Clotheslines made the best double dutch ropes. The hard plastic would whip the rough sidewalk, ticking rhythmically like a well-wound grandfather clock. And if someone were double-handed, one of us would shout, “She turn like a white-girl!” And none of us had ever even met a “white girl,” but we knew for sure… that they sang with high-pitched voices, danced off beat, and turned double-handed. Little did we know back then, double dutch was a city game and black girls from the projects were not the only ones who could turn a double dutch rope.
Most of us in Stanley Homes Village were good turners, though. We could whip the rope across balding grass and cold cracked gray dirt just as well as we could whip it across even concrete. We would let the clothesline droop slightly below the counter of our backs and sway and bop our behinds from side to side. And if there were a really great jumper in the rope, we would put our whole back into it with our knobby bruised knees bent and sing numbers in our exaggerated urban twang. And if we had cherry-flavored Now & Laters to chew while turning…our mouths, backs, behinds, and hands would be going all at the same time with our Vaseline bright brown bodies twisted in rhythm.
And if a new girl moved to our projects and could turn and jump like that, she was cool and could definitely make it in our world of cornrows, slap me fives, and “I can dig its” – a world where we stood outside the ropes, preparing ourselves to jump with plats hitting the sides of our brown faces as we bounced forward and backward in uncertainty, not knowing exactly when to enter the ropes.
A few years later, when my family moved from Stanley Homes Village to the Absecon Town Houses, I tried to teach the suburban girls how to turn and jump, until I realized…I was the double-handed girl in their world of chlorine, featured hair, and sunscreen-a world where they did not play double-dutch at all, but instead used clotheslines to catch minnows swimming upstream.
*I wrote the above memoir at a writer’s conference last year. I decided to revise it this morning. For the past 20 years I have attended the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway. Here is the web address, if you would like to check it out: http://www.murphywriting.com/