Thursday, October 30, 2008


Listen to BEFORE THIS TIME ANOTHER YEAR by Bessie Jones and Group.

It's just a house game, you know -- a fun game, to play in the house.

"Many 'fun' games are concerned with attempts to make another player 'show his white teeth.' But 'Uncle Tom,' though it somewhat resembles other, better-known games, has a plot line and a bitter hilarity all its own. It is an uproariously funny game while it is being played, but afterward you realize what you've been laughing at. Southern black children do not have to search far for the models they satirized in this game.

Here is Mrs. Jones's description of how it is played:

There's a crowd of children setting round in a place and you get you some little sticks or things and call them nails. You come around to the children and then you knock to this one's door just like you were at the door, you knock.

They say, Who is that?

You say, Old Man Tom.

They say, What you want?

You say, I want to sell some nails. How many pounds you want?

And they'll tell him one or two or three, and he'll let 'em have one or two or three of those sticks . . . or whatever it is. And then he goes to the next one and say the same way, and on and on. Then he'll go away and stay off for a little while--he may change while he's out there, dress all kind of funny ways, you know--put on old crazy ragged clothes or a funny face or old funny hat or anything, you know. Then he'll come back and knock again.

They say, who is that?

And he say, Old Man Tom.

They say, What you want?

He say, I want you to pay for my nails, please.

(He say it in a funny way, like he was so hongry and tired, you see.)

And they say, I can't pay.

And he say, You can't pay?

They say, I can't pay!

And he say, like he's crying, You ain't going to pay Uncle Tom?

And you're not supposed to laugh or not even smile, just be hard at him, and Uncle Tom have to do all kind of funny things to make you laugh. And if you laugh, then you got to give him the nails back, you see. He got to do all kind of cutting up, dancing and jumping around making ugly face and all the time asking, 'You can't pay? You ain't going to pay Uncle Tom. Poor Uncle Tom, you can't pay? and all that kind of funny way. . . . It's always who can be so hard, you know, and won't laugh, why he'll be Uncle Tom the next time."

Photo: Martin's guest appearance (4).


1 comment:

Penny said...

Never heard of that game. Most of the kids I know play things that don't take that much concentration. Freeze tag was about as complicated as we could manage.