I'm starting a new project that takes place in, you guessed it if you know my past projects, the mountains of western North Carolina. In my research I ran across the term "play pretty," as in "taking a play pretty from a baby" or "like a play pretty on the end of a string." What a delightful way to describe a toy. The Dictionary of American Regional English lists several examples of this southern way of talk, including a map showing where the expression "play pretty" has been found. Yes, the mountains of western North Carolina were on that map. Yes, my research was on daily life in previous centuries, although I found "play pretty" in the more modern Urban Dictionary.
When my fourth graders went on a field trip to Fort Defiance, the restored home of our town's colonial namesake, General William Lenoir, the docent taught them about play pretties from colonial times. One was the game of Graces, where players use a set of dowels to pass embroidery hoops from one to the next.
(Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1766027)
Another play pretty was a hoop from a barrel that children could roll down a path using a stick to keep it moving and balanced. I wonder if any of those children in the Appalachian mountains all those years ago ever considered rotating the hoop around the belly. By the time I came along, the hoop went around the belly. And the neck. And the wrist. Times changed! Play pretties changed.
Our play pretties were simple. We played marbles until our school's playground was paved. Even the grassed lots didn't work all that well, since we couldn't find any sand where we could draw a circle for a game.
We had metal pointy thingamajigs called jacks that we picked up each time we bounced a ball, first one at a time, then twosies, then threesies, and so on. I was not so adept at those evil play pretties. I doubt I ever picked up sets of jacks beyond the sixes or sevens. That's why I wasn't a fan, that and the fact that they hurt like crazy to step on in bare feet.
We skated, using another play pretty that wasn't so pretty when I skinned my knees and the blood dripped down my legs. I had a key for my skates. I inserted it into the metal slide between the two halves of a skate in order to change the size. I stayed in my regular shoes to skate and clamped the metal skates to them. Those straps around my ankles kept coming undone and tripping me. What a fun childhood I had!
I could write a book!
But wait. I am writing a book and the play pretties children found to entertain themselves three generations ago is a part of this book. Stay tuned.
Catch of the day,