They are different everywhere, but all the items are the same.
At camp, we have this thing called the BK Ceremony, for “Blue Kerchief”. It’s on the third day of the term, I think it’s the third day, on a Sunday, and what it is is we come up with this thing called, “The Code of Living”. So for that what we do is we come up with words that we want to live by- words like “genuine”, “compassion”, “brave”, “indelible”. You know how I want to get that tattoo of “indelible”? That’s from camp, it was in our Code.
So, yeah, we decide as a unit what we want the Code to be. So on the first Sunday we all go to the Buddy Ring, which is a nook in between these mountains and we sing all these songs. I think they change every year, they’re not set in stone.
And then the counselors present the BKs to the campers. So it’s when you wear this kerchief, the Blue Kerchief, you’re living by the Code. And if you break the Code, you get your Kerchief taken away.
What happens if you get it taken away?
Well then you don’t get to wear it to Chapel and everyone can see you and knows you broke the code. (She laughs).
So the ceremony is they tie the BKs in this special knot, a friendship knot… (to other friend listening and laughing) Shut up! And yeah, the counselors put them over us and give us a hug. And then as cabins, we got up as cabins and then we all get in a huddle, you know like a sports huddle, and then the counselors pump us up for the term and then we sit down again.
Can you tell me more about the camp?
Yeah, so the BK ceremony is by unit and there are 60 girls or guys per unit, 4 units of boys and 4 units of girls. The units are by age and you can be 8-17 at Camp Cheley. It’s in Colorado. It’s in Estes Park, voted number one small town in America!
When did it start?
I have no idea. Camp was founded in 1921, so probably around then.
Why has it kept going all these years?
Probably because it’s a beautiful ceremony, and the Code of Living is super important, and it’s you know, a physical reminder of it.
Context of the Performance:
The informant told her camp rituals to a table of our friends during Monday night dinner. We knew she had gone to camp, because she has talked about it before, but this is the first time I ever asked her in depth questions, which she was very excited to share. The informant is very passionate about her camp and plans to work there this summer.
My thoughts on the piece:
It was interesting to see how excited the informant was to explain her camp experience, another example of the distinction between being inside the group verses outside of it. She was defensive when another person listening laughed at part of the ritual, which shows how much she believes in the sacredness of these traditions.
It also is interesting how the shame of having your kerchief taken away, which is largely symbolic, is enough to keep these kids living by the code.
My mom started this junior or sophomore year of high school I think. I always get super nervous, you know, for like a big test or for volleyball and what she did is, she grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me violently and said, “This is me giving you my strength!”
She does it to all of us. Just the other day, I guess, she did it to Tommy, and he goes, “That’s not your strength, you’re just shaking my shoulders!” (she laughs). Oh, Tommy.
I told my roommate, Kayla, about it and she texted me it before my accounting exam. She goes, “This is me giving you my strength.”
I think my mom made it up.
I’ve offered my services to a few people here and there and they always laugh it off.
But, yeah, I think it works. It always does make me feel better, to be honest.
You know, I always thought if I ever got a tattoo, it would be of that. “This is me giving you my strength.” I’m probably not going to get a tattoo, though…I’ll definitely do it for my kids.
context of the performance:
This description of a family custom before a big event from mother to child was described in a one-on-one conversation between the informant and the collector. We are close friends, which is why she does not explain necessarily who the different characters are in her telling. Tommy is her youngest sibling.
thoughts on the piece:
Though this is a relatively new family custom, it demonstrates a maternal selflessness and concern for her children. As the informant mentioned, what started as something specific to her, the eldest daughter, has become a customary practice. The different children’s perceptions of it is interesting, as well. The informant believes in it so much that she has tried to share it with others and new people in her life say it to her before major events, still. Her younger brother is much more skeptical.
Right off the bat, the first thing that comes to mind is my dad. He always says, “It’s better to be looking down at the grass than up at it.” Anytime I ask him how he’s doing…or uh, how his day is, he always says that. “It’s better to be looking down at the grass than up at it.” and then usually, “best day of my life.”
“Where do you think he got it from?”
Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. I think he might have come up with it on his own. He’s really good with words, actually and cute little phrases and speeches. He made a beautiful toast at my aunt and uncle’s 25th anniversary…I’m excited for him to speak at my wedding.
Oh, another thing he says a lot is “Savor the moment.” Like for any big mile stone in my life, when those are going down, or for my cousins, too. He tells us “Savor the moment”.
And when he gives me cards, he gives me cards whenever I go back to college after spring or Christmas break, he writes that in there. And there’s always money in the cards, which is nice!
The first time he said that to me was when my volleyball team, remember that, was in the state championship and I guess it sort of just progressed from there.
Context of the Performance:
This performance was delivered during a one on one conversation between the informant and me. I asked her if she had any proverbs her parents or grandparents always says and right away she came up with the one about it being better to look down at the grass.
Thoughts on the piece:
I think any expressions that recognize our own mortality and sort of show an appreciation for life are worth repeating. The informant detailed how her father uses it very frequently, even when just asked how he is doing or how his day is going. Paired with his regular use of another proverb “Savor the moment,” it is clear the informant and her father share an appreciation for each day.
A quick search of the first proverb online did not yield any exact matches, so it is possible this particular proverb is unique to their family.
(in an Irish accent, imitating her Papa’s voice) “May your giving hand never fail.”
My Papa said this all the time and people didn’t really know what to do with it. I think he just said it to anyone who was generous, but like waitresses especially. So, they weren’t really being generous, they were just…doing their job.
I guess there was this one waitress, I wasn’t there this time, but she was like, “What’d you say?” and uh, my dad had to explain and she was like “I like that, I’m gonna start using it!”
I don’t know where he got it from, but he said it whenever he told me this story about this woman, and he describes her as a woman with a “good giving hand”.
So Papa, he was a Pace bus driver, so you know how they kind of have to stick to a schedule? Well this one day, it was the dead of winter, he saw this nun running after the bus and he just decided to wait for her. And she was flabbergasted he waited for her. And (in Irish accent again) he said, “Aw yeah, it’s too cold to be waitin’ for another bus” and she was so so thankful for him doing that that she ended up telling the hospital she worked at to let him have breakfast there everyday. He dropped her off and she said wait right here and ran in and I guess asked them and came out and told him to come for breakfast before his shift… and so he did. For years, he just started his morning there everyday with free breakfast (laughs). She probably didn’t think he would actually take her up on it.
And every time he told it to me he would say “oh yes, she had a good giving hand”.
context of the performance:
The informant described this proverb and the following story in a one on one conversation, when asked if she had any family proverbs. She always does a very good Irish accent impression for her grandfather, who came to the United States from Ireland as an adult. He passed away a few months before this collection, so it was definitely a little nostalgic, as well.
thoughts on the performance:
It is always interesting how strangers respond to older people and their sayings, especially those with accents. It was hard to capture in writing, but when the informant described the waitresses reaction, she was sort of wary of her grandpa and almost rude in her response, until her dad clarified it for him. Especially the way the informant says it, in the vernacular of her grandfather, this proverb definitely sounds like a number of similar Irish blessings I have heard before.
There are 3 songs we sing each night at Camp Cheley. Every unit sings different songs and you just kind of hear everyone else and pick it up. And then…you want me to just tell you the three songs my unit sang everyday at camp?
“Peace I ask of thee o River
Peace, Peace, Peace
When I learn to live serenely
Cares will cease
from the hills I gather courage
visions of the days to be
Strength to lead and faith to follow
all are given unto thee
peace I ask of you oh river
Peace, peace, peace”
SONG 2: We call this one the Chipeta Call.
If you listen one and all
you can hear the chipeta call
you can feel the spirit rise
wheree’er you go may you never forget
that glad day
when we met
and those dear old chipeta girls
Song 3: The last one we sing every night is Taps…You probably know it?
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh
Context of the performance:
The informant shared these camp songs with a table of friends, among them the collector, during a Monday night dinner.
Thoughts on the performance:
It is interesting how the song “Taps” has become such a part of their camp folklore that the informant was almost a little surprised when others at the table indicated recognition.
Also it is interesting that she spoke these traditions in present tense, i.e. “the last one we sing every night”, because she is too old to return as a camper, demonstrates the cyclical nature of these camp songs and rituals.
Every night before we go to bed, we have a friendship circle.
Everyone in the unit stands together in the courtyard and we all hook arms or just put our arms on each other’s shoulders Wait, no. Wait, yeah. I guess different units do different things but that’s what we did.
When you’re done singing, we say goodnight and all bow and leave the circle.
So one of the songs is called, I See the Moon. And when you come to camp you kind of just hear what everyone else is singing and you learn it, they don’t write it down or teach you or anything.
And it goes like this (sings):
I see the moon and the moon sees me
The moon sees somebody I’d like to see
So God bless the moon & God bless me
and God bless the somebody I’d like to see.
And then we whisper the peoples’ names we’d like to say goodnight to. So like “Goodnight, Mom.” “Goodnight, Dad.”
Camp Cheley is not a religious camp but the owners are religious. I went back for six summers and even going to camp usually stays within generations, too. Like my best friend is from camp, you know Abby.
She’s what we call a “cheleybaby” because her parents met at Camp. We call those “chomances” you know ‘cus “Cheley” and “romances”.
context of the performance:
The informant told about this ritual and sang that moon song to a table of friends, including myself, at Monday night dinner.
thoughts on the performance:
It was clear from the informant’s delivery how second nature all of this seemed to her from her repeat camp experiences. She even sort of swayed along when she sang the song, without a hint of embarrassment.
I guess I know one that would be uh, a proverb. Just: “You gotta have a home.”
What do you think that means?
I don’t know. I have no idea.
Okay, um. When did you first hear this proverb?
When? Um… I don’t know how old. I guess I was probably ten years old. And it was at story time at our house right before bed. Or maybe Uncle Tom’s house. Either way, it was us and Joey and Jake and we asked for one more story and they said they would tell us the story of the boll weevil and then just started singing, “You gotta have a home.”
I guess it… emphasizes the importance of family. Like having a home is having a family you can count on. Dad and Uncle Tom just wanted us to go to bed.
Have you told this proverb to anyone else?
Actually, yeah! I passed it on to Luke to make him mad when he asked me to tell him a story like four years ago.
Context of the performance:
I asked the informant, who happens to be my brother, to tell me his favorite family sayings that we tell and retell. He immediately thought of the story of the boll weevil.
Collector’s Thoughts on this Piece
Members of our family definitely repeat the phrase, “You gotta have a home”, but never with as little context as the first time it was told, which the informant described. The story of the boll weevil has become an inside joke of sorts, a way for bored or tired bedtime storytellers to end it and annoy the kids. The informant does not go into much detail about this but story time was a big part of our childhood whenever we had a cousins sleepover.
For another version of this piece, there is actually a recorded song with similar lyrics. Uncle Tom must have misheard them or forgotten the rest because the only lyric, which turned into a family proverb over time, he sang is “you gotta have a home”, which isn’t actually a part of this recorded version.
Benton, Brook, and Stan Applebaum. The Boll Weevil Song and Eleven Other Great Hits. Mercury, 1961. CD.
Every year, everybody decorates their bikes for the bike parade. We actually did this with my cousins every summer in Hovokan, Wisconsin.
So I did block parties as a kid and we always played the same games so I wanted to bring them to our neighborhood for you guys to play. You remember, right? The egg on the spoon race, the three-legged race, the pudding eating contest, and the egg toss…
And yeah, that first block party, that first time is was just six families and now I think last year forty families came. I’m not in charge of it anymore, but I think it was forty.
Now they even make invitations for it. Generally the moms in their 30s in the neighborhood plan it and then, when your kids get to be a certain age…you don’t do it anymore.
But yeah, it started as more of a picnic. Mr. Russel was always the Keebler Elf of the parade Remember that? He used to get that costume from Jewel.
But the tradition of the bike parade, I also brought back from when I was a kid. So all the neighborhood kids now get their bikes or scooters and decorate them and then do a parade around the neighborhood to start off the block party. And we always used to put playing cards with clothes pins in the spokes to get it to click, so you guys do that too. And streamers are big, too.
I went home, where these traditions all occur, for Easter this year. The informant, my mother, and I discussed the neighborhood tradition of the block party, which happens every summer, one on one.
I was familiar with all the games and the bike parade tradition, because I took all of them very seriously but I never knew the context or that the history behind it came from my mom’s childhood, as well.
It is interesting how the leadership changes depending on the ages of the kids of the moms involved.
So, it goes like this:
“Children do you love each other?
Are you always kind and true?
Do you always do to others
as you would have them do to you?
Little birdies in their next agree,
tis a shameful sight to see,
Children of one family,
fall out, and chide and fight.”
And Sister Lorita got it… I think she must have gotten it from her own family. But she was a good friend of my moms and after she died, she came over and visited a lot. She worked at Mercy Hospital, they were really close… she ran the alcoholism unit at Mercy, but anyway she always said it whenever we’d argue about something.
Informant 2, age 22, son of Informant 1:
“Children do you love each other?” I remember mom saying it. But not Sister Lorita. Just like whenever we were fighting.
context: In a one on one conversation with informant 1, my father, I asked him if he remembered all the words to this poem that we often heard when we were fighting.
thoughts: Informant 2, did not remember all of it, probably because for him and our family, my mom, who got it from Sister Lorita, only needed to say the first few lines and we would stop what we were doing or just complain about the poem.
Sister Lorita was a great friend to my dad’s family after his mom died and so visiting her was a big part of Informant 2’s and my childhood, though he may not remember.
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