Author Archives: Sarah Krupczak

USC Helenes Welcome Night Ceremony

The informant is a Junior at USC. She joined the USC Helenes during the Fall Semester of 2010 and was elected as Vice President for the 2012 calendar year term in office. As Vice President, she is responsible for new member recruitment.

As part of the USC Helenes myself, I was in attendance at Welcome Night. I’ll briefly describe the event. Welcome Night is one of the most celebrated traditional events held by the USC Helenes. It is our initiation ceremony for the incoming class of Rosebuds each semester and it is a night that most Helenes will never forget. Technically Welcome Night is a mandatory event, so every active member of the organization is present. General Members and the E-board arrived at the Mudd Hall of Philosophy Courtyard early so that they’d be ready once the Rosebuds arrive. The Rosebuds meet up with our Membership Chair at a different location. To get to the “mystery location” they stand alphabetically, single file, blind-folded and hold onto one another’s shoulders as they are guided across campus to the location. Once they arrived, still blind-folded, the E-board positioned the Rosebuds along the steps outside of Mudd Hall so that they faced the courtyard. Silently waiting, all of the General Members of Helenes hold lit candles. The Rosebuds open their eyes and the entire organization cheered for them. Then, the Vice President gave a quick welcoming speech and the Membership Chair read the name of each girl, presenting them in alphabetical order. Each Rosebud walked forward when her name was called, receiving a rose and a creed from the President and Vice President. After all of the girls were presented, the Membership Chair gave a short speech about this Rosebud class, why they are so special, and why they were selected as Helenes above all others this semester. Finally, the President and Vice President will lead the Rosebuds as well as all of the members in reciting the organization’s creed, after which the Rosebuds are considered officially initiated as Helenes.

After the event, I interviewed my informant, the Vice President, asking her some questions about why the event is performed and what it means to the organization:

Me: How does it feel to welcome this new group of Rosebuds after having been one yourself? Is the initiation more meaningful this time around? In what ways is the night different by being on the other end?

Informant: Well, I think Welcome Night is totally more meaningful in subsequent years—more so with every semester. This is saying something because if you ask any Rosebud, Welcome Night immediately holds great significance and importance to them. But as a returning member watching a new group of Rosebuds crossing over there is more experience, wisdom, and personal reflection that one can make. All I can think about is the amazing journey they’re about to start. I look at the Rosebuds and that they’re going to be making so many life-changing connections now. I know their journey within the Helenes is just beginning. This is why the night is so different, and in my opinion even more meaningful, from the other end…I’m so excited for the future of the organization and the girls who hold it up.

Me: Why do you think the Helenes continue to have this ceremony? What does it mean?

Informant: For one, it’s our formal initiation of members. Logistically, it’s kind of something we need to have. But maybe more importantly, tradition is an incredibly important component of Helenes. This is our most traditional event—it’s how we’ve initiated members for years and years.  It is a common experience that all Helenes share with one another and it’s the way in which we continue to honor one another and our organization.

Me: What’s the ceremony mean to you personally?

Informant: The Welcome Night ceremony is mostly about just that—being welcoming and welcomed. It’s mostly for our Rosebuds, an opportunity for us to shower them with love and show them how much this organization will mean to them.

Me: I’m just going to assume that you like this event, but why do you like it?

Informant: Haha, of course I like the tradition! I like it because I get to see ALL of my favorite people in one place…and because it allows me to reflect on this wonderful organization and opportunity that I’ve been given in life and reminds me to be grateful for these phenomenal women I’m surrounded by.

I agree with almost everything that the informant had to say. The ceremony is definitely a formal initiation, but it’s also a great way to remember my own time as a Rosebud and cherish all the memories from that time in my life. It really is an incredibly important time in Helenes membership, and it formulates what the rest of your experience in the organization will be. Also, something that my informant didn’t really mention is the fact that because everyone goes through their own Welcome Night ceremony, the event acts a mutual experience every girl in the organization can reminisce about and bond over. By traditionally enacting the ceremony, the organization is perpetuating those memories that will be shared by each member.

Black Hand Family Legend

The informant is my grandmother. She is Italian, but was born in America. Her parents, however, were born in Italy. Despite living in American, the entire family still had close ties to their Italian roots.

This story is relatively well-known within my family. Most of us know the general information, but my grandmother is the active bearer, the only one that actually tells the legend. I knew this would be a great element of folklore for this project so I brought my grandma to my house and asked her about it. What follows is her version of the legend:

Informant: Well this is a story my mom used to tell me. My whole family knew it, but we I don’t know if anyone actually knows if it’s true or not…Anyways the legend is that a distant relative of ours, I think it’s supposedly a second cousin maybe, it’s hard to remember now, but the story is that that family member was part of the Black Hand. And you know what the Black Hand was? It was a secret group around the beginning of World War I. It was responsible for the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand…and that started the war…So since my second cousin—relative—whatever you want to call him, was a member, we like to say that he could have started World War I. All the history books say it was a specific person, you know giving his name and everything, but you never know, they could be wrong…Maybe it really was some distant family member of ours that started the war.

Me: So what does this mean to our family? Why’s it important?

Informant: Uhm well I don’t know how important it is…but it makes me feel sort of famous a little bit. We can put our family on the larger scale of history. It’s not really a good thing though, to be related to an assassin, is it? (laughs)

Me: Is that why you keep telling it? Because it connects us to history?

Informant: Yes, I think so. It makes our family stand out a bit if I tell this story. People always get a kick out of it.

Me: So there’s an element of entertainment to it, too?

Informant: Oh, yes…of course. It’s a great story and it could be true. It always gets people laughing because it’s not something you usually hear in conversation. Probably no one wants to admit they could be related to the people who started World War I! What would people think of us? (chuckles)

This family legend is always a hit at family gatherings, like my grandmother said. However, while it is entertaining, I think she’s more accurate when she reveals that the story makes her feel more connected to the greater history of the world. It’s easy to get lost in the world, but when someone has close ties to some major historical event, it definitely gives them a place in the world. It’s a way for people to feel more involved in events that maybe they really didn’t play that big of a part in reality. It’s also a way for the family to feel more connected to each other, something my grandma didn’t bring up. If we all know this story, then it creates a more cohesive family unit. In a way, if you don’t know the legend, then you aren’t really a part of the family.

 

 

Fraternity Handshake

In college, the informant was a member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He joined in his sophomore year (2007-2008).

I first learned about this secret fraternity handshake on my brother’s birthday (Feb. 12). We were at our house in Pasadena for a quiet dinner celebration and I happened to mention that I was collecting folklore for a class project. I asked him if he had any special rituals or ceremonies from his fraternity and he said that they had a secret handshake. He didn’t seem too worried about letting me in on the secret so I asked him more about it. He described the handshake to me, but I really couldn’t picture it. Then, he told me to shake hands with him. I reached my hand out, and he shook it, but left his pinky finger out of the grip, folded under the clasped hands. I followed his example, shaking his hand without using my pinky. This is the Delta Upsilon secret handshake. I then proceeded to ask him some questions regarding the use of the handshake, which I recorded in short hand below:

Me: When would you use the handshake?

Informant: Um, well we first had to learn it during out pledge semester. Any time we came to the house for an event, we would have to shake hands like this with the active members.

Me: So the handshake is passed down from active members to new pledges?

Informant: Yeah.

Me: What about after pledging? Do you use the handshake at all?

Informant: Sometimes we’d use it as official frat events, but pretty much during rush week and stuff.

Me: Does it have any special significance for the fraternity members?

Informant: Not really, except for the fact that it shows you’re part of the frat.

Me: So it separates members from non-members?

Informant: Yeah pretty much.

Me: And it’s unique to Delta Upsilon?

Informant: Yeah, or at least I assume it is. Since I’m not a part of another frat, I don’t know what their handshakes are, or even if they have them.

Me: Are there any other reasons the frat has a secret handshake?

Informant: Uhhnn…not that I can think of.

From this brief conversation, I saw that the main function of having a secret handshake is to distinguish fraternity members from outsiders. In this way, the handshake creates a binary of insider versus outsider. Only a member of Delta Upsilon knows the handshake and those outside the fraternity are left out. The handshake works to bind people together through common fraternity knowledge. Also, although the informant did not mention this, it seems to me that the handshake could also possibly be used outside of the fraternity setting, in the real world, to recognize brothers from other chapters of Delta Upsilon.

Wine Cellar Initiation: Coming of Age Ritual

The informant is Italian, on her mother’s side, and still retains close ties to her Italian roots. She was born in Pennsylvania, where she spent most of her childhood.

I interviewed the informant on pieces of folklore that she might have experienced in her life. I asked her if she could think of anything in her life that could be considered folklore, any family legends, jokes, or rites of passage. She said she thought she might have something that could be considered a rite of passage ritual, but she wasn’t sure. I told her to tell me anyways. The ritual she described is recorded below:

“I was born in Vestaburg, Pennsylvania, where most of my extended family lived too. My grandfather had a wine cellar—he made wine. All of his grandkids—and his kids—weren’t allowed in the wine cellar. But around 16 or so, he would invite them down to the wine cellar for a glass of wine and this was kinda like when they were considered to be an adult.”

I then asked her some questions about this coming of age ritual.

Me: Did everyone in the family go through this, then?

Informant: All the kids did, my grandfather’s kids—my parents—and then us grandkids too.

Me: So this was kind of a big deal right?

Informant: Well, yeah, but mostly just because we were finally allowed into the wine cellar. I don’t think my cousins or me and my brother really cared about the wine at all.

Me: Was there any other aspect of importance placed on this ritual? Maybe something you get from looking back on it?

Informant: It made us kids feel special. Certainly, after being admitted into the wine cellar, we felt more grown-up and we thought that we finally had our grandfather’s approval.

Me: Approval of what?

Informant: Well, of basically life. We saw being allowed in the wine cellar as his recognition that we were finally becoming something—somebody—worthwhile.

Me: Yeah, so this ritual was mostly about gaining approval and recognition of worth?

Informant: Exactly.

Me: Do you still remember it because it was such a big part of your growing up?

Teresa: I think so. It was such a big deal in the family that I think it would be very hard to forget.

After learning about this ritual, I see it in the same way my informant does. It is very much a coming of age ritual, when a child is deemed worthy of becoming an adult. It is also interesting because it is closely tied to the fact that her family is Italian. What’s more appropriate for an Italian than being allowed to enter the family wine cellar on the brink of adulthood? Perhaps this is another reason why this ritual was performed: it allowed an Italian American family to stay close to their Italian roots.

Ernst & Young LLP Retirement Celebration

The informant worked as a CPA-Partner for Ernst & Young LLP and just recently retired in January. He had been working there for thirty-one years, since he graduated college in 1980.

The informant just recently retired at the beginning of January so I thought he would have some good Ernst & Young retirement folklore. He described to me the retirement party thrown by only the other Partners for a retiring Partner. These retirement parties always take place at the California Club in down town Los Angeles and only the Partners of the firm are allowed to attend. All the Partners gather at this party and honor the retiring Partner. Each Partner, if he or she wishes, says something about the retiree, something they really valued in him or appreciated from years of dedicated work. Almost everyone expresses how much they will miss the retiree, and how much he made an impact on the office. It is traditional to provide the retiree with a gift of some kind. The informant received a silver Tiffany serving platter. In return, the retiree usually provides those honoring him with a little token of some kind. My informant assembled a booklet of some of his photographs with inspirational messages on how to live a successful life. At the end of the evening, the retiree is toasted and gives a speech to the other Partners, thanking them for their hard work and support over the years. After this, the Partners slowly trickle out, congratulating the retiree as they depart. After the informant described the party, I followed up with some questions about this experience.

Me: After working at a company so long, what does this little retirement ritual mean to you?

Informant: It was uh, important to be recognized for my contributions to my fellow Partners.

Me: Does Ernst & Young LLP do this type of thing for everyone?

Informant: For all the retiring Partners there are variations of a type of recognition event. The gifts vary and there are some differences in the toasts depending on the particular person.

Me: Why do you remember this ceremony of sorts? Why do you like it?

Informant: Because all my friends were there, and they all had such nice, appreciative things to say. Ha ha, it’s nice to hear.

Me: Why does the company do this for each retiring Partner?

Terry: Because they want to maintain a good relationship with the retiring Partners because it could mean future business for the firm. And it’s a good chance to get all the Partners together from the office. When you celebrate success, it breeds success.

These retirement dinners seem to be an important way of celebrating many years of hard work. Essentially, I understood this little ritual to be about acknowledging all the effort an individual has put into their work and recognizing the fact that it has paid off. The dinners are a way of celebrating hard work, but also, when it’s someone like my informant who had worked there for thirty years, celebrating a type of life. It’s a gathering of people who aren’t just co-workers but friends. It’s a way to pleasantly shut the door on one time in a person’s life and open another new and exciting one.

 

Pig Bear Legend and Ritual

The informant is 21 years old. She’s Sri Lankan and now attends the University of San Francisco. She entered seventh grade at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada in 2003 and graduated in 2009. During seventh grade, she (along with the rest of the class) was divided into groups to be mentored by a senior Peer Counselor throughout the year. These Peer Counselors accompanied the informant’s class on the annual class trip to Big Bear at the start of the year.

The informant was home for spring break this week and I took the advantage of interviewing her for this folklore collection project. She came to my house and I asked her to briefly describe the legend of the “Pig Bear” that is well known to every student at Flintridge Prep and has been passed from senior class to seventh graders for years. This is what she told me:

Informant: At night, they (the Peer Counselors) told us that we had to stay in our cabins at night because of the uh legend of the Pig Bear. It was a monster half pig half bear or maybe even just a monster I’m not sure…that came out to eat children or the children would never be seen again…So there were some of us that didn’t believe in the Pig Bear and were joking about it and once we were getting into bed there were these huge BANG BANG BANGs on all the doors and screaming in the distance…so we all ran out to see what happened. We thought it was the Pig Bears, come to get us, but it turns out that the seniors went around doing it, banging on doors and throwing things. But we were ok…ended up laughing about it after, but it was scary at first.

Me: Why do you remember this?

Informant: Because it was part of the tradition of the seventh grade trip and you don’t…it’s something that you remember when someone asks about the trip because it’s been passed down through the grades…I’ve even mentioned it to random college friends.

Me: Why do like it?

Informant: It makes the trip more exciting, more than just a school trip…it’s got a little bit of the scary story feel. The Pig Bear feel made it extra fun.

Me: Why do you think they do this every year?

Informant: It’s a rite of passage kinda…because for the seventh graders it’s a chance to bond over something funny and spooky and for the seniors, they already went through it so they can make it come alive for the baby classes.

As the informant says, the importance of the legend appears to lie in the fact that it’s closely associated with the rite of passage of officially becoming a seventh grader at Flintridge Prep. The legend binds the class together as they experience terror upon it’s supposed re-enactment, and then relief that it ends up being just a trick. Because the Pig Bear legend re-enactment takes place at the beginning of the year, it also serves as a way to initiate the new seventh graders into life at Prep. The seniors pass on this piece of school folklore and eventually, the seventh graders will grow up and have their chance to pass it on, too.

Finnish Lutheran Saying

The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota and is of Swedish and Finnish decent. She was raised as a Lutheran but converted to Catholicism when she got married.

I interviewed the informant during Easter Brunch. She gave me a piece of family folk speech:

“‘No one goes to heaven except a Finnish Lutheran.’” This was something my grandmother used to say all the time. Eventually my mother and my aunt picked it up, too—my aunt especially. She used to tell me this all the time. She really believed that Finnish Lutherans were the only ones to go to heaven so when I converted to Catholicism, this was a big issue for everyone. My aunt thought I had damned myself! I never really believed that kind of stuff, but I think it was such a big deal in the family because they really identified themselves as Finnish Lutherans. They considered themselves a part of that close-knit community and took religion very seriously.”

This is a really interesting piece of folk speech, particularly because it appears that the informant’s family really did believe it and placed a lot of faith in it. Even though my informant didn’t necessarily believe in it herself, she still felt the effects of the belief when she converted to Catholicism. While she didn’t mention this specifically, this piece of folklore could also have been her family’s way of instilling a type of fear in the children, trying to get them to be good and to abide by religious doctrine.

Long Ear Lobes, Long Life: Vietnamese Belief

The informant is a 20 year old, Vietnamese American female. She is a junior at the University of Southern California, but was born in Boston, MA. Both her parents are Vietnamese and were born in Vietnam.

the informant described a particular folk belief in Vietnam where people think that if a person has long earlobes, then he or she will have a long life. I asked her where she thought this belief came from and while she wasn’t certain, she thought it might have to do with the Buddha, who is always depicted as having very long, stretched out earlobes and who is considered to be somewhat of an immortal or at least transcendental figure. This made sense to me because it was what I immediately thought of when I first heard this particular folk belief. The informant also made the point that this approach to the belief was indeed plausible because Buddhism is the main religion in Vietnam.

Five Falls makes a real Rider: Occupational Folklore

The informant is a Caucasian female, 50 years old. She is a horse trainer at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and has been riding horses since she was 5 years old. I’ve been riding under her instruction for 12 years.

I first heard this piece of folk speech on Saturday, January 28, 2012 during my horseback riding lesson. That day, I was riding a different horse and I was not quite sure how it was going to act. I was heading out to the riding arena when the horse spooked at something, reared up, and rolled over. I fell off before the horse landed on me, and I wasn’t seriously hurt. My trainer caught the horse and asked me if I was alright. When I said I was fine, she patted me on the shoulder and proceeded to congratulate me. I was confused until she explained that since this was my fifth fall, I was a real rider now. This seemed like a good piece of folklore so I recorded the conversation on my phone. This is the conversation from the moment of congratulation:

Informant: Ha ha…well finally! You’re a real rider now!

Me: Heh, why now?

Informant: Five falls…haven’t you ever heard that five falls makes you a real rider?

Me: No…

Informant: Well now you can tell everyone you’re a true rider—and it only took you 12 years haha!

Me: Have you fallen off five times?

Informant: Yeah…probably more actually.

Me: When did you become a “real rider” then?

Informant: …uhmmm…I think I was maybe nine or ten—no I was 11 because it happened when I’d just gotten a new pony, which was probably the biggest pain in the ass pony I’ve ever ridden. My mom and I were riding on the trails around our house and this pony decided to just take off, I mean he was really galloping along and I couldn’t stop him. He made a really quick turn but my body kinda kept going straight. It wasn’t too bad a fall, but it was my fifth. My mom caught the pony and came back to me, laughing, telling me I was a real grown up rider now ha ha ha.

Me: So is this like something everyone in the horse world knows?

Informant: Pretty much…there are different numbers that people go by. Sometimes it’s two falls, but most everyone I know says five.

Me: But why five?

Informant: Uh I don’t know really. That’s what my mom always told me and my sisters. She heard it from my grandpa when she was learning to ride.

Me: So the fifth fall is kinda a big deal?

Informant: Sorta…nothing special happens when you fall off the fifth time, like you don’t suddenly become a champion rider. But it’s kinda something to brag about because it’s a way to measure improvement as a rider. The longer you’ve been riding, the more difficult things you’re learning so the chances of falling off get bigger.

For being part of the equestrian world for so long, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this saying before. It makes sense though, because I had not fallen off five times yet. Personally, I found this bit of folklore really interesting. Finally having fallen off five times, and consequently hearing the saying, I feel more connected to the horse world. I definitely feel like I’m in the know, now. I also agree with much of what my trainer said about it being a way to show others that you are an accomplished rider.

“Thunderstruck” Drinking Game

The informant (21) is a Junior at USC. She transferred to USC for her sophomore year, and before that, spent her freshman year at Bennington College in Vermont.

The informant is my roommate and she wanted to contribute a drinking game to my folklore collection. This particular game is called Thunderstruck. Here’s what she told me about playing the game:

“It’s called Thunderstruck and you play Thunderstruck by AC/DC. Every time the song says thunder, start drinking and then it’s a waterfall, in that you start then the next person continues until everyone is doing it. You end when it says thunder the next time. I learned it in a hippie commune on top of a hill in Vermont freshman year (Bennington College). It gets the job done quickly and I also enjoy AC/DC, so it’s the ultimate combination!”

I’ve never played this particular game, but I do know the AC/DC song and I agree that this game would definitely get people drunk fast. I found it interesting that my informant learned this game in Vermont, at her small liberal arts college that she so affectionately calls “a hippie commune on top of a hill.” This location makes sense because if the school is as dedicated to hipster lifestyle as she claims, then the song choice would probably be appropriate. I don’t think it would be as popular at USC because I don’t know how many people here actually listen to AC/DC.

 

Annotation:

The “Thunderstruck” drinking game also shows up on the website eHow.com. The entry provides people with instructions on how to play the game. This description of the game differs from my informant’s in the fact that if someone fails to take a drink when they hear the word “thunder,” then they are out, and the game keeps going until there’s a winner.

Mccoy, Holly. “How to Play the Drinking Game Thunder.” eHow.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.ehow.com/how_2365140_play-drinking-game-thunder.html>.