Author Archives: Katherine McCormick

Holiday Fudge

“My mother taught me how to make fudge, and we didn’t have a timer in the kitchen because it broke, so it was my job when I was little to watch the second hand on the clock and every time another minute passed, I would take a playing card and put it on the table so that we would be able to keep track of the minutes and we would know when we got to six it was time to stop boiling the sugar and milk. Then when I got older, I would either do the marshmallows and the butter or the sugar and the milk, we would each take one pot. And then I taught you, although you did not get the fun of putting the cards on the table. I don’t know why my mother was so cheap, year after year after year not buying a timer, but it’s true, for years we didn’t have a timer.”

This tradition occurred every year in December, in preparation for Christmas. Fudge is rather difficult to do alone (as both pots have to be stirred constantly and then combined when they are at the same temperature), and thus in my informant’s family it became a tradition in order to get children interested in making it, and then willing to help with the process as they aged. It has been passed on to the second child in the family for two generations, though quite possibly just by chance. It’s an activity that the mother and daughter to together, thus spending time with each other through the production of food to feed their family over the holidays.

The recipe:

12 large marshmallows

1/2 pound butter
1 small (5 oz) can pet evaporated milk
2 cups sugar
1 small (6 oz) package chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
Melt butter and marshmallows.  Boil milk and sugar at a rolling boil for 6 minutes.  Mix butter and marshmallow with milk and sugar.  Add chocolate chips and beat immediately until creamy.  (We always cooled the pot in water while beating.)  Pour into 8″ or 9″ square pan and refrigerate.


This is about a folk belief that my informant has about the notion of acknowledging something, and by acknowledgement causing the situation to change for the worse.

“The only superstition that I only kind of semi believe that I don’t believe at all, but if I were going to believe one this is the closest I come to believing one, is when you say something and acknowledge it you jinx it. Like, when Simon came with a new machine for the credit card, and he said “oh yeah it’s got bigger print and everything so you can read it”, and I said “oh but does it work?” And it didn’t work. Or you go outside and say it’s great weather and then it rains. It’s something about acknowledging it out loud and then all of a sudden it goes away. But I still don’t really believe that. But sometimes I actually don’t say something because I’m afraid if I say it then I will have jinxed it.”

Despite the informant’s protestations that she did not ascribe to this folk belief, she ascribes to it enough that she actively modifies her behavior in order to avoid its potential consequences. It’s expressing the idea that some things are simply too good to occur, and if one acknowledges it then the universe might pay attention and take it away, or perhaps that a stroke of good luck can be removed by acknowledging that one is having it. It’s almost a type of magic, wherein one acknowledges a reality and that acknowledgement will change the existence of that reality.


This was received via Facebook message from my informant, and is a drinking game that she played with her friends in the UK during university.

“Kings… A deck of cards in arranged in a circle facedown with an empty cup in the middle. Before you play you decide what each card value is… Some are normally agreed upon, some vary per group…So like 2 is you (pick somebody to drink 1 fingers worth of their drink), three me, four floor (whoever touches the floor last drinks), 5 guys drink, 6 chicks drink, 7 heaven (point up), 8, 5 fingers of never have I ever, 9… There are lots of random ones like funny accents (must speak only in an accent til the next 9 is picked), 10 waterfall (first person drinks, next, etc, until the first stops, then next stops… Etc), j make a rule (can’t say “drink”, can’t point, can’t say first names… Etc. break one and you drink), and some other random ones for Q and A, king you put some of your drink in the middle cup. Last king picked has to drink the cup. That is pretty common across the UK, with varying rules for each number. Also fun if you can help design (so I don’t like accents and we normally don’t use the cup because its gross)”

This drinking game is very complicated and flexible, changing every time it is played and changing based on who is playing it. Essentially, each card drawn from a normal playing card deck has a rule assigned to it, and that rule must be obeyed. If that rule is broken, the person who breaks it must take a drink. This game is popular because it is highly adaptable, can be used with any type of alcohol, and only really requires alcohol and a deck of playing cards. It’s also easily customizable, as the players can assign their own rules to each card to incorporate inside jokes. This kind of drinking game is a bonding experience, as the players will get increasingly drunk together while playing a potentially embarrassing game in which alliances are often formed between players against others. It isn’t one generally played with strangers, as other drinking games such as beer pong can be; rather, it is meant to cement already existing friendship ties among a medium sized group.

It can also include other drinking games within it, such as the reference of ‘five fingers of never have I ever’, which is a drinking game in which one person says that they have never done something, and those in the group that have done it take a drink (or put a finger down, as in this case where they would each have five fingers up).

Baseball-Inspired Game

This is a game played by my informant in his childhood in the 1950s in Guadalupe, CA, inspired by baseball.

“We used to play this weird game where one guy would be a first baseman, and he’d stand on the sidewalk in front of our house. Down on kind of the far side, and then the other person would be on the front yard of the house next door, because there was no fence between the two. And then the guy who was the firstbaseman would throw a ground ball that was really hard to get and you would try to field it, and the firstbaseman would count to five. And if you got it back before the time he counted to five it was an out, and if you didn’t it was a hit. The assumption was you have to get the guy before he gets to first base, and he would get there in five seconds. Then friends would come over and visit, and they would play, and it just kind of spread. It’s a bit tough because you need two yards, and not everyone had access to that, so it was played most often at our house. Or you could just use a big yard but again most people didn’t have it, but yeah. I tried to teach it to Jacquelyn, but she didn’t like baseball.”

This game is a variation of baseball, in which the players don’t have access to a team or a bat with which to hit the ball. It kept the children playing with the ball and thinking about fielding, mimicking the fieldwork that perhaps one would use in a real game. Baseball was one of the main sports of choice in this town in my informant’s time, and thus it could fuel the children’s desires to play and keep them practicing early. It’s quite resourceful, and demonstrated the importance of the sport given how much of their leisure time they spent mimicking it.

Friday Pizza

Every work week from 1978 through 1998, my informant had pepperoni pizza on Friday nights. It changed pizzerias as the informant moved (Melo’s in Pleasant Hill, and then the main pizza place on Bainbridge Island), but the custom remained the same. The informant stopped when he moved to Hong Kong because he couldn’t find decent pepperoni pizza there, and then shifted the practice to the weekends when he returned to the United States.

This pizza was a celebratory event, a treat at the end of a work week no matter how stressful or easy that week was. It’s subconsciously carried on in his family, as Friday night is the most likely night on which they order pizza for celebrating the end of the week, relaxing afterwards and preparing for the week ahead. It’s an adaptable tradition, as it changed over time when other factors in his life changed.

White Horse Ornament

“Your mom always lets me hang up my horse on the tree. She always puts up the tree and decorate the tree, but the horse is always left for me. She always had the brown horse and I always had the white horse, and so leaving the white horse always left me contributing to the tree just a little bit, so we could still do it together.”

This is a tradition enacted in the informant’s household every year since he was married in 1981. The informant and his wife would always want to decorate the tree together, but over the years when she quit her job to take care of their children, she often would decorate the tree at some time during the week while they were at work. Because it was a tradition that they decorate the tree together in preparation for Christmas, she always left him the white horse as a way for him to participate in decorating the tree (other than aiding in bringing the tree into their house). The white horse was important to them because they got the horses as a set, and therefore had meaning to them as a couple rather than just as individual ornaments. Tree decoration is a family activity, and this tradition has spawned so that everyone in the family always has at least one ornament that they put on the tree themselves if they will be there for that year’s Christmas.

Family Reunions at Disneyland

“Going to Disneyland every year is a Funk family tradition. It started when we were kids because Aunt Ce lived in Anaheim, so ostensibly we all went to see Aunt Ce but we were really just all going to Disneyland. And we saw Aunt Ce. So we usually met the Gritch kids, and sometimes Aunt Sonia, Uncle Ray, and Susie once a year and then we all went to Disneyland. But it was mainly the Gritch kids, and that’s why doing this girl’s weekend—we did this as kids, we would meet at Aunt Ce’s house and go to Disneyland. This girl’s weekend is re-establishing the tradition. We did it almost every year, certainly my family went up at least once a year but most years the Gritches came down and we all met. And when you guys were little, we met with Georgina and Rob once a year. It’s a family thing to do to meet at Aunt Ce’s and go to Disneyland, and then of course our family goes every year. We still meet with Aunt Lynne, or Georgina, Tina, and Polly so it’s still very much a Funk family thing.”

This is one of the traditions of family reunions in the family on the side of my informant’s mother. Though they also met in the summer at a lake in Minnesota every year, the Disneyland tradition was more intimate and only included the closer cousins, rather than the whole extended family. Disneyland wasn’t necessarily a central location, but it was a fun place that all ages of the family could enjoy, and all of the children of her generation have continued the tradition with their own children as much as possible. Indeed, the tradition is to see a rebirth in the form of a female family Disney trip, reinforcing the notion that Disneyland is associated with family. This would engender a good feeling in the family, because everyone would be enjoying themselves thanks to the locale, and thus would also be happy about those whey were with.

Panda Joke

“So, a panda walks into a bar. He goes up to the bartender and orders some bamboo, and then the panda eats it. He then draws a gun and shoots up all of the place at the restaurant. When the bartender asks why, the panda tosses him an encyclopaedia and says “I’m a panda, look it up.”. The bartender opens the book and find the panda entry. The entry reads “panda: black and white bear, native to china. Eats shoots and leaves.”

This joke is a play on words, as the panda eats bamboo shoots and bamboo leaves, but in this joke it has the panda eating, then shooting a gun, and then walking out. It follows the format of someone or something walking into a bar, and was told to my informant by her nephew. It has spread widely and there are many variations of it, such as the one in an article on The Economist website on April 25th, 2013, in an article named “A man walked into a bar…”. The one in The Economist has the panda shooting at patrons, rather than dishes, possibly indicating that the joke told to my informant had been adapted for children, as her source was a child. It’s the kind of play on words that children seem to enjoy in Western cultures, in their process of understanding that grammar and words can mix to create different meanings.

Collard Greens and Black Eyed Peas for New Year’s

This is a New Year’s tradition practiced by my informant and her family every year.

“If you have collard greens on January first then you’ll make a lot of money, maybe because they’re both green. Similarly, if you have black eyed peas, then you’ll have luck throughout the rest of the year. And it has to be on January first. And then you just have meat, that’s not symbolic but you need something to go with collard greens and the black eyed peas. My grandmother told me that, and so she cooks for us for every new year.”

The tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck is also a Jewish tradition, and goes back for many centuries. It’s popular in the American south, probably brought there by the Jews and adopted by the society at large. As the informant says, collard greens are also a common New Year’s food thought to bring wealth in the coming year, as they resemble American bills. Both foods are exceptionally common in the American south (thus allowing most people to partake in the tradition without causing undue budgetary stress), which is where my informant’s family lives. The emphasis on it being January 1st also reflects the notion of its importance as the beginning of a new unit of time, in a liminal period where anything could happen and one could presumably set the tone for the next stage in life (ie, the new year).

Good Friday Contemplation

“My dad grew up in a very strict Roman Catholic family. His mom was from Italy, from a city near Rome, very strict. And so every good Friday from 12-3 (which is supposedly the time when Jesus was on the cross), she made my dad sit in his room and think about Jesus’ suffering. Until Jesus was ‘off the cross’ and he could come out of his room. But he spared me that. But apparently, she had done that—her mother had done that to her, her mother had done that to her, and so forth. Not praying, just thinking about Jesus’s suffering and sacrifice for three hours. It went way back.”

Good Friday is the day that, according to Christians, Jesus was crucified and thus made his sacrifice to save humanity. This ritual was presumably meant to focus devotion and think about what Jesus had done for mankind, to try and understand the value of his sacrifice. Rather than praying, which could easily just be beseeching at that age, this tradition could mean to honor the suffering and the actions of Jesus, hopefully inspiring piety and good behavior thanks to the contemplation of such immense suffering. It is significant that it was meant to occur at apparently the same time that Jesus was on the cross so many centuries ago; such a thing would make the exercise more meaningful (homeopathic magic), possibly inspiring the person who is thinking about the suffering to be as brave or as compassionate as Jesus.