Author Archives: Rebecca Southern

Shaking your leg will shake out all of your luck

My informant’s parents are from Korea, but she grew up in Los Angeles area. Her parents always told her growing up that shaking your leg (as in restless leg syndrome) is shaking all of your luck away. My informant’s brother shook his leg a lot and my informant’s father would always be conscious of it and force him to stop at a very young age. My informant’s parents were very adamant that my informant and her siblings could not shake their leg. This superstition has been a part of her life, passed down from her parents, for as long as she can remember. This has affected my informant because she always notices when other people’s legs are shaking. I learned from my informant that in Korean culture, money and prosperity comes from the legs, so shaking them will get rid of all of that. I think that this belief reflects the symbolism of the leg in this culture and also, the act of shaking may reflect an imperfection in someone, when the legs should be strong to bring about maximum prosperity.

Stealing the groom’s shoes

My informant is from Bangladesh and goes to school in Los Angeles. He is studying mechanical engineering in school. His sister got married last summer (he husband was also from Bangladesh) so I asked him about any wedding traditions. He told me about two, but they are related so I put them in one entry. The first is a tradition where someone from the bride’s side steals the grooms shoes during the ceremony and the groom must back whoever stole them a sum of money. The second is that the groom’s side of the family must pay the bride’s side at the door to get into the wedding reception, which is hosted by the bride’s family. It is sort of a joke and fun tradition.

Rebecca: Okay, so can you tell me about weddings?

I: Weddings, okay well my sister got married this past summer. So from personal experience, one of the customs is that someone from the bride’s family tries to steal the groom’s shoes. The idea is that you’ll steal them and eventually sell them back to the groom and make a prophet because the groom is going to want his shoes back, because they are his wedding shoes.

Rebecca: Like the ones that he is wearing?

I: The ones that he’s wearing, off his feet.

Rebecca: So when? After the wedding or before

I: During. At some point. Because customarily the groom is sitting for a large part of the wedding. So if you can creep in there under the table or something, or have people hold him down while you steal his shoes, that’s the thing. So my brother successfully stole his shoes. Its on video.

R: Your brother stole your brother in laws shoes, during the wedding? How did he do it? Like when?

I: He literally ran up and swiped them off his feet.

R: just like during the ceremony?

I: yeah, because you have to remember that they are kind of like Aladdain shoes, they are not tied on, and he sold them back for a large amount of money

R: And how do people react? Do they think that’s funny?

I: And everyone laughed. You don’t have to do it, its just a customary thing. Similarly, at the beginning of the wedding, the girl’s family, who’s throwing the wedding. The wedding reception is from the girl’s side. They bar the husband from entering, until they pay a large sum. At the gate. It is literally this large heckling battle between the groom’s side and the bride’s side. Where its like, “you can’t come in with all your guests until you pay.” It’s a total joke. Often they hand over like a suitcase full of money, which has like monopoly money you know inside. Its just fun and games.

R: So then after his shoes were stolen, he had to buy them back later. After the wedding or way later?

I: You talk about it after the wedding. Like my brother got a few hundred bucks

R: seriously?  So can anyone steal them? Or do you choose someone to do it beforehand?

I: Anyone on the bride’s side. Its anyone who is capable of doing it.

R: does this mean anything to you?

I: To me it shows that even at your wedding you are already having a good time with the other family.

My informant enjoys this tradition because it is pretty funny and amusing to watch. I think that this practice is important for weddings because it may help bring the two families closer together, if the bride’s side must steal the groom’s shoes. Also, the paying of money to enter the wedding reception is another way of bringing the families together. It seems that because more modern weddings do not require real money to enter the reception, the tradition has taken on more of a joking or playful side. The person who successfully stole the shoes was able to actually make money in this case. Additionally, I found this story very interesting because another one of my informants from Russia told me about a wedding tradition in which the bride’s show is stolen. (See my other entry for that story). I have also found through my collections a common theme of the different sides of the family paying each other, or stealing things from each other. These themes were seen both in this collection and my Russian wedding collections.

Jumping the Broom

The setting is my bedroom. My informant is a close friend of mine that lives down the hall from me. This is the same informant as the Edgar Allen Poe entry.My informant is from Maryland, but grew up moving around the country.  “Jumping the broom” is a practice that comes up in African American culture. My informant says that this tradition is something that she heard from her mother, but it is also something that she has simply known about for most of her life.

I: Before African Americans could afford weddings slash their weddings were recognized by the government and they were slaves umm to constitute your marriage they would both jump over a broomstick together. “Jumping the broom” was the saying. And some people still do it for the traditional aspect of it. It is kind of passed down from generation to generation. And that’s a saying that comes up in black culture a lot because of that, jumping the broom

Rebecca: Do you know anyone that has done this?

I: My mom’s first cousin and his wife

Rebecca: Who told you about this?

I: I think my mom did but I honestly don’t remember because it comes up so much and I was around it a lot growing up

Rebecca: What does the story mean to you?
I: I think its just an interesting story and I think its cool that it has that cultural sentiment. The idea behind it is that you are “sweeping” away the old and bringing in the new, so like when people get married it is like a new beginning. Once the couple jumps over the broom, it is a transition or joining of the families.

A common theme among my collections is that my informants either heard the stories from their parents, or just assume that they did because they have always known about the story. This idea comes up a lot in African American culture according to my informant, so she hears about it a lot. My analysis of this wedding tradition relates to our class discussion. It seems to represent the liminal period between being married and single, and the broom acts like this division. Jumping over the broom together indicates that the couple is jumping out of the single life, and into their married life as a couple.

Annotation 1: Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations references a couple being married “over the broomstick.”

Citation: Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1942.

Annotation 2: “Jumping the Broom” is also a romantic comedy released in 2011 where two African American families come together for a wedding, which ends up being multiple weddings. The film actually does involve a physical broom that one bride gives to her friend as an apology at the end of the film. Both couples jump the broom after their wedding ceremony.

Edgar Allen Poe’s grave tradition

My informant is from Maryland originally but moved around the country a lot growing up. The setting of this collection is my bedroom, and one of my roommates doing homework on the other side of the room. My informant lives down the hall from me and stopped by to say hello, which led to me telling her about the folklore collection archive. My informant told me about a legend from Maryland about Edgar Allen Poe.

Informant: Edgar Allen Poe is from Maryland and I’m from Maryland originally, which is how I heard this story. So every year on Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday, someone secretly puts roses on his grave. Last time I knew, like they still haven’t caught the person that does it, its like they miraculously appear every year. They like wear all black and secretly put all these flowers there and scury into the woods. Its a pretty known things, its like hot gossip in the state of Maryland.

Rebecca: How do you know they wear black if no one knows who they are?

I: The one time they have been seen on camera, its just an all black image that drops and runs.

R: is it the same person every year? Or I guess no one knows..

I: No one knows. You’d assume, but no one knows for sure.

R: How long has it been going on?

I: Since my mom was little, and my moms about to be 54.

R: Who told you about this?

I: my mom

R: who told her?

I: probably her mom

R: What does this story mean to you?

I: I really like Edgar Allen Poe and I like that his poetry is kind of dark so I think its cool that someone loves him enough to do that every year. I think its interesting.

My informant heard this tory form her mother My informant likes this story because she is a fan of Edgar Allen Poe and because it has a mysterious edge to it. The reason people tell this story is because they don’t really know who does it. My informant shares th story, but she has never seen anyone at the grave herself. This tradition also eludes to life cycle ideas because it is at the grave of Edgar Allen Poe, commemorating his life after his death.

Drinking pickle juice relieves cramps

The setting is over brunch over spring break. The informant is an undergrad student studying Health and Humanity. My relationship with the informant is not very close, but this brunch was to help us get to know each other better and talk. I was not intending to collect folklore from her, but we got on the topic of my hatred for pickles and she says, “Oh if you hate pickles you will love this. My sister gets really bad cramps in her calves and a family friend who is a doctor told her to drink pickle juice to help them. So she drinks like straight vinegar.” Disgusted, I ask, “Well does it work?” And my informant responded confidently yes. Apparently, drinking a small water bottle amount of pickle juice can cure cramps. I asked a doctor that I know if he had ever heard that and he said he hadn’t, but maybe next time I get a cramp I will try it.

The Story of the World’s Smallest Church

The “Smallest Church in the World,” St. Anthony of Padua Chapel is in Winneshiek County, Iowa. It is a Catholic church and seats eight people. My informant, who is my Grandfather, told me the story of how the world’s smallest church came to be, which we had a family reunion at a couple years ago. The setting of the interview is my informant’s living room in a small town of Benson, MN. The “third party” was my Grandmother interjecting into the conversation.  My informant is very interested in family history, so he visits people in various towns and looks up archives to collect the family stories. He has been accumulating more stories and more details of the stories since my mother was a young girl. The conversation is as follows:

Me: Wait, do you know the story of the smallest church?

Third person: We’ve been there.

Informant: I don’t know if Rebecca has been there has she?

Me: Yes I have for the family Reunion. Anyways, what was the story of St. Anthony?

Informant: The story of Saint Anthony was uh, there was this guy, whos mothers said, uh what was his name…Gaertner. Johann Gaertner. He was drafted into the army with Napoleon, he was only 16 years old. But he was a rather big guy, 6 foot tall. So they made him a military police to take care of Napoleon when he was out and about. Anyways, his mother said that if he came back safely, she would build a chapel in honor of our lady. Well, he did come home from the war safely, she never built the chapel, he immigrated to the united states and his daughter said when he was 90 years old that, “you better get that chapel built before you die” and so that’s how we got the chapel built. He donated the first money and the stone, and… And uh they got the chapel built in fulfillment of his mother’s promise. And then they named it, they asked what should we name it? And some priest said, “well, name if after your alleged relative St. Anthony. Your [Rebecca’s] ancestor. So that’s what they did. And every year on the feast day of June 16th or whatever day St. Anthony is they have an annual meeting. So if you want to go down next year, I might be going! That was the story! Yep. They were supposed to build a chapel in honor of our lady and so the daughter is the one that got it done, not the mother.

Me: The daughter of the guy?

Informant: Yes the daughter of the guy. And 5 years ago, some relatives from Minneapolis came down with a gun… that this guy used in the Napoleonic War. So that was kind of interesting. It wasn’t a hand gun, it was a long riffle kind of a thing.

My informant tells this story because he is interested in history, but most importantly because it tells of our family history. He is the one person in the family that knows everything about our family history. He researches our ancestries and makes family trees as well as visit historical sites in various cities to find documents and records or certain events. This is difficult to do because our family is from a small town in Iowa, and we are not in any way famous so the stories are not well documented. My informant heard this story from his mother. My informant also modifies the stories as he learns more information. This is an example of family lore; my family even had a family reunion at the site of the church. My informant tells these stories to his children, in laws, nieces, and nephews when they visit Iowa and we all share the stories with each other. Most of my family knows this story, or at least that we are connected to the church, but my informant is definitely the active bearer; he is the one that we verify the facts with in any family story.

Smorum (Bohemian Breakfast)

Smorum is a pancake like breakfast dish that my grandpa has cooked for me and my cousins since we can remember. It is a flour based, pancake like breakfast dish. It is his signature dish, and every time any of his grandkids are staying at his house, you can find him in the kitchen at 8am making smorum. I know of no one outside of my family that has ever heard of smorum. I remember in first grade we had to do a project on a family tradition and I did mine on smorum and couldn’t find the correct spelling anywhere because it was only passed down by the performance. It is unclear how to even pronounce or spell the word. My grandpa makes it so much that he doesn’t even use a recipe at all, he knows how much to put in of everything and makes it the same very time even though his measurements might not be exact. The context of this collection is the same as my entries about the world’s smallest church and James McCone except this collection took place in the kitchen as I watched my informant prepare the breakfast. The best way I can describe the process is that it was very casual. He cracked some eggs, tossed some flour loosely into measuring cups and poured it into his big mixing bowl and let it stir while he talked to me. He poured out the mix into a frying pan so it took up the entire pan. After a few minutes he flipped the smorum up in the air, caught it in the man and allowed it to cook the other side. He cuts it into little squares with his spatula, walks over to the kitchen table, and pours the steaming smorum into the big glass bowl sitting on the table. This performance is tradition in our family. Not only is how my grandfather cooks the meal important, but the set up of the table, and how the food is presented to us is tradition. The large white, glass bowl contains the fresh hot smorum, the little tea plates are set out to eat the smorum, and old plastic cups are used to drink either the grape or orange juice that is already set on the table as well. Smorum is always served with syrup, usually homemade by my grandmother.


Grandpa: “We always had shmudum for breakfast! Poor people’s breakfast. We never had cereal you know in our day. We just made shmudum.

Rebecca: What are the origins of shmudum?

Grandpa: Well in the Spillville cookbook it is spelled smorum, but that’s not how I pronounce it, so I don’t know.

Rebecca: How do you spell it?

Grandpa: S-m-o-r-u-m.

Rebecca: But that’s not how you spell it?

Grandpa: I would have spelled it shmudum. But I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere, I can’t find the spelling anywhere…So I don’t know.

Rebecca: So where did you learn to make it?

Grandpa: From the Spillville Church Cookbook

Rebecca: didn’t you learn it from your mother?

Grandpa: I never knew how my mother made it.

Rebecca: So your mother made it for you?

Grandpa: Yep. She made it for me every morning

Rebecca: what made you want to make it then?

Grandpa: because I tried to once at our house and the grandkids just loved it. And it was a whole lot cheaper than cereal. When we were in Jacksonville (FL) last month, Kenny made it one morning and it was very good. Just like I made it

Rebecca: I heard Kenny is good at it, but its hard to make it just like you. My dad burns it every time. Its not the same if you don’t make it

Rebecca: do you know where your mother learned to make it?

Grandpa: From her mother probably. I’m sure that was handed down for 10 generations or more.

Rebecca: From where? Is that Bohemian?

Grandpa: You know, I thought it was Bohemian but I’m not so sure if it wasn’t German. But I call it Bohemian. You know the Germans infiltrated Bohemia at that point on the border. About 1/3 of Bohemia was German. My dad was Bohemian and my mother was German. Well my mother was both, Bohemiam and German. So I never knew for sure where anything came from. But I always call it Bohemian. And whatever I call, wasn’t anybody going to dispute. (laughter). Because nobody has… support.

My informant learned this dish from his mother, and ate it growing up. It has developed into a huge tradition in my family, and we don’t go a family get together without having smorum in the morning, and my family gets together quite often. It also amazes me how smorum never gets old, no matter how many times I have had it. Smorum is also something that my father and my uncles have tried, but no one can quite make it like my grandfather does. He cooks it just the right amount without burning it, which is often what happened when my father tried to make it. The performance has been adapted since my great grandmother made smorum for my grandfather. My grandfather adapted his performance for the grandchildren. As a grandchild, smorum is very important to me and is an association I make with my grandfather. My grandfather performs it as a sentiment to his childhood, but also for his grandchildren. He continues on the legacy of what his mother made, but adapted it to be a treat for the grandchildren. Smorum started out as a cheap and easy breakfast on the farm, but now is a unique thing that my family all shares.

The “Playoff Beard”

My informant was a competitive hockey player his entire adolescence and was raised in Elk River Minnesota, a hockey powerhouse. He played Division 1 hockey until an injury caused him to transfer schools where he played Division 3 hockey. His father has been a prominent boys hockey coach and local legend in the state of Minnesota for 26 years.

The “playoff beard” is a tradition that hockey players do where they stop shaving when they enter the play-offs and do not shave again until the team is out of the tournament (or wins). Which results in the stereotypical scruff, mustaches, goatees, or out of control hair seen in hockey players. The playoff beard is a unique practice of the National Hockey League during the Stanley Cup playoffs but has spread to being performed in high school and NCAA teams. My informant participated in this tradition during his time as a hockey player, and noted its importance to the hockey community. My informant said that that they do it “because of superstition.” The tradition started in the 1980s by the New York Islanders, and has grown to be a trademark of hockey.

From personal experience, I have witnessed my high school’s hockey team grow out their facial hair and refuse haircuts when the state tournament came around. Upon my own research, I found that some teams do it to have a sense of team unity. An example of this is seen when the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team all bleached their hair blonde in the 2006-07 post-season. A high school tennis team all gave themselves Mohawks for their trip to the state tournament as well. The growing of hair and beards has been seen in other sports such as tennis, basketball, and football in high school teams or individual athletes. It has also spread to philanthropic organizations such as “Beard-A-Thon” that raises money for each team in the Stanley Cup’s charity, and to the development of the “fan beard,” where fans grow beards to support their team.

Washing the gels for the lights practical joke

My informant worked in theater during her high school and undergraduate years, specializing in lighting and light designs. She worked in the lighting department at her school for quite some time and she shared with me a story about a trick that she would play on new students working on lighting at the theater. The setting was a casual lunch at a restaurant.

Informant: “We would play this joke on anyone new working on the lights for a show. We used gels made out of gelatin to put over the lights to make them different colors. After a show, they get burnt from the light, so you ask the new kid to go wash them with soap and water. But the gels would disintegrate in the water because they were made out of gelatin! Then they would come back looking all concerned and worried like, “I destroyed them!” And I would just sit there like “Ha-ha-ha.”

Me: Did anyone ever play this trick on you?

Informant: Nope, but I played it on people all the time. It was so funny. Now, gels are not made out of gelatin as commonly so the joke can’t be played anymore.

This story is an example of occupational folklore because only the experienced technical theater workers would know this trick. My informant repeats this because it is funny for her and her coworkers. She also said that it has an element of initiation because once a new person is fooled by this trick, they are then more accepted and assimilated into the group. Once they know about the joke, they can then play it on other new people as a way of showing that they are now more experienced.

You cannot say Macbeth before the show

This is the same informant as the entry on the gels for the lights. The setting is my dining room table. My informant has experience working in theater, and was on the crew for the show Macbeth.

Me: what do you mean?

I: Like, you can’t say Macbeth’s name when you are rehearsing. And you are supposed to call it “The Scottish Play” or something else because you can’t say Macbeth in the theater before a performance.

Me: Did they actually follow that [in the performance the informant worked on]

I: Of course [the director] did. No one was allowed to say Macbeth through the entire rehearsal period leading up to the performance.

Me: Does that go for any show?

I: No, just Macbeth. It was bad luck. I think it was because Macbeth dies in the end. You don’t want Macbeth’s bad luck.

My informant heard this story from the director of the theater department in high school and tells this story because of her interest in theater and theater legends and traditions. This tradition was actually followed in her experience. I think this comes from a long lasting tradition that most directors and actors don’t want to test, therefore they just follow this taboo. No one really knows what will happen if you say Macbeth’s name, but the superstition is so old that I think people are cautious with it just in case.