic verses. I had asked her a question the previous day about beggars and horses and wishes as being some sort of expression - one that I had jumbled up in a conversation with a client. She immediately identified the phrasing (even my version) as originating from Mother Goose, specifically the rhyme titled, “If Wishes Were Horses,” and then asked if I knew it to be a nursery rhyme from Mother Goose.

Incredulous at my answer (“No, I don’t know that,”) and my overall unfamiliarity with a book of such famous rhymes - one easily identified by its black-and-white checkerboard border framing the front cover and checkerboarding the entire back cover, as well - Winslow endeavored to bring me up to speed, so to speak. And the very next day at work, she handed me this book, with which I have now spent the better part of a weekend reading.

What a revelation! So this is where all those stories and characters and rhymes come from: Little Bo-Peep; Little Jack Horner; Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary; Jack and Jill; Humpty Dumpty; One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; Three Blind Mice; Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, and on and on and on for a grand total of 276 rhymes. And after reading through all 129 pages, I have to admit the rhymes were not totally unfamiliar.

Certainly I had heard, probably even read, most of them at one time, but as the years have passed, the context of where these little ditties had actually been grouped had vanished in the haze of literary laziness, and hours watching “The Three Stooges” and Saturday morning cartoons, where many of these famous rhymes were humorously extrapolated.

My ignorance of Mother Goose was never clearer to me then one night while visiting my parents - in between Winslow’s disbelieving and Winslow’s delivering.

The three of us were watching a repeat of the former television phenomenon “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” on the Game Show Network. One of the “easy questions” selected - I believe I read, to almost guarantee the contestants answering them correctly, to enable them to at least reach/earn the $1,000 level - had to do with a Mother Goose nursery rhyme.

The question was something like, in the Mother Goose nursery rhyme “A Week of Birthdays,” blank’s child was full of grace. The multiple choice answers were (a) Monday’s, (b) Tuesday’s, (c) Wednesday’s and (d) Thursday’s. I was totally clueless, as was the contestant (my father knew, though). The contestant was forced, as a result, to use one of his lifelines, the 50-50, where two of the incorrect answers are taken away. That left Monday’s and Tuesday’s as the two remaining possible answers. Still unsure, the contestant guessed “Monday’s” and was wrong. He left with only $200. Regis was extremely sympathetic, apologetic almost, to him, for his rather premature departure.

I, too, would have guessed, probably incorrectly, as well, and likewise would have gone home with little more than a stupid, embarrassed smile on my face. But that’s life, and supposedly we learn from our mistakes. Which is why I’ve spent so much time this weekend with Mother Goose. She was quite a lady, wasn’t she?

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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