So I was browsing a few blogs tonight and came across one funny post my friend Nate wrote about things from our childhood that no longer exist, like snap bracelets and clear Pepsi. Anyhow, at the end of the post, he asked readers to write in about the things that they’d had as kids that aren’t around anymore. One reader, Jo, wrote that one of the things she missed was “Kick the can in the twilight, hiding in everyones yard…free as a bird, no one caring where you were Olly Olly All come free.”
Now, it was this “Olly Olly All come free” part that caught my eye. I am 28 years old and I can say that until five minutes ago, literally when I read Jo’s comment, the heavens parted and clarity descended upon my shoulders. You see, for these past 28 years, or actually for the past two decades at least, or at least since I had heard those words called out in a meaningful way during Hide and Seek, I had heard incorrectly. This whole time I thought the shout was: “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” As in, you know, let the cows out.
Listen, I grew up in Vermont. It was not out of the realm of possiblity that people, especially farmers on my very own road, would be shouting to let the cows out. Like, to let them roam in the fields. And so, by no stretch of the imagination, as a child it made next to perfect sense that Vermont children would have heard their farmer neighbors shouting “Olly Olly Oxen Free” to….well, to the cows themselves or to maybe the farm hands or something…and later incorporate this farmer call into their childhood games.
I have to admit, however, that when my came turn to shout the shout, I always thought a little bit, just a tiny bit, that the cow liberation words I was shouting could possibly be slightly off. So sometimes I just kind of over enunciated the “Olly Olly” and flubbed the “oxen free” part because, maybe what I was saying was wrong and the last thing I wanted to be shouting at the top of my lungs was something about free cows when what I was supposed to be shouting was something utterly* different. It never quite made sense that by shouting “Oxen free” children were supposed to come out of hiding.
And so I would like to say “thank you” to Jo for clearing up this gigantic misunderstanding. And I am able to sleep soundly tonight knowing the next time I play Hide and Seek, I will be confident enough to shout loudly and clearly at the top of my lungs, “Olly Olly All Come Free!” knowing it all makes sense.
Except the “Olly Olly” part. What’s that all about?
*Utterly. See also: udder-ly, pun, stupid joke.