Germs, And Other Cautionary Tales

“Let it be seen that your hands are clean.”


“Germs linger—clean your fingers!”


“Don’t let your germs roam—use the foam!”


These pithy little rhymes were wall decorations in the hall outside my mother’s hospital room. The signs were handmade with construction paper, and each one featured an evil-looking germ (a multi-colored blob with crazy eyes and pointy teeth) to drive the point home.  I found them amusing and effective…the power of a good rhyme. Remember those cautionary tales from Mother Goose?


“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water

Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.”




“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”


Do you see a theme here? Of course, there were the moral rhymes, too:


“Ding, dong, bell!

Pussy’s in the well!

Who put her in?

Little Johnny Green.

Who pulled her out?

Little Johnny Stout.”


The artwork in my old Mother Goose book has a painting of two boys:  J. Stout (the hero) has big blue eyes, freckles, and an earnest expression.  J. Green (the bad boy) has squinty eyes, is rather grimy, and has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. And here’s the best part: He has a big red X drawn over him.  (Now, kids, which boy do you want to be like?)


“Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home! Your house is on fire, your children all gone…”


Yikes. Don’t play with matches! Did anyone else find that one a tad disturbing?  And how about this rather misogynistic one:


“Peter, Peter, Pumpkin-Eater

Had a wife and couldn’t keep her

Put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well.”




Rhymes are easy to remember by their catchy sing-songy-ness. They tend to stick in our minds and cell-memories. I’d venture to say that most of us had our childhood influenced in some way by nursery rhymes. And as adults, if a rhyme helps us remember to wash our hands—especially in a hospital where a loved-one is at the mercy of germs—that’s a good thing.


“Germs are mean—keep your hands clean.”


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bar of lavender soap calling my name.






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