As the children of an elementary school librarian and a high school science teacher, and the grandchildren of grandparents who loved nothing more than to entertain over family style meals served at long dinner parties that waned into the night, my brother and I spent many an evening watching and listening to the conversation at those dinner parties.
My parents and grandparents were very much aware that politics and national policy makes small children rambunctious and restless, and so they came up with multiple ways to both keep us entertained and prevent us from being intrusions to their guests. One such way was the game of higgly-piggly.
Higgly-piggly was what we played when the candles burned down and the children were almost ready for bed. The game started as an accident one year when my brother and I put on a spontaneous Thanksgiving play, complete with poems and songs, called the “Cowboys and the Indians” during a Thanksgiving dinner party for sixteen. A tradition was formed and a new game created.
Tradition then mandated that my Nana would look around the table and with a gleam in her eye, spot restless feet and tired children, and announce loudly, “higgly-piggly, vyah?”, thus energizing two otherwise sleepy children for a half hour of unbridled excitement.
The game was really quite simple and requires almost no supplies except a pen and paper as well as an active imagination.
Basically the game involves taking any two themes, any themes (such as the pilgrims and the Indians combined with the cowboys and the Indians) and merging the two together at all points where the words or ideas overlap. Someone, anyone, would call out a topic or theme, as would a second person, and it would be our task (with a lot of adult ‘help’) to find the words related to the two themes that connected them. Sort-of a game of six degrees of separation if you will.
These words would be written down by nana or mom and then made into a poem, a song or included in a short skit (and I do mean short) that we would then perform for the group. Ok, so an example…
Theme 1: cowboys and Indians Theme 2: Indians and the pilgrims Obvious connection…the Indians. (Obviously not the same Indians, but you get the point) Another connection…cowboys like to eat beef, pilgrims eat turkey...while the Indians like to help people share…
Now these themes often were a little harder to find the links between, as adults called out themes and ideas we knew little about. I remember one such dinner party where Ronald Reagan was paired with Halloween. With some help from the adults, the connections went lie this:
...Reagan is president; president beings with ‘P’, so does Pumpkin at Halloween you wear costumes; who else wears a costume; actors; who used to be an actor; Reagan...
Most or all of the main words…Reagan, Pumpkin, Costume, actors, president, Halloween…would then be made into the above mentioned song, poem or occasional skit.
The game was often silly but helped my brother and I to become adept at seeing the connections and commonalities between seemingly totally unrelated items. The game also helped us to learn a great deal about the world we live in and to become prolific word junkies, as we saw the many meanings and implications words can have.
The adults enjoyed it too as they threw out semi-snarky and funny connections and found ways to connect unrelated topics and ideas and to then be subject to the performance of our quickly formed skit or song.
We played this game until my grandparents passed a few years ago and the topics and connections became more profound as we entered adulthood ourselves. Every once in a while we’ll pull out the old VHS tapes of some of our skits and embarrass ourselves all over again.