Last night we spent a delightful evening across Howard Street with cousin Blanche. Talk turned to traditional childhood games on the island. One rhyming game that Blanche shared with us was "Green Gravel."
In this game all the children join hands in a circle and begin to move slowly as they sing these verses:
"Green gravel, green gravel
Your dress is so green.
As pretty, as pretty as ever did seem."
[At this point one child is chosen.]
"Miss [Mary], Miss [Mary]
Your sweetheart is dead.
He wrote you a letter so turn back your head."
[At this point the chosen child turns around and faces outwards. The song continues until all the children are facing outwards.]
A search of the internet uncovered several variations of this rhyming game, including this verse:
"I washed her, I dressed her
I clothed her in silk,
And I wrote down her name
With a glass pen and ink."
This is apparently an old Irish folk song for children that has been described as a "funeral game." The original opening line may have been "Green grave, O, green grave, O," and most versions have the second line as "Your grass is so green."
It has been suggested that "turn back your head" refers to an old funeral custom where visitors walk backwards into the death chamber when approaching a corpse that has been laid out for viewing.
I am compiling a list of as many island children's games, rhymes, songs, and hand-made toys as I can document. If you have any information about old-time Ocracoke games please drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org). I'd really appreciate it.