About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Weasel Popping, but around What?

When I grew up, in Wilmette, Illinois, I had the extreme pleasure of having, in the back yard, a mulberry tree which provided a huge amount of shade, creating almost a cave for me - I had no need for a playhouse: I had a mulberry tree (with delicious berries that I was free to consume throughout my play-time). Also, as a child, I was taught, by my father, an expert pianist, to sing all the nursery rhymes, including one that went, "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush; here we go 'round the mulberry bush, so early in the morning." Well, that song made very little sense to me for a number of reasons:
1) Our mulberry-bearing plant was huge and going around it would be very difficult, mainly because there was a hedge bordering it on one side and a fence on the other: you couldn't get around it if you wanted to!
2) Our mulberry tree bore no resemblance to a bush whatsoever.
3) We were all late sleepers in our family and doing anything early in the morning was completely out of the question!

I was also taught another song that went: "All around the cobbler's bench, the monkey chased the weasel; the monkey thought 'twas all in fun, POP! goes the weasel." It appeared to be nonsense, but was fun to sing, nevertheless.

Fast forward many years to after my marriage to my husband Butch and a time when we were singing strange songs and he started in with "All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel ..." I stopped him cold! What was he thinking? Didn't he know the proper version? I tried explaining to him (from my position as a folklorist who has actually spent some time researching this particular children's rhyme) about the spinning wheel and its apparatus, the weasel, which actually "popped" during the sewing process (I've heard that the pop was to tell the worker that the spool was out of thread as well as that the desired amount of thread had been used). That didn't exactly clarify the identity of the monkey, which some believe is the child laborer, running around the workbench (cobbler's bench) to make sure the weavers and spinners had whatever they needed. (The next line - "A penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle, that's the way the money goes, POP! goes the weasel" - gives much more credence to monkeys chasing weasels around cobbler's benches as opposed to mulberry bushes, where very little sewing is likely to take place.)

For years now I have believed that Butch & I were the only people in the world who would waste time arguing about the monkey-chasing venue, but when I Googled the various versions, I found that this topic has occupied the time of a good many people out there, concerned about mulberry bush safety (monkey and weasel activity in such a vicinity could damage a good summer crop, I would imagine) and the logic of having monkeys and weasels in a cobbler's place of business.

In more recent years, probably to get the song to make even the slightest amount of sense, newer, more modern verses have popped (no pun intended) up. Some of these can be found at Dick Oakes' United States Song Words website (scroll down for more verses of this ditty than you will ever probably want to sing!). And, should you want to read more about the cobbler's bench-mulberry bush controversy, check out The Straight Dope or Worlds of Wonder websites (the latter of which reminds us that I just missed, again this year, the Pop Goes the Weasel Day celebration on June 14).

So ask your friends and family which version they were taught. Sing a round of "Pop! Goes the Weasel," just to belatedly honor the day named for the activity, or maybe try writing some verses of your own to bring things into the 21st Century ("Click! Goes the mouse"?).

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