I grew up in a suburb south of San Francisco and went to a small Catholic grammar school. My class consisted of 36 students: 16 girls and 20 boys. In the 3rd grade to 5th grade, “schoolyard rhymes” were really popular amongst the girls. These would be recited in pairs as a clapping game, or during jump rope. Some of these included: “Cinderella,” “Down by the Banks,” “Quack-di-li-o-so” and probably most infamous: “Miss Susie.” I am not really sure how something like “Miss Susie” or other songs get passed down but it is something that prevails and transcends time and location. For those of you who did not partake in the playground rhyme scene, Miss Susie was quite long and there are a lot of different versions of Miss Susie. According to Wikipedia, there are approximately eleven different versions.
I chose to include the first four stanzas because they are probably the most famous (here is a link to some girls singing “Miss Susie“)
Miss Susie had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell
The steamboat went to Heaven
Miss Susie went to…
Please give me number 9
And if you disconnect me
I’ll chop off your…
Behind the fridgerator
There lay a piece of glass
Miss Suzie fell upon it
And it went up her…
Ask me no more questions
Tell me no more lies
The boys are in the girlsroom pulling down their…
At the time, “Miss Susie” was just like any of the other more innocent songs. It had a very simple rhyme scheme just like “Cinderella.” But if you actually listen to the lyrics you will see that each verse leads up to a rude word or profanity, but it is concealed. For example, stanza one ends with ‘Miss Susie went to…” and stanza two begins with “Hello Operator” hello implies hell. This goes on through out the song. I think as a child, I did not even register what I was saying, I was just so engrossed in doing the hand clap and saying the rhyme, which is pretty catchy.
As a third grader who was not exposed to bad words in my home, I did not pick up on these subtle hints. It was not until, my best friend and I “performed” it in front of our moms, that I realized that this was not like our other songs. My mom picked up on the “bad words” right away and was shocked that I learned such a “horrible” song. I was told never to sing that song ever again. It was the first time in my life that I was punished for something that I did not know the reason. At recess one day, my friends were singing Miss Susie and a parent on recess duty overheard what they were singing and the song was not allowed at all. My mom and the teachers did not want the girls to “lose their innocence” (108), by singing songs with profanity. “Miss Susie” conveyed this tension between being a “schoolyard rhyme” (which reinforces stereotypical female, passivity instead of playing yard games), but it had profanity (which was not ideal for children, girls).
It was not until this moment that a “wiser” fourth grader explained to me that the song had bad words and I distinctly remember her saying, “That is why it is so fun.” Even after the song was no longer allowed on the playground, girls, including myself, still continued to sing Miss Susie. There was something about going against the teachers and my mom and say a bad word, but at the same time not really say a bad word.
I look back on this experience as an interesting moment in my childhood development. This was my first exposure to profanity, even in the simplest form. I think Griffin’s assertion that “children’s play is not ideologically innocent” (Griffin 116) is so true when it comes to the “Miss Susie.” It was a small moment of rebellion against teachers and parents, which was something that I had never done before. But the interesting part of this whole experience was that I kept singing Miss Susie, even though I knew it was “bad.” It gets complicated because the teachers and my mom knew that the song had bad words, but would not tell us what the bad words were, instead they just said not to sing Miss Susie. But at the same time, they knew we knew what the bad words were, but they did not want to acknowledge that we knew.
There is something to be said about how universal “schoolyard games” including “Miss Susie” were and still are today. Learning and singing these songs were like a rite of passage of childhood and it just happened. I can’t recall some history facts or other information from elementary school, but I can still recite all of “Miss Susie” even today.