Author Archives: Ellen Eastaugh

Eenie Meanie

Eenie meanie miney mo

Catch a tiger by his toe

If he hollers make him pay

20 (or 50) dollars every day

My mother says to pick the very best one are you are not it

 

The informant told me this version of the familiar counting rhyme. She says that she used this rhyme in elementary school and with her sister and family friends. She says that she has also heard other versions, but that this was the one most common for her. The informant claimed that this rhyme brought back memories of childhood and the importance of decision making and fairness that accompanied it.

When she told me this version, I was startled by the change in the third line. I was expecting: If he hollers, let him go, eenie meanie miney mo. We discussed the differences between our two versions, possibly resulting from the fact that we grew up in different parts of the country. I think her version is more dark and harsh, making the tiger pay for his pain. Also, in the version I grew up with, the last part of the rhyme goes: my mother told me to pick the very best one and it is you. The rhyme I grew up with has a more affirmative ending, instead of “not you”. When I was a kid, fairness between me and my two sisters was very important, as I’m sure it was for other kids that age. Thus, this rhyme and others like it were used to create an illusion of fairness via randomness. However, when I was a little bit older, I realized that the outcome of the rhyme depends on who you start with, and thus it is not entirely random.

Waltzing Matilda

Once a jolly swagman camped out by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang and he sang as he waited by the billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang and he sang as he waited by the billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda is a famous Australian folksong from the outback about a workman sitting by the riverbed. This version from the informant is much shorter than some other versions. However, this change is what makes it folklore. The song was “originally” written by A.B. Patterson, but since then it has been appropriated by may people and turned into a folksong. The song is held dearly in Australia. They have even created a Waltzing Matilda Centre and a Waltzing Matilda day. (http://www.matildacentre.com.au) I found another longer version of the song on this website as well, at http://www.matildacentre.com.au/the-song.

The informant learned this Australian folksong back home in primary school and when growing up. He can’t remember the first time he heard it. However, this shorter version is all he remembers. When he moved to America, he brought this folksong with him and taught it to his children and wife. Thus, he spread the song across the globe. The informant says that the song means a lot to him, because it reminds him of his home and his heritage. There isn’t much in America that celebrates Australian culture, so little ditties like this one serve to reaffirm his Australian roots. Furthermore, he says that the song is pleasant to sing and to listen to. It has a cheerful tone.

I also like this song, and I have heard it before. It’s fun to sing. I looked up the song online and was surprised to find the the real meaning is not about a man by a river singing to his lover, Matilda, like I originally thought. Instead, Matilda refers to a specific type of bag, and the song is about a man who hunts a sheep and then drowns himself to avoid being arrested. (http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858856415/) However, I still like the song and it still reminds me of my ties to Australia. There are people who assert that the song is a protest song against the law, and others who believe that it is just a song with a sad narrative. I think it could probably be both, because even if it wasn’t written with protest in mind, people could still appropriate it as a song of protest. I also think it’s interesting that such a sad and graphic song is regarded so highly by the Australian population. It shows the power of romantic nationalism.

 

The Tour de Franzia

“The Tour de Franzia” is a spinoff of “Le Tour de France”. In the informant’s words: “You bike with a bag of Franzia and see where the night takes you”. Franzia is a cheap wine that usually comes in a box, produced by The Wine Group. The idea is to get drunk off wine while biking and to have an adventure.

The informant first heard about The Tour de Franzia from a female friend at his old college. They were sitting in a dorm with a group of other students “taking shots of Sobieseski and listening to Cake”, and she was telling him about how she broke her wrist. She and her family would go to their summer house on Cape Cod every year, and all the adults and older kids would do the Tour de Franzia. It was a rural tradition. But the last time, she had broken her wrist. The informant claims that he would love to try the Tour de Franzia, despite the girl’s broken wrist account. The informant enjoys drinking alcohol and trying new things for fun, and he thinks that this tradition sounds like a blast.

The Tour de Franzia is a rural tradition, probably because there are less clubs and bars in rural areas, unlike Los Angeles, so the locals have to be more creative with their nighttime adventures and drinking. Furthermore, the tradition centers around bringing people, adults and older kids, together. It is a fun group activity. I feel like smaller towns celebrate connections between family and friends because they share common ties to a place.In contrast, Los Angeles is full of immigrants from both in and out of the country, and there aren’t big familial connections to be celebrated.  However, the tradition has been appropriated by college students, such as the informant. This is because college students enjoy drinking, especially when it is cheap, and going on fun/dangerous adventures. I don’t think I would try this particular tradition, but I would be willing to lend a helmet to someone who would. It is an interesting combination of a material brand, Franzia wine, and a folk tradition.

 

Muffin Joke

“Two muffins are sitting in an oven. One muffin turns to the other muffin and says, ‘Does it feel hot in here to you?’ And the other muffin says, ‘Whoa, a talking muffin!'”

The informant learned this simple joke two years ago from her little sister. They were taking a road trip with her family, and three of her little sisters were sharing jokes among themselves. This is one she remembers. Telling the joke made the informant giggle, so she clearly still finds it funny. The joke is silly, doesn’t follow classic narrative rules, and the ending is unexpected, making it a successful joke. The informant says this is one of her go-to jokes, because she doesn’t know many good ones. The joke brings back good memories for the informant, because she loves her family and road trips.

I thought the joke was pretty funny, although I have heard it before. Furthermore, it’s not a joke only kids would find funny, but college students and adults as well. The humor in this joke is not age specific, it’s one everyone can appreciate. It relies on surprise and contradiction, two things that often can make people laugh. Someone else was in the room while the interview took place, and he cracked up for two minutes after hearing the joke. I guess he had never heard it before. I don’t think it mirrors any major themes in American culture. Muffins are a tasty and common breakfast snack. They remind me of baking yogurt muffins for a home-sciences class in middle school. I can’t find any other major connections to society other than that. I think it’s mainly just a silly, humorous joke.

 

Gang Initiation

“There’s an urban legend in Detroit, Michigan. To join a gang you have to drive around with your lights off and then the first person who flashes their lights at you to turn your lights on, you have to follow them and kill them.”

The informant told me about this initiation ritual at the very end of our interview. He said that he heard it from his brother, who is also from Detroit. The informant grew up in a suburb outside of Detroit. He likes to think of Detroit as tough and dirty. This legend of a gang initiation ritual reinforces this image of the city. The informant said that he finds the idea of randomly killing a stranger terrifying. However, he still likes to tell the tale of the ritual.

I think this process for initiating gang members is extremely harsh. I don’t know why anyone would participate in such an inhumane practice. However, it is a little romantically horrible; it could take place in a serial killer tv show or a scary novel. I have heard of similar gang initiation practices. In fact, another informant informed me that there is the exact same ritual here in Los Angeles. It makes me more wary of flashing my lights at people if they don’t have their lights on, which I do regularly when I drive. Therefore, the informant’s use of this tale to characterize Detroit as harsh is a little off target, because it isn’t unique to Detroit. Culture is defined by its folklore, from both within and outside of it. The informant used the folklore to define Detroit culture, even though it isn’t all of the culture of Detroit and it doesn’t belong only to Detroit. The ritual is terrifying and reflects how harsh and scary gangs can be.

Backseat Horror Story

“A guy is driving on the road at night, and someone behind him keeps honking and flashing his brights. So the guy keeps turning around like what the fuck? So eventually he pulls over and the car pulls over and they get out and the guy’s like, ‘What the fuck?’ And the other guy’s like, ‘Dude, there was a guy standing in your backseat with a knife but every time I honked or flashed my brights he ducked down and you just never saw him.’ So they checked the backseat and there was a bloodstain on the ground and the guy was gone.”

The informant learned this legend from friends at camp when he was much younger. The informant was convinced that he didn’t know any folklore, so I asked him if he knew any classic scary stories, and this is what he told me. He kept trying to tell me personal anecdotes which, as I had to explain to him, were not actually folklore. He told this scary story very quickly and without much detail, because I think he found it boring and over-told. He was surprised that I had never heard the tale before. It is very similar to many of the scary stories I’ve heard, with a serial killer and an unwitting victim. The informant used to tell this story along side those similar stories at sleepovers and around the campfire. He hasn’t told it in a long time.

I have never been a big fan of scary stories; I used to plug my ears when my friends told them. Thus, I don’t know very many. However, I did not find this one very scary, probably because the informant told it in a hurried way and didn’t build any suspense. Most scary stories have an element of suspense, drawing out the story and keeping the reader from knowing what will happen, that keep listeners at the edge of their seats. This story is relatively recent, because it takes place on a road with cars that have high and low beams. It could even take place yesterday. I’m a little confused by the ending. It doesn’t make sense that the  guy waited so long in the backseat with a knife only to flee last minute. Also, I don’t know why there would be a bloodstain on the floor if he hadn’t killed anyone. I think the ending is an attempt to quickly wrap up the story and make it scary. It’s almost scarier knowing that there was someone behind you with a knife, even though he’s now gone, rather than the guy actually killing the man. The former gives me goosebumps, the latter is more shocking.

Irish Pub Joke

“So my family’s Irish and so my dad knows a bunch of Irish shit that he brushed up on when we went to Ireland. So he told this joke to a lot of people in Ireland. And it’s:

An American walks into a bar in somewhere in Ireland and sits next to a really old guy drinking a beer. And the old guy’s like, “Did you see that wall on your way into town?” And the guy’s like, “Yeah.” And the old man’s like, “I built that wall with my own two hands. But do they call me O’Grady the Mason? Noooo.” Then he’s like, “Did you see those cabinets on your way into the bar?” And the guy’s like, “Yeah.” And the old man’s like, “I build those cabinets with me own two hands. But do they call me O’Grady the Carpenter? Noooo.” Then he says, “Did you see the iron gates on the way into town?” And the guy’s like, “Yeah.” And the old man’s like, “I built those gates with me own two hands. But do they call me O’Grady the Smith? Noooo. But you fuck one goat…”

The informant told me this joke in an Irish accent. He was excited when he remembered the joke, because it’s one of his favorites. I think he likes being part Irish (he said that his great-grandfather came here from Ireland), so this joke reminds him of his heritage. It also reminds him of his trip to Ireland last year, of which he has fond memories. Furthermore, the joke is a little dirty, so as a 23 year old, the informant understands and appreciates the more mature humor. I quote, “It’s fucking hilarious”. The informant learned the joke from his father, who learned it in an attempt to reconnect with his Irish heritage. Folklore can form powerful ties when it comes to heritage, ethnicity, and nationalism. Learning and understanding the jokes of a culture can make someone feel a closer connection with that culture, because humor is often culture-specific. Thus, both the informant and his father use this joke to feel more Irish.

I have met many people who are proud of their “Irish heritage”, even though they weren’t born in Ireland and may never have even been there. I think it’s more common when those people’s parents have also been proud of the link to Ireland, so they grew up hearing about their Irish heritage. So it makes sense that both the informant and his father feel this connection to Ireland and therefore love the joke. I found the joke funny, although I didn’t get it right away. I’m not Irish at all, so that could have something to do with it. The joke mentions various jobs that the Irish hold, including mason, carpenter, and smith. There jobs all involve manual labor and skilled hands. It reflects a big part of the economy in Ireland, as least before industrialization. The Irish would mainly work with their hands for money, because that’s what the culture and geographical constraints pushed them to. The joke also mentions a goat, because goats are common on Irish farms, and the people there interact with more often than here in LA for example. It’s funny that the old man had sex with a goat because it’s weird, which is half of why the joke is successful. The other half is because of the repetition of the pattern three times, a magic number in western culture. Overall, I think the joke is amusing.

The Parting Glass

“Oh, all the money, that ‘ere I have spent
I have spent it in good company
And all the harm, that ‘ere I’ve done,
Alas, it was to none, but me

And all that I have done
For lack of wit
To memory now
I can’t recall
So, fill to me The Parting Glass
Goodnight and Joy be with you all!

Oh, all the comrades, that ‘ere I have had
Are sorry for my going away
And, all the sweethearts, that ‘ere I have had
Would wish me one more day, to stay

But since it falls, unto my lot
That I shall rise, and you shall not
I will gently rise, and as softly call
Goodnight and Joy be with you all!”

 

The informant learned this song from her childhood family friends, the McNeils. The McNeils would travel across the country in a giant bus, singing folksongs and teaching people about history through these folksongs. It is entitled, “The Parting Glass”, from either Ireland or Scotland, the informant couldn’t remember. The informant says this is one of her favorite songs, because of the melody and the memories it brings back. When the informant was in her twenties, she sang this song with her new friends in Finland, where there is a great tradition of singing at and after meals. It helped her bond with these Finnish friends, despite their ethnic diversity. And twenty years later, when her children were younger, she used to sing them this song as a bedtime lullaby. The song brings back memories of her childhood with the McNeils, her adventures in Finland, and spending time with her children. Thus, it means a lot to the informant.

The song is about a person saying farewell to some friends. It says, “I will gently rise, and as softly call/Goodnight and Joy be with you all”. The singer is saying goodnight to his friends after an evening of fun. The song is happy because the singer wishes Joy on all his friends. In the first stanza of the song, the singer is taking responsibility for his actions. He is very humble and wise. This might be reflective of Irish or Scottish culture, where they place an emphasis on solving your own problems, not bragging, and being responsible for yourself. I think the song has a very nice message.

I grew up listening to this song and others recorded by the McNeils. The song has a very pretty memory, similar to other Scottish and Irish slow melodies. I never looked into the lyrics until now, but I’m glad to find that the message is pleasant. It brings me back to my childhood as well.

Christmas Traditions

“We have a lot of Christmas traditions in our household. First, the kids are not allowed to open anything under the tree, but they are allowed to get into their stockings while the parents are still sleeping, because the parents were most likely up all night wrapping packages.  There is an orange in each stocking for good luck—a Chinese traditional offering to Buddha.  We added the clever little trick of stuffing the stockings with time-consuming diversions, such as games, art supplies, and favorite movies on DVD, and most importantly, cooking utensils, such as a mini-frying pan and spatula, and the kids “bought in” to the idea of making breakfast in bed for the parents.  The parents act surprised, of course, when the kids come upstairs with the tray, singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.  We, then, dutifully feed the kids bites from our breakfast trays, until there is no breakfast left at all, and no excuses remain—the parents emerge sleepily out of bed, stumble downstairs, and we all enjoy the goodies under the tree.  My husband’s preference, which I happily adopted, is to take turns opening packages, one person at a time, slowly, appreciatively.  My other Christmas tradition is decorating with the little Swedish folding paper-dolls, called Tomten, on the bookshelves, mantel, and window sills.  These mischievous cheerful characters are ubiquitous in Scandinavian households at Christmas time.  There is not a drop of Swedish blood in my veins, but there was a Swedish woman who lived down the street from my mother, who regularly and reliably protected her from a terribly abusive alcoholic step-father when she was a young girl living in Maine.  The Tomten were playful figures, who could be depended upon to come out and dance every Christmas, even when life was otherwise scary and painful—and so these colorful little folding paper-dolls symbolize the power of love for children,  security and resilience in this harsh world, simple magic and good humor!”

The informant told me all of the traditions she can remember that take place on Christmas. Some of the traditions are practiced elsewhere, such as putting an orange in the stocking (which, as the informant said, is a Chinese tradition). Some however, may be unique to the informant’s family. Bringing the parents breakfast in bed, the specific order for opening the presents, and the parents feeding the children may or may not be practiced in other households, for similar or different reasons. The informant talked about the Tomten, Swedish paper dolls, which remind her of her of her mother and protect the house. Celebrations and festivals always involve many smaller details. For the informant, these details all add up to create a meaningful tradition for Christmas.

I thought it was interesting that the informant combined several diverse cultures in her own American traditions. First, she puts oranges in the stockings, which is “a Chinese traditional offering to the Buddha”. Despite the fact that the informant has no Chinese heritage, she still practices on of their traditions. Second, she decorates the house with Swedish dolls, Tomten, not because she is Swedish, but because her mother had a strong connection with a Swedish woman, and the informant wants to honor that connection. I think this shows how easily culture can be appropriated and interpreted. Furthermore, it shows that no one can own culture, because it crosses physical and psychological boundaries.

I think the informant’s Christmas sounds fun and sweet. I like that it is centered on family and the various interactions between family members that Christmas necessitates. The children bring the parents breakfast in bed is a nice addition to the holiday, especially for the parents. I have some Tomten of my own, and they are very playful and a good holiday decoration. My family celebrates Christmas with the extended family, but we do have nuclear family events in the morning, like eating pancakes for breakfast! Family traditions help to cement Christmas as a time for family, love, reflection, and appreciation.

Fishy and Trout

“If a drag queen is really pretty, and they look like a real female, instead of a man dressed in drag, then they call them ‘fishy’. And if they’re not ‘fishy’, then they’re trout. It’s like a diss, to call someone a trout.”

The informant introduced me to these drag-queen slang-terms during the middle of our interview. She used to work in a costume shop for drag queens, and she learned these terms from hanging out with several drag queens. She said that she enjoyed working in the costume shop because she met many people she wouldn’t have normally had the chance to. She seemed proud that she knew these slang words, because it gave her some authority in the world of drag queens. It made her connections with drag queens more real, because she could partake in their unique culture. Most occupational folklore works on this level. The more folklore one learns about a culture, the more accepted that person is as “one of them”. Even though the informant does not partake in dressing in drag herself, she still likes having ties to the culture.

I thought this piece of folklore was very interesting. It’s always cool to learn new words and their meanings, especially if they’re slang words from another culture.  I also thought it was interesting that both words, “fishy” and “trout”, connect to fish. I wonder what the connection between drag queens and fish is, if there is one. Maybe it’s because fish seem like a more gender-neutral animal, and drag queens like to walk the line between genders. Or it could be that fish terms are just more unique than the classic “pretty” and “ugly”, and drag queens like to be unique. Whatever the case, I feel that the words appropriately fit their meanings. “Trout” is more of a blunt, ugly word, while “fishy” sounds more delicate and similar to “pretty”. When a drag queen looks successfully like a real female, he is considered very pretty. I have seen many drag queens in the Mardi Gras festival in Provincetown, Rhode Island. There is a huge range in their female resemblance. I think it’s a very interesting culture, and I’m glad I know a little more about it now.