the paper fortune teller

I don’t know about you, but I made zillions of little folded paper fortune tellers as a kid. Filled with inside jokes, translated into a secret language that no one else could possibly understand. A play staple for little girls on the playgrounds for generations.

First introduced in the U.S. in 1928, this clever little origami envelope has been known by many names and uses; Cootie Catcher, Chatterbox, Salt cellar, and Whirlybird.

This week, Ava came home from school and wanted to make one. When I told the girls I made paper fortune tellers too when I was a kid, Mia replied, “Oh, like in the olden days?”

Shaking my head, I retorted, “Yes, like in the olden days.”

I was making dinner, so Ava did what any self-respecting eight year old would do. She googled how to make one. A peppy tween girl appeared, who of course, KNOWS EVERYTHING. When I heard the video begin, I thought, “This is not acceptable!”

So, I walked in, picked up a piece of paper, and with only my muscle memory guiding the way, I folded one and handed it over to Ava.


Us old folks still got it.

I felt better after showing up a twelve-year-old, so Ava and I sat down and made several more together.

Fold by fold.

She labeled the outside triangles with colored pens. Green. Pink. Purple. Blue. She filled the inside triangles with numbers. 1, 4, 7, 11, 15, 33, 55, 100. I later recommended she try a lower set of numbers to make the game go faster because flipping it back and forth 100 times gets tiring, you know. Then she filled the tiny most inside triangles with the fortunes. Mostly happy ones and of course a few dreaded BAD fortunes.

Full of mystical tellings and a never-ending source of surprise endings, I suppose Ava and her friends play fortune-teller on the play ground. Giggling at the silly outcomes, ewwwwing loudly at the bad ones, while swooning over puppy love soothsaying.

Here are some of the fortunes Ava wrote:

  • You will find new friends
  • You will fall in love
  • Your dreams will always come true
  • You will be happy forever
  • We will all be best friends
  • You will have creepy and bad dreams
  • Monsters will haunt you forever
  • Your poop will be green

Fold by fold.

Even with all the modern-day distractions, paper fortune tellers are as much fun for my girls as they were for me, in the olden days.

The simplicity of a paper fortune-teller reminded me that so much of good stuff lives on today. 

Sprinkler running, hide and go seeking, shell collecting, bug catching, flower picking, ghost story telling, bubble blowing, and grassy hill rolling. Being a kid, for all it’s changes and challenges, is still deeply rooted in tradition.

Fold by fold.


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