THE FARMER IN THE DELL
By Marcia Faye McGee
When I was six years old my parents sent me to a summer day camp. It was at some school for "smart" kids and it was the first time I was the only black person in the room. It was my first time being the "only". I didn't think much of it because I had been to school with white kids before but there was always other brown people around too. This time it was just me being the only black person on the room. But since it didn't seem like such a big deal to anyone in my life I didn't treat it like one.
For the first two days in summer day camp I didn't have any friends; everyone knew my name but no one talked to me. I would just finger paint all by myself. Until the third day when this boy named Chuckie spoke to me. Chuckie liked me, he was my friend. He said I was his really special friend. He was a cute kid with brownish hair and a weird kind of laugh. From then on we always played together--rock throwing, dirt playing, and finger painting. Sometimes I'd bring my shovel to the day camp and we would dig for worms. We would share lunches and he would eat up all my potato chips.
Well once a week this class of advanced six-year-olds would play "Farmer in the Dell." "Farmer in the Dell" is a kids' game--while I don't know the origins of this game this is how it worked in my class. The teacher would have the entire class stand in a large circle and we would start to sing the song "The Farmer in Dell":
"The farmer in the dell, The farmer in the dell, Hi-ho, the derry-o, The farmer in the dell.".
Then she would pick someone to be the farmer who would enter the center of the circle--almost always a boy and we'd sing another chorus of the Farmer in the Dell.
And then we'd sing--
"The farmer takes a wife, the farmer takes a wife, Hi-ho, the derry-o, the farmer takes a wife."
Then the farmer would take a wife who enters the center circle with the farmer. The wife would then take a child who enters the circle. And then the child would take a friend who enters the circle and the friend would take a dog who then enters the circle and the dog would take a cat who enters the circle and the cat takes a rat who enters the circle. Then the rat would take the cheese. To be the cheese was to be stigmatized. Because after the rat takes the cheese the song changes. Everybody would leave the inner circle but the cheese. And while the "cheese" was alone in the middle of this huge circle, the rest of the kids then sing "The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, Hi-ho, the derry-o, the cheese stands alone."
To be picked the cheese could be awful if the children were mean. And in this class all the kids were mean except for Chuckie. Chuckie never taunted the cheese he never said loud and ugly like the rest of the kids. Whenever Chuckie was the farmer, I got to be the Wife (as in the Farmer takes a wife.) The first few times I was really surprised. Why did he pick me to be the wife? Even at the age of six I was unsure of myself and being picked as the wife was a major honor, and for me, a surprise. But I also thought Chuckie was the nicest boy in the world for picking me to be the wife.
He must have been the farmer at least six times and each time I was the wife and each time I was surprised.
Then one day I saw him talking to some of the other boys in the class. He then came over to me and said his friends had found him a new wife for "Farmer in the Dell." "We can be friends but you can't be my wife anymore," said Chuckie. "The guys helped me find a new one. But we can still play in the dirt and check for worms and stuff." I said okay not really thinking about what he was saying. I was too busy looking at the butterfly that had landed on the classroom window. Anyway that day when we played "Farmer in the Dell" and Chuckie was the farmer he picked this girl named Felicia to be the Wife. Why did he pick Felicia? She didn't even like dirt and she never brought potato chips in her lunch. Then I remembered what he had told me about the guys and me not being his wife anymore and all of a sudden I felt like he had just kicked me in the teeth. That day I was the cheese and that day I heard Chuckie chant loudly "The Cheese Stands Alone."
After the game I heard him tell the guys would probably pick Felicia to be his wife again or some other girl. "But you can't ever be the wife," he said. Then he said to me, "I brought a new shovel, want to go dig for worms?" I said no. I excused myself and went in the coat closet and cried.
To some people, the 'C-word' stands for 'commitment': to me, it means 'cheese'. Sometimes when I am the minority surrounded by the majority I am afraid that if I get too close to someone in the majority I will eventually end up being the cheese. "The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, Hi-ho, the derry-o, the cheese stands alone."
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