Appalachia children Games



“We made what we called a “zizzer” out of a big two hole button and a strang. To make one, put a end of the thread through each one a the holes, an’en tie it in a hard knot, leaving about a ten inch loop a strang on each side of the button.

Loop the thread over each of your thumbs, a-keepin’ the button in the middle. Then brang your hands about six inches apart to give some slack in the strang, and swing the’ button around and around, a-twistin’ up the’ thread. Slowly bring your hands a part, then pull harder and faster, and this puts tension on the thread and starts the button to spinnin’ as the thread untwists.

Right when the thread jist about comes untwisted, start to giving it slack again. The button keeps on a-spinnin’ and twists it up again. You can do this over and over without having to rewind, just by pullin’ your hands apart an’en easin’ ’em back torge each other. The thang is, you can ease that button down to jist barely tetch sump’m solid as it spins, and it makes the dangdest whinin’ racket you ever hyerd, “zzizz, zzizz, zzizz.” And hits’a real loud, high-pitched racket if somebody holds out a sheet of paper good and tight for you to make it zizz against. Sounds like a si-rene (siren) on the poleece car.”

Gratitude for Shoes – Cleo Hicks Williams


One of my favorite memories of spending time with Pap’s mother, who I called Mamaw, was her making me a zizzer. I believe Paul was there to and that she made both of us one. I kept mine for years, but I don’t have it today, although I wish I did.


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  • Reply
    August 19, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    We made those often as kids, but I don’t recall what we called them. Maybe I’ll ask my brothers if they remember!

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    August 19, 2018 at 3:30 am

    tipper I loved when my mom would make us one of those….those handmade things are what I cherish the most..i come from a family of 7 children, and mom was always finding things to keep us occupied..she made up tons of little squares with a letter on it, and would spell out a word, and then shake the letters up and we had to figure out what the word was..that was my favorite thing to do..and she could spell harder words for the older kids…thanks so much for sharing memories…sending big ladybug hugs

    • Reply
      Mary Lou McKillip
      August 19, 2018 at 3:13 pm

      Oh your story on making mud pies brought back so much memories. I used to make mud pies only I called them Gimgerbreaf Boys. Mother made me ginger bread boys so one day I made the boys out mud. Mother had a big platter full of ginger bread boys. I went to the kitchen and saw thosed I raced outside and got one of my mud boys and replaced it for a good ginger bread boy. Sneakie wasn’t I

  • Reply
    August 18, 2018 at 1:58 am

    I recall those but I didn’t know they had a name. I also remember the cookie tins with all the magical variety of buttons. Also playing games with strings, I think one was cat’s cradle.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 17, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    My three boxes underneath the comment section are always blank. Months ago I had a power outage and it didn’t remember. I start to type my name, and e-mail in and it fills in the rest. I do not have a Website, so I just leave blank or type in “none”. What is happening?
    It use to show me what I typed in and said “waiting on the author to check me out, in case I said a Bad Word or something.” Yesterday, I commented and it was gone, so I re-did what I remembered. …Ken

    • Reply
      aw griff
      August 17, 2018 at 8:52 pm

      Ken, mine done the same thing when I posted the other day and still stays blank just like yours.

    • Reply
      August 17, 2018 at 11:34 pm

      Ken, this is Gigi. Mine is doing the same thing. I was wondering what happen.

    • Reply
      August 18, 2018 at 8:10 am

      Ken, AW, and Gigi: A recent WordPress update caused the issue with the boxes not keeping your information. There isn’t anything I can do about it, but I’ve heard the WordPress folks are aware of the issue and are trying to fix it. Hopefully the next update will set the comment issue back to normal. Sorry for the trouble!

      • Reply
        August 20, 2018 at 11:11 am

        Thanks Tipper.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    August 17, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    I make them out of masonite that I cut out with a 2 inch hole saw. The grand kids love them. The size makes for a good arm workout.
    When I was a teenager I worked at the shirt plant doing odd jobs. I can remember 2 large wooden crates filled with loose buttons and stored in an old house. These were swept off the floor or leftovers. I wonder when they were sent to a landfill.

    Also check out for the button collection with the carvings.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 17, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Can’t remember calling them zizzers…however we made them…Back in the forties and early fifties, Mama had a whole jarful of large buttons which were popular in the twenties and thirties…I think Dad showed us how to make them…
    Anyhow, I still remember the pain when one of those mischievous brothers come up behind me and turned it loose in my long hair…He finally got a spankin’ for doing so…yes, it hurt…
    Loved this post today…

  • Reply
    August 17, 2018 at 11:52 am

    I had almost forgotten some of the toys mentioned by the posters. It brought to mind such an interesting toy my uncle brought home, and he would play it for all who visited. It was a little wooden man dancing a jig on the end of a board. Others have probably seen many, but that was the only one I ever saw, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I need to try to make a Zizzer, and I just bet children would enjoy that right today.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 17, 2018 at 11:30 am

    A few years ago you posted this and I made one. After playing with it almost all day, I put it up where I could find it easily. I ain’t seen it since. …Ken

  • Reply
    Dana Wall
    August 17, 2018 at 11:24 am

    My Iowa grandmother had a box of saved buttons. When we visited, she got them out for my sister and me. We each picked a large button, and Gramma made those toys for us. I hadn’t thought of them for many decades before we moved here to Arizona in 2003. A local hummingbird visited our feeder regularly, and one day when it was empty, the bird flew within inches of where I sat on the patio and hung there in front of my face for a few seconds before flying back to the empty feeder. I got the message.

    The sound his whirring wings made immediately brought those buttons-on-a -string to mind. We named the bird “Buzz,” and he and his descendants still whirrr like a button on a string when they visit.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    August 17, 2018 at 11:04 am

    We called them “buzzers”. Loved them!

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    August 17, 2018 at 10:32 am

    I made and played with those, but never knew they had a name! When I was little, Mama strung a big needle with heavy thread and let me string all the buttons in her big blue tin button box. Great fun!

  • Reply
    August 17, 2018 at 10:21 am

    I remember them. My dad made us one and i played and played with it. That was so much fun. The noise it made and going up and the string. I’m going to have to make one of those for my grandsons. Thanks Tipper.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    August 17, 2018 at 9:40 am

    My Mom made those for us and we had so much fun with them. I haven’t thought about them in years, I guess I am going to have to make one !

  • Reply
    Marshall Reagan
    August 17, 2018 at 9:37 am

    way back then if a shirt or something wore out , they kept the buttons
    or the zipper if it was a good one and if you lost a button you would
    look to find one as close to the others as possible. my mama had a cigar
    box full that we looked through.

  • Reply
    August 17, 2018 at 8:59 am

    We made them all the time(in Oklahoma). Just don’t get it next to your hair!!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 17, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Tipper–This is a prime example of something which was commonplace two generations ago; namely, kids playing with homemade toys. All sorts of things come to mind. You mentioned stilts a couple of days ago. I think I may have responded and mentioned slingshots and whimmy diddles. To those could be added bows and arrows, Jacob’s ladders, sawmill slabs for baseball bats, skipping rocks, use of corn stalks to make a sort of primitive atlatl to throw rocks, can poles for fishing (with lead tops from roofing nails for sinkers), patched inner tubes to float in creeks, spears, rabbit boxes (traps), bird traps (box propped up with a stick with bait underneath), and much more. There was one common characteristic of all these things–they cost little or nothing.

    Jim Casada

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      August 17, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      We used to take a good dry corncob and put a headless nail in one end…take three medium sized chicken feathers and poke a hole and glue in…that is if we couldn’t get them to go in the softer pith …We made a dart board and hung up on a building outside…marking the points inside the rings…great fun…If this got boring we just tossed the across lines drawn on the lawn with a stick…These were early LAWN DARTS…that they eventually banded because of the danger around the eighties…I think it was…PS…We also rode in the back of pick-up trucks…oooooh, and without a seatbelt…we were and are tougher than todays kiddos…..we survived mumbly peg, homemade bows and arrows, homemade darts…etc…
      Loved you comment Jim….
      PS…Me and my brothers waited about all day for some snarky noisy English sparrows and Starlings…with the string, stick and box…never did catch one of those boogers…We did have great fun telling a young naïve neighbor to go get their Mothers big salt shaker and sprinkle salt on their tails and they would fall over…That child chased birds all day with his Mama’s salt shaker…..while we snickered and laughed behind his sweet little back…lol

  • Reply
    Sallie Swor
    August 17, 2018 at 8:56 am

    My sister, now 85, a retired 4-H Club agent, loves to share these kinds of toys and past-times at festivals and events in TN. She has collected several hundred examples of hand-made toys, many from other countries she has visited. The fun and memories the button on a string or a simple loop of string making cat’s cradle, Jacob’s ladder, cup and saucer and many other string figures that are brought back to others makes it well worth her volunteer time. Those learning to make string figures for the first time can range in age from the very young to quite old. Check your library for books that can lead to hours of fun!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 17, 2018 at 8:55 am

    Zizzers and girls with long hair don’t get along too good together. Do you know how quickly one of them things can suck up a two foot strand of hair? About a ¼ of a second! Believe me I’ve seen it happen. And I got my butt beat for it too.

    • Reply
      Wanda Devers
      August 17, 2018 at 11:03 am

      Yes! It was a hazard, but they were a lot of fun to play with.

  • Reply
    August 17, 2018 at 8:49 am

    A variety of buttons saved in a Mason jar or an empty thread spool could entertain for hours on end.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 17, 2018 at 8:33 am

    I made and played with many a zizzer and received many a whipping since mine seemed to find their way into a sister’s hair. This created a tangle which sometimes had to be cut out by Mama, she wasn’t happy with this situation and explained it to me with a switch.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 17, 2018 at 7:53 am

    I don’t recall a zizzer, either by that name or another. I’d like to hear one sometime. Sounds like it would make some very interesting sound effects.

    Anybody know how to make a bull roarer? I worked with some fellas who made one in a fire camp and had the whole camp guessing what that terrible noise was.

    • Reply
      Garry Ballard
      August 25, 2020 at 10:41 pm

      A bull roarer was common in Australia when I was a boy. It’s an old Aboriginal means of communication, they’d stand on a hill and get them going and the sound would carry for miles. We’d make them out of an old wooden school rule. Recently made some for my grandkids.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 17, 2018 at 7:31 am

    I remember them well. We had a lot of fun with a piece of string. We could wind it around our fingers and make a birds nest and entertain ourselves for hours. Amazing how little it took for us to be happy.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A. Paul
    August 17, 2018 at 7:21 am

    It is amazing to me what fun these jomemade toys were and what joy the children got from them. So much better yhan the $50.00 toy they get today that breaks when they play with it

  • Reply
    Cindy Pressley
    August 17, 2018 at 6:49 am

    I had one of those, Tip, but I don’t remember where I got it or who gave it to me. It was a fun thing to play with.

  • Reply
    August 17, 2018 at 5:36 am

    My Mamaw made me one when I was little, she lived in a trailer out beside us and I spent a lot of time with her, she loved to sew and make her on dresses, and she had a lot of buttons and thread and material.

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