Taking Your Licks

People like to know how their regional traditions look to those who were raised in an entirely different environment. At least they want to know as long as the impression is positive. I’ll leave it to you to decide how well one of our unique northern rituals comes off in this guest blog by Beth-ann.

Tommy Don’t Lick that Pipe – a song by John McCutcheon

Winter is a-coming
And the weather’s getting cold
I have to watch my brother Tom
He’s eight years old
I never have to worry
That he’ll slip on ice and fall
In fact there’s only just one thing
That worries me at all

Tommy, don’t lick that pipe
Your tongue will stick like glue
I’ve warned you twice
And I wish you’d mind
Don’t you remember
What happened last time
You can do about anything else that you like
But Tommy, don’t lick that pipe

Do you still remember Uncle Albert
Such scientific curiosity
He stuck his tongue out on the old pump handle
It took us two whole days to get him free

Do you still remember Grandma Dawson
She touched her tongue on to a waterspout
She said she thought that it was made of plastic
It took us until May to thaw her out

Do you still remember our dog Fluffy
He went outside to do his doggy thing
We found him frozen solid to a hydrant
We couldn’t break him loose until the spring

I grew up where it was warmer and thought admonitions not to “lick the pump handle” were the equivalent of “Don’t eat the yellow snow” or were the stuff of Little House on the Prairie and Caddie Woodlawn. That was until they called from preschool to say that my son had licked the stair railing and stuck to it.

Luckily Scott attended a fine Minnesota preschool with teachers specially trained in tongue defrosting and removal. They detached him without trouble.

I turned to my coworkers with the story expecting them to agree that my kid was a goofball. Instead the universal response was, “Didn’t you tell him not to lick the pipe?”

Both on that day and ever since the Minnesotan inevitably continues on with a reminiscence of a personal licking and sticking experience. No matter how many decades have passed the storyteller has crystal clear memories of the sparkling icicle, glistening jungle gym, or icy cold hammer. Amazingly enough the pain and embarrassment of the adhesion and the removal pale next to the telling of how cool it was to lick those icy sparkles.

I have come to the conclusion that this licking and sticking is the quintessential Minnesota experience. It is what separates tourists from the true denizens of the frozen tundra. Tommy and Scotty were warned not to lick, but they slurped their way into Minnesota and stuck to it.

What did you do BECAUSE you were told NOT to do it?

74 thoughts on “Taking Your Licks”

  1. Morning all! I’m going to have to sit and think about this to distill it down. The list of things that I’ve done because someone else said “don’t” is too long for this forum!

    Later gaters!


  2. me too, VS. that might be Minnesotan also! – doing what people have suggested you not do. or is it stubborn woman? or stubborn human?
    i haven’t licked a pipe. but i put my mouth on one real good when i was in third grade. it was spring, the school had those round (plumbing type) railings next to the sidewalks. we were told not to walk on them. so of course, we did. i was balancing my way along a pipe, lost balance and crashed on my front teeth. chipped them both badly. it didn’t hurt so bad as totally embarrass me and i knew my Mom would be really, really mad because i had to have a good deal of dental work! i can’t remember that my Dad was upset…..
    did that teach me to heed warnings? pretty much not.
    a gracious good morning to You All
    and thank you for the interesting topic and fun story, Beth Ann!


  3. I do not think I would have taken that phone call at all well, Beth-ann.

    As a kid, I was a devoted icicle consumer, but never got stuck to one-maybe it was my personal Dipping in the Snow Technique that saved me. Icicles dipped in snow were a special treat to me, until the day we had the Weekly Reader article about why you should not lick icicles-first, there was the bird poop on the roof aspect, then we got to the discussion of getting your tongue stuck and having to rip it off. I just sat there getting sicker and sicker at the thought of all that. I do not think I actually threw up, but I certainly felt like I could. I do remember getting sent home early because I was sick that day. I absolutely could not tell my mother WHY I was sick-that would just make things worse, so I let everybody think I had the flu.

    Don’t know about things I did because I was told not to, but the list is long of things I was “supposed” to do and flatly refused to for that reason.


  4. Guess I can start w/ the biggie. When I was a young pup, I could hardly wait to get out on my own. I met my ex my first week at college and was drawn to him because he was the total opposite of my family. Where I was the roller coaster, he was the merry-go-round. He was also a third generation PK, preacher’s kid. My father never cared for him and told me more than once that I shouldn’t marry the son of a minister, as he was sure that sons of ministers had deep, ulterior motives, baggage, etc. The fact that my father thought my ex was wrong for me only served to make me even MORE convinced that our opposite natures would complement each other. Of course, my father was right about the marriage, but for the wrong reasons. Our marriage eventually failed, but not because my ex was the son of a minister. It failed because we were from different parts of the amusement park and couldn’t find a way to meet in the middle!


      1. I used to like amusement parks, but by age 25 I lost all interest in them. I guess I lost the outlook that made them so enticing when I was younger. I also have lost the ability to tolerate speed and twirling and fast drops and sudden stops. My current place at the amusement park would be waiting anxiously at the front gate for all of you to emerge safe and sound.


  5. My eighth grade science class was taught by the track coach, which was perhaps the first sign we didn’t need to take that class seriously. One day Coach ran a film for us about alcohol. The film featured goony looking youngsters in hairstyles from several decades prior. The film showed us how wine was made, with barefoot Italians stomping grapes between toes that looked unwashed. Then we saw the effects of alcohol on kids who were reeling drunk. One kid opened a bottle of wine by smashing it on a brick wall. Then he drank from the broken bottle, cutting his mouth up, the red wine mixing with his blood as it ran down his neck.

    The film was a lot like “Reefer Madness.” “Reefer Madness” was supposed to make young folks reject marijuana by showing all the chaos grass could cause. But the film was so hyperbolic and silly that it became a cult favorite on college campuses where kids would light up a dooby and laugh their way through the film.

    Earlier than that, radio preachers and other self-appointed guardians of the culture tried to tell me that rock and roll was depraved music that would make me a bad person.

    Have I done things because I was told not to? No, not really. But a long time ago I decided that the world was full of wonderful things–music, good wine, literature, sex, radical thoughts–that some people wanted me to avoid just because they said so. I’ve rarely shown respect for them by pointing out how limited their “thinking” is, but I’ve quietly gone about doing what my own experience has shown me to be positive.


    1. refer madness is the perfect example steve. how not to create a sense of fear. i do remember being curious at that point in life. i had heard of the movie and when i finally saw it, it was so laughable that the snickers were distracting. i
      i did lick the wrought iron rail at the urging of the older neighborhood kids. they left me outside laughing hysterically while they went in the house for 5 minutes or so, me doing the yelling with the thuct tung sounds coming out full blast. they finally came out with a glass of water and freed me. when i told them that was mean they explained it was now my turn to go get everyone else. sounded like fun but felt mean so i never did.
      i did lots of stuff in spite of or because of the warnings. most of my child hood from riding down the big hill no handed on my bike to learning how to open my throat to pour a bottle of beer down without having to bother swollowing are from the depths of a don’t ever do that catholic upbringing. those blue uniforms make you plot what to do when you get free.


  6. I remember my uncle telling me to stay away from his flock of leghorns, and the next thing I knew I was being scolded for trying to catch one around the neck with this long metal chicken grabber that was sort of like an enormous tweezers. I also remember being told not to bring the farm cats in the house, and then I did and the cat peed on my grandma’s bedspread. Then there was the time when I was very young and I was determined to put film in my dad’s 35mm camera, which was totally beyond my skill and hearing my mom say “Didn’t I tell you to leave daddy’s camera alone?” Well, yes you did mom, but that was beside the point.


  7. #2. I ate a spider when I was 10 (it was a dead spider actually). It was a combination dare/I don’t believe you’ll really do it. I don’t remember how it got started, but I remember that when it was clear that I meant to go forward, my friends all got cold feet and tried to stop me. It was crunchy and although now it seems terribly gross to me, it wasn’t all that awful.


  8. What did I do because I was told not to do it? Most things in my life. The big thing that I did because I was told to do it is what I do for my day job. Which is probably why I’m unhappy in it.


  9. Nice comments so far today…


    I don’t like being told ‘Don’t do_____’ and I’ll usually take that as a dare… same w/ ‘You can’t–‘ or ‘It can’t–‘. I just think ‘Hmmp. Wanna bet??’ And my kids know one of my favorite phrases to them is ‘Where’s the challenge in that?’
    Kelly and I both express our opinions and add the caveat ‘But you’re gonna do what you want anyway so I don’t’ know why I’m wasting my breath…’

    I licked the metal bar on the rail sled once. I mean it was right there under my nose… just begging for a taste.
    And it doesn’t matter how quick you are or how lightly you think you do it; your tongue will stick… I only ripped off a little bit of skin.

    Yesterday at the college, the maintenance radios were all ablaze because when the trash-men removed one of the garbage compactors there was a family of raccoons living behind it…
    Don’t know what became of them… I hope they’re just living behind the new compactor.


  10. I will admit to also being a pipe licker…although in my case it was the metal hand rail outside of church on a Sunday morning (nothing like the embarrassment of having a bunch of Lutherans walking by and tsk-tsking you to really raise the self-esteem…).

    What else have I done that I was told not to do? Hmm. A few things I wouldn’t want my mother to know about, one or two that Daughter can learn about when she’s older (a cautionary tale might keep her from the same heartbreak…or at least have her well-prepared for it), and playing with my big brother’s Erector set. I’d sneak into his room after he was gone and pull the bright red box out of his closet. I got really good at putting small things together that I could take apart quickly if I heard him coming home before I expected him. Never got fast enough to connect the motor to my creations, and never bent the pieces (his Great Fear and Why I Was Not Allowed to Touch the Erector Set). I’m guessing if he just would have let me play with it, the appeal would have worn off quickly – but then I might not have developed my love of building things with tools. Maybe I should thank him for forbidding me from using the set.😉


  11. My, but you Midwestern hicks get up early. Maybe that’s why we do not have any participants from the Far Right, oops, I mean Far West.
    I do not think I have ever done anything very significant because I was told NOT to do it. I stuck my tongue to the water pump handle because my older siblings told me to. My mother just laughed. I am sure she saw it as a farm kid right-of-passage.
    Re my first marriage: since I as so young (20) and she was so old (25) and since we had such a brief courtship (1.5 weeks), everyone clearly disapproved, but because of issues in both families, family members said little. Friends said a couple of things, just asking sorts of comments. Many clearly waited for the collapse, I suppose one or two still are.


  12. Nick pickup, Renee. Mike is paying attention.

    I wonder if Mike can serve this one up for us: Tim O’Brien’s “You Ate the Apple?” This is exactly the issue!

    You ate the apple?
    I told you not to eat the apple
    How many times did I tell you?

    What were you thinking?
    Didn’t you know you had it made
    Livin’ here in the garden?
    You ate the apple
    You had to taste forbidden fruit
    You had to look behind the curtain
    It used to be simple, you had no fear or shame
    Now you know too much and it’s never gonna be same
    Instead of layin’ here in the shade you’re gonna toil out in the sun
    I got a whole new set of rules, it used to be just one
    You ate the apple
    I told you not to eat the apple
    How many times did I tell you?

    Go put some clothes on
    If you’re gonnna try to dress yourself
    You’ll need more than a fig leaf
    When you have your own kids
    You can make up your own rules
    Right now don’t cry to me
    The fruit was poisoned and made you lose your mind
    When you pass judgment, you leave paradise behind
    You see good and evil, everywhere is right and wrong
    You can’t be satisfied and you can’t get along
    You ate the apple?
    I told you not to eat the apple, how many times did I tell you?


  13. I realize, as I do deep self-analysis in the arid environs of the Mojave Desert, that I have a preference for swimming against the current of societal norms, which is the same impulse but on a larger scale. Basic rule of life: Never Be a Cliche.


  14. I’m smelling garlic. Does anyone else smell garlic? Gilroy would not smell from that far away. But I will smell it later, after I drive by the airplane junkyard from Mythbusters. Have a good day all. Tonight to my sons. It is odd to become homeless this far from home.


      1. Twas, but 2000 miles from home is un-nerving.. We have to be out on 3,31, oops, my grandson’s birthday, I just realized.


      1. They take urban myths (such as “dropped toast always lands butter side down”) and then see if they’re true or not. The two main hosts are the definition of “characters” so the show can be educational as well as funny. If you go to Discovery.com they have lots of clips from the show.


  15. Good morning to all,

    I hardly ever have done any thing because some one told me not to do it or, at least, I have managed to not remember if this happened. I did know that there were people who didn’t want me to do some of the things that I did, including my parents. My parents might have wanted to tell me I should stay away from hippies and war protestors, but they kept their opinions to themselves.

    A professor at my school said that he thought my parents generation had doubts about their own life style and beliefs and did not want to impose them on their children. I think there is some truth in this. That’s why I think my parents didn’t say much to me about what I was doing. I was a little inhibited because I knew that they didn’t like some of the things I was doing.


  16. An observation on breaking the littering rules: the ubiquitous item of junk is now those white flossing tools. “Look, Ma. I drove all the way to the Grand Canyon to floss my teeth and then litter. And I left them all across America so you can trace me if I get lost.”


  17. #3. I chose a college based on pretty the campus was and how far away from home it was. This is not a good reason to choose a college, especially if it’s a serious, hard working college. By the middle of my junior year I was thoroughly burnt out and not happy, but not wanting to move away because of the boyfriend (now ex from earlier post). My folks flew up “discuss” leaving college and my father thought that maybe if I switched my major to something more practical (read “business/law” here), I would be happier. When I said I doubted that entirely, he threw up his hands and said not to quit school because if I did, I would have to support myself completely and not even to THINK about moving back home. Well, I think you all know me well enough to know how that went over. I quit school, got a job as a waitress in the local Country Kitchen and moved into a tiny apartment at the bottom of the hill from my boyfriend’s dorm. When I paid my first month’s rent by myself I had a little party.

    In retrospect, it was not the smartest thing to quit school when you have a free ride and no student loans. There were many times I regretted it later, especially when I couldn’t get my foot in the door of my present company w/o that piece of paper. However, when I did decide that I wanted the degree, and put myself through school while working full time, it taught me an enormous amount about myself that I might not otherwise have known. And it certainly made me the person I am today, which I don’t regret at all!


    1. Sometimes I think the business of being in your twenties is to make big mistakes that you then can learn from. Sort of like the business of being a toddler is to catch every disease you can, building up a robust immune system. Other people can’t make our mistakes for us. We pretty much have to do that on our own and then figure things out. It sounds like you didn’t waste time, sherrilee, but got right down to it!


      1. True, true, Steve. However in the midst of my mistake-making, I also made several life-changing good decisions in my twenties. I chose the Twin Cities as a place I wanted to be, I found three life-long friends and I decided that I wanted to make myself an educated person.


      2. No, no, I didn’t take your words that way… but as a truism it did work for me. But we so often talk about the mistakes we make as younger versions of ourselves that I like reminding myself that lots of good comes from those younger selves too!


      3. I was raised in a home where the clear expectation was always that at 18 you were supposed to be on your own making your own decisions. It surprised me that my friends were not in homes like that. Maybe that’s why a WET PAINT sign does not make me want to check it out.


  18. I grew up in Iowa and never encountered the pump handle issue till I got to MN! Can it be that much colder here, or did I just run with the wrong crowd?

    I remember (perhaps I’ve told this) in First Grade being in my seat, last in the row, on a day when some kid had brought birthday cupcakes (back when everything didn’t have to be in a wrapper). The few leftover cupcakes were behind me, and all I remember was getting spanked by the teacher for using my finger to lick the frosting off of them. Now, I’ll bet no one said “Don’t eat the frosting off those with your finger”, but I think it counts. Other than that, I was a super compliant, people pleaser kind of kid, so my folks never thought to tell me NOT to do stuff, and for the most part they didn’t need to, until I went to college and the West Coast, but most of that stuff they never had to know.


  19. I think it might be easier to list the times I’ve actually done what I was told. I think I’ve said before that I have a rebellious nature – I really do. I don’t know why, exactly – maybe because I’m an Aries?

    I licked the iron church rail and did just about everything else I was told not to do. I’m still “creative” about how I do things I’m told to do at work. If I’m told to follow a specific procedure, I’m usually determined that I can create a better way. Sometimes it is better; sometimes I just give myself heartburn.


  20. It just occurred to me. I grew up south of here. South enough that sticking your tongue to something frozen outside was not a rite of passage. Maybe I need to try it tonight at home. W/ the glass of water handy. When no one is looking.


  21. And…. here is a list of our amusement park choices. Looks like all together we ARE an amusement park!
    VS: Roller Coaster
    tim: Bumper Cars
    Anna: Spinning Teacup (or Tilt-o-Whirl if corndogs are involved)
    Steve: Fun House of Mirrors
    Clyde: Funnel Cakes
    Renee: The Front Gate
    Krista: Merry Go Round
    Ben: Ring the Bell Sledgehammer
    BiB: Animal Barns
    MiG: Still pondering


    1. Sorry, I got so distracted looking for the cotton candy–
      I’m one of those free-fall rides, where you ride to the top and then quickly drop a couple of times.


      1. It’s very intense, but a little easier each day as he feels better and stronger. Gonna be a while though. We’re getting lots of help like meals and shoveling🙂 , and his siblings are coming over now to “spot” me for an hour or two. Who knew how much fun it is to go to Cub?


  22. This timing of this topic is so funny, as we have had bitterly cold weather earlier this week, and, no kidding, when it was at its coldest, I was thinking quite idly as I drove around town what it would be like to stick my tongue on the metal light poles I see along the streets. Isn’t that weird? or am I just weird?


  23. In junior high we were told not to wear short skirts because it would give the boys ideas. Most of the boys I knew were stupid so I ignored that advice.


      1. If the boys don’t get wild “ideas” unless the girls show a lot of leg, they aren’t making boys the way they used to. Skirt lengths run up and down, but hormone-drunk adolescent boys always have ideas they can’t discuss with their parents.


  24. Had a wonderful drive over from Barstow; what a range of scenery. Up and down and across and up and down and through the garlic smell and into our son’s fun neighborhood.


  25. Bonjour Baboon Amis:

    Sorry, so far all I know of French is Toilette and bonjour. No Rise and Shine.

    We are here with the requisite jet lag. Man, my sleep is messed up. But happy!

    Re: doing what I’m told not to–a great deal of life, including living in the “dangerous big city” where everyone “lives high on the hog” per my mother. She was under the impression that living in the city and living beyond one’s means were mutually inclusive. She did not realize that she sent my inner tightwad from the country to the city.

    After touring Paris yesterday on foot and figuring out how to get around, we are touring specific museums today, beginning with the Louvre. We bought the Paris Museum Pass, to honor our inner tightwads, so now we must get the use of them.

    Until tomorrow. You will probably find my entries a day behind.


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