Dedicated to the spirit of childhood, the new book “Mountain Mother Goose: Child Lore of West Virginia” is a collection of jingles, jangles, rhymes, riddles, games and lesson stories chanted and sung by children of Central Appalachia on the playground; recited in one room school settings; and echoed in backyards and churchyards throughout the small villages and farms that dotted the hills and valleys of West Virginia. Stretching from the early 20th century practically to its end, this collection of melodies traces the regional attitudes and traditions of American children at play.
An Open House and Book Signing for “Mountain Mother Goose” is planned for 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center on the shared main campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College. Admission to the event is free and open to the public.
Dr. Judy P. Byers, editor, and Patricia Musick, principle illustrator, will be on hand to sign copies of the book, which will be available for purchase for $30. At 3 p.m., Patricia Musick will give a brief gallery talk and demonstration on “Beautiful Writing.” Light refreshments will be served, and the Kennedy Barn String Band will provide music. For more information, contact the Folklife Center at (304) 367-4403. After Aug. 25, copies of the book and other publications will be available for purchase at the Folklife Center.
Decades in the making, the book is based on the child lore collections of Dr. Walter Barnes and Dr. Ruth Ann Musick, both retired Fairmont State faculty members. The publication is edited by Dr. Judy P. Byers, Director of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center and Abelina Suarez Professor of Folklore and English, Senior Level. The book is filled with beautiful calligraphy and artwork by Patricia Musick, along with Noel W. Tenney and the late John Randolph. Tenney and Randolph also served as editorial consultants for the book. Dr. Donna Long and Dr. George F. Byers served as copy editors, Susan C. Long as educational editor and Tammy Holden as artistic editor.
In academic year 2011-2012, Dr. Judy P. Byers and Dr. Francene Kirk received a Fairmont State Strategic Planning Implementation Award to fund an original operetta, educational outreach and the publication of “Mountain Mother Goose.” Directed by Kirk in the summer of 2012, the operetta production by the School of Fine Arts featured music composed by retired faculty member Dr. Alice Moerk and performances by 70 actors and children of the community.
“Child lore is the folklore of children, by children, about children. Boys and girls have always played games, sung songs, clapped out riddles and jumped rope to rhymes. Primal drives for social intervention and acceptance among their peers universally direct youth in their own language of jokes, beliefs, jeers, pranks, rites and customs. Storytelling, imitating, singing and playmaking are thus natural ways to communicate, to develop, to learn,” Byers said. “Childhood is fleeting, but there is a permanence in the culture of childhood. It doesn’t take much for us to remember again. I hope you look into this book as a window into the world of children and as a mirror into your own deeper self.”
Dr. Walter Barnes (1880-1969) was a nationally recognized leader of progressive education and an early president of The National Council of Teachers of English. As an administrator, professor and linguist at the then Fairmont State Normal School, he was a keen preserver of the state’s oral literary heritage, helping to found the West Virginia Folklore Society (1915) which eventually evolved into the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center.
Barnes mentored Dr. Ruth Ann Musick (1897-1974) when she first came to Fairmont State in 1946, encouraging her to collect folklore and giving her many examples that he had heard from children in the rural schools around the state. Following his lead, Musick became the archivist for the West Virginia Folklore Society, longtime editor of West Virginia Folklore Journal and a primary folktale scholar of Appalachia. Throughout her vast collecting experiences, she shared Barnes’s passion for child lore and continued to add her own examples of nonsense, counting out, and spelling out rhymes; riddles; and sayings, along with clever childhood games, songs and magical lesson stories.
Musick wrote in her book “Ballads, Folk Songs, and Folk Tales from West Virginia”: “Part of the fascination of children’s rhymes may stem from the uncertainty surrounding them. Probably nobody knows how they came into existence in the first place, why some very ordinary rhymes live on indefinitely and others (often to me more interesting ones) don’t, how the same rhyme seems to come into being at the same point in places widely separated, and so on. Another interesting point is that children’s rhymes are one of the few forms of oral culture that are actually being transmitted today.”
Musick served as mentor for Byers.
“Dr. Musick always said to me, ‘Judy, I would love to someday see this child lore collection come out. I think we’ve got the making of a Mountain Mother Goose right here in West Virginia,’ ” Byers said.
Musick indicated to Byers that her child lore collection was not complete because it was missing some of the earlier collecting done by Barnes. Since Musick’s death in 1974, Byers has served as executrix of Musick’s unpublished folklore estate, comprised of Musick’s own unpublished collections and the archives of the West Virginia Folklore Society. Over the years, Byers was able to find some of Barnes’ works through the journals West Virginia School Journal and West Virginia Review.In 1993, Byers was able to bring Musick’s collection to Fairmont State, which later led to the establishment of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center. Today, Byers serves as Director of the Folklife Center, and Noel W. Tenney as Cultural Specialist.
“To me, Mother Goose is not just an image, a personification of riddle and rhymes. After all, she also gave us lessons on life. There are many versions of Mother Goose. Geese have always been protectors, and they stand for constancy because they mate for life. In the French tradition, Mother Goose is seen as a spinner of tales,” Byers said.
Charles Perrault first used the term, “La Mere Oye,” which was translated into English as “My Mother the Goose” in 1729. His conception of her was as a storyteller. Supposedly, this idea came from Charlemagne’s mother, Bertrade II of Laon, who was exiled into the forest because of her sins. It is said that she became known as Queen Goosefoot, for she had one foot larger than the other and possibly the larger foot had webbed toes. Under the influence of the nature surrounding her in the forest, she became a teller of lesson stories who would gather the children around her and teach them her words of wisdom which delighted them. Because of this, she became the patron saint of children.
In America, a Boston printer named Thomas Fleet published a collection called “Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes” in 1719. Another version of the rhymes was published in London in 1765 by John Newbery. His mother-in-law, Elizabeth Ver Goose, lived with him and entertained his children with her songs and stories.
“My personal image of a Mother Goose of the mountains can be found in Louise McNeill Pease’s ‘Milkweed Ladies’ (1988) as a composite of Granny Fanny, the herb woman, who roamed the hills with her gunnysack to collect foodstuffs or herbals or kindling for the fire, and Aunt Malindy, the chubby storyteller who gathered the children about her ample skirts to hear stories of the superstitions and creatures of the hills, such as the hoop snakes ‘who would roll down the hill, stick their tail-horn into the trunk of a tree and the tree would die,’ ”Byers wrote in the preface for the book.
“On the other hand, there are examples of strong, wise, nurturing women seen in many ethnic cultures besides the Anglo-Celtic-Germanic grouping that makes up the dominant population in our West Virginia. My own Italian grandmother, who gave Dr. Musick so many sayings and stories, is an example of a mountain Mother Goose figure with a difference. Her food may be spicy, her speech accented, but her stories contain the same wise lessons for future generations as any Mother Goose.”