10:56am

Wed June 1, 2011
Blog Of The Nation

Soldiers And Sailors Or Mommas And Babies?

There's a little feature in the Washington Post called Urban Jungle, about "the changing natural world at our doorsteps." My mom brought yesterday's installment to me, to show me the narrowleaf plantain, also known as ribwort. It's the ubiquitous weed that grows up between sidewalk pavers, along driveways and all over my elementary school playground. Unsurprisingly, it can cause allergies, but I actually learned quite a bit about its medicinal properties.

What truly caught my eye, though, was the little sidebar. It reads:

Soldiers and sailors is an age-old game played with the detached flower stalks of ribwort. Opponents lash at each others' stalks. A player loses when his flower head pops off.

Forgive my return to the aforementioned playground, but nuh-uhh! We played a game with the stalks and flowers too. But it wasn't called Soldiers and Sailors. It was called Momma Had A Baby And Its Head Popped Off. We'd wrap the stalk around our index fingers, then pop the flower head off it in time with the singsong phrase. Morbid, yes.

I grew up not far from Post HQ so I was (laughingly) indignant. But when I mentioned it to Priska, who also grew up nearby, she'd never heard of it, but Scott, who grew up in Chicago, played the game with dandelions. Conclusion? Childhood is weird!

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