Saturday, May 17, 2008

Stella, Ella and Others

image: Allposters

Remember the rhyming chants that accompanied popular schoolyard games? You know, those little ditties kids would sing during clapping games and sessions of jump rope. I'm sure little boys were acquainted with them as well but in my day, these rhymes were fiercely monopolized by girls, especially at recess.

I don't recall them word for word or even accurately (whilst others heard actual words, I perceived and often memorized gibberish). Instead only snippets of the lyrics linger about in my head. The melodies haven't escaped me though. They're a bit like solemn chants when viewed through an age-worn memory. Here are the bits and pieces that won't leave:

Stella Ella Ola
What little girl did not play this game? Stella Ella Ola is as popular on campgrounds as it is in the schoolyard, with many variations being handed down to friends and little sisters, decades over. The version below sounds a lot like the one we used to sing:

Stella ella ola, clap clap clap
Singin' es, chicko, chicko, chicko chicko chak
Singin' es, chicko, chicko, vallo, vallo
Vallo-vallo-vallo FIRE!
One, two, three, four, FIVE...

(I don't remember the word "Fire" being in it and I used to replace "clap" with "quack"...for reasons unknown to me).

Hello Operator
I loved playing Hello Operator (even though I can't remember any of the clapping sequences). It was fun and a bit cheeky. Was it always "Miss Susie" though?

Miss Susie had a steamboat
the steamboat had a bell
Miss Susie went to heaven
the steamboat went to
Hello operator please give me number nine
and if you disconnect me
I'll kick you from behind…

Say, Say Oh Playmate
I actually thought it was "Si Si My Playmate". Goodness, did I never pay attention? I also remember a raunchier version of this one that we'd sing in elementary school. Good fun!

Say, Say my playmate
Come out and play with me
and bring your dollies 3
climb up my apple tree
slide down my rain barrel
into my cellar door
and we'll be jolly friends
forever more - more - more !

Blue Bells, Cockle Shells
If I recall correctly, this was a jump-rope warm up song for those who had difficulty "jumping in". The rope is gently swung side to side on the ground while participants jump over. The rope is turned over on the word "over". At first I thought it was "caca shells" instead of "cockle shells". I don't remember any other lyrics to this tune:

Blue bells, cockle shells, easy, ivy, over


Who didn't love this ditty (or weapon of great humiliation)?:

(name) and (name) sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G first comes love and then comes marriage then comes a baby in a baby's carriage!

It was sweet satisfaction to pair up a mate with a fella. Most of us didn't want our names publicly hooked up with a boy but secretly we did, of course.


Pat-a-cake was another tune I butchered. For many years, I sincerely thought it was "Pan-a-cake". Perhaps a bit of therapy would have helped me out back then, eh?

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can.
Pat it and roll it and mark it with "B"
And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

Miss Mary Mack
You can't talk about schoolyard games without mentioning Miss Mary:

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack,
All dressed in black, black, black,
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons,
All down her back, back, back

I couldn't remember the rest of the lyrics (or the clapping sequences), but it was definitely a favorite.

It's literally been decades since I played these games or belted out one of these tunes, yet there they are, ever present in my mind and not willing to leave. Thank goodness, I'm not ready to leave them either.


  1. I know those, with some variations. It wasn't Miss Susie with a steamboat. It was Miss Lucy with a tugboat.

    The lyrics were a bit different, too. The link you have for Hello Operator is similar to Miss Lucy Had a Baby.

    It's always interesting to see how the wording might change from place to place and generation to generation, but the basics remain the same.

  2. Hi Shelly,
    I'm surprised at the longevity of these games. Thanks for the link to "Miss Lucy Had a Baby". I hadn't heard that one before.

    And the lyrics to some of them, when read in their entirety are pretty disturbing/dark.

  3. I learned it as Miss Mary with the steamboat, and figured it was the same woman who wore all black (black, black)...

    Miss Mary had a steamboat
    her steamboat had a bell
    Miss Mary went to heaven
    her steamboat went to
    Hello operator
    please give me number nine
    and if you disconnect me
    I'll kick you in
    behind the yellow curtain
    there was a piece of glass
    Miss Mary sat upon it
    and hurt her little
    Ask me no more questions
    please tell me no more lies
    the boys are in the changeroom
    doing up their
    flies are in the city
    the bees are in the park
    Miss Mary and her boyfriend
    are kissing in the
    dark is in a movie
    a movie is a show
    but now the show is over
    and it is time to
    Go go go go go!

  4. Hi Qrystal! Wow, those lyrics sound a lot like the "steamboat" song we used to sing at my school. Lord, does that take me back. Thanks so much for sharing! :)

  5. Anonymous10/12/2009

    The Stella Ella Ola we used to do went like this:
    Stella Ella Ola, clap, clap, clap, say yes chico, chico, chico, chico chap.
    Say, a blow, a blow, a blow your dirty nose.
    Say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...

    Instead of Miss Susie it was Miss Molly.
    Thanks for bringing back the memories.


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