Author Archive
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Golden Arm

The Tale:

“Once upon a time there was a little lady who lived in a cottage…all on her own, uh, in the woods. One day, when she was out in her house, outside her house, um, working in her garden and gathering, uh, vegetables and taking care of her flowers, she um, she decided to go on over to the little graveyard…that was not too far away from her house, and she thought she would go and lay some flowers on the various graves. Well when she came upon one grave, she found this very interesting…uh…gold…thing that caught her eye, and when she looked at it more carefully, it looked like it was in the shape of an arm, and she thought that was very odd, but yet it was still so pretty and shiny. She decided she would pick it up and take it home. So she took it home with her, and she went on back home, and she made dinner and everything, and uh, lit a fire, and sat by the fireplace for a little while, and then she got tired and decided to go to bed. So she went to bed that night, and after she had fallen asleep for a little while, she, she thought she heard something and she wasn’t sure, so she sat up so she could hear a little bit better, and she heard something, um from a, sounded like from a distance going: ‘Briiiing back my golden arm. Briiiing back my golden arm.’ And it kept getting louder, and louder, and louder. And she was very nervous, she didn’t know what was happening. And it got louder, and closer. ‘Briiiing back my golden arm. (louder) Briiiing back my golden arm. BRIIIING BACK MY GOLDEN ARM.’ So the little lady…scrambled up, she got the golden arm, and she looked out but she didn’t see anyone, so she quickly ran back out to the graveyard and put it back where she found it, and ran back to her house and locked the house, and she never heard, or saw the golden arm again.”

The informant is my mom. She is from Tennessee working as a middle school Spanish teacher. She heard this tale from her mother when she was a little girl, and she then told it to my sister and I at home. The tale had a haunting impression on her as a child. My grandmother was an intimidating woman; she was very strict and got upset with my mom if she didn’t obey exactly what she wanted her to do. I believe my grandmother told this story to my mom in order to scare her and instruct her to follow the rules or avoid messing with things about which she doesn’t know enough information. It doesn’t seem to have that exciting of an ending, but I imagine my grandmother’s intention was just to scare my mom, so it didn’t matter. It also kind of disturbed my sister and me.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kiss the Lollipop

The ritual: “My high school’s cross-country team…our sectionals which was like the last meet of the year, cause we always lose sectionals…it’s always at the same place, it’s at this elementary school in Noblesville. And we would go there and there’s like this random path into the woods, and all the guys on the team would go there together, and we would take one lollipop and everyone had to kiss the lollipop and it was super weird.”

The informant carried out this ritual for his high school cross-country team. He said that one guy on the team never did it because he thought it was too weird, probably because he thought it was too close to kissing other guys. This ritual was probably more ironic than for good luck, since the informant himself said that the team lost sectionals every year. Going in knowing that they’ll lose, the ritual for “good luck” was probably just a parody, since the ritual itself is kind of weird to begin with.

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths

The Author of Ben-Hur

The rumor/myth: “The author of Ben-Hur, whose name is something Lane I think? (The only book ever written in Crawfordsville, Indiana.) His house is in Crawfordsville, and they say that on the grounds of this house is like every tree that’s like native to Indiana. I don’t actually know if it’s true though, I heard it from my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Harris. She was really weird.”

The informant, originally from Crawfordsville, told me this about the author of Ben-Hur, actually named Lew Wallace. He has never actually read the novel, but his teacher told their class about Wallace’s house in Crawfordsville. I think she told 5th graders this story to give them pride about their hometown, as it is a very small rural town that isn’t very famous to people that aren’t from there. Its truth value doesn’t seem to matter, and one could even say that it’s a sacred truth to the inhabitants of Crawfordsville. I imagine Mrs. Harris would be a bit offended if anyone challenged her on the verity of this statement, since it represents the mythology of Crawfordsville.

Folk Beliefs
general

Don’t Swim After Eating

The belief:

“If go swimming after you eat, you’ll drown.”

 

The informant doesn’t remember where he heard this rumor, but he thinks it was probably from a friend’s mother during his childhood. He doesn’t think it’s true now, though. In my opinion, I think this is a popular statement told to children by their parents so that they let their food digest before they get back in the water to swim. Another popular belief is that you’ll get cramps if you swim right after eating, so maybe the parents who say this more extreme belief are just trying to protect their children from painful cramps.

Folk Dance
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Musical
Myths

Delta Sigma Theta step/chant

The chant:

“Contrary, contrary, contrary to the story,

Everybody knows that this is Delta territory.

In 1913, a change was made,

And for a solid sisterhood, the foundation was laid.

Twenty-two women who were destined to lead

Founded the devastating, captivating—DST.

In Delta Sigma Theta Sorority,

Public service is our number one priority.

For royal red, and nine white pearls,

It takes a lot to be a—Delta girl.”

 

The informant, my mom, is from Tennessee working as a middle school Spanish teacher. She learned this sorority chant in college in the South from her sorority sisters while they were getting ready for a stepping competition. Stepping is a combination of claps, steps, and chants to a particular rhythm; this practice is popular among traditionally black Greek organizations. She told me that she learned a lot of chants while pledging Delta Sigma Theta, but she didn’t learn this one until later. These chants are usually learned directly from sorority sisters or fraternity brothers in these organizations, and many have roots as far back as the beginning of the 20th century when the organizations were founded. The chant serves primarily to tell Delta’s history and take pride in their organization, while carrying out impressive stepping as well. Thus, it is somewhat also the mythology upon which Delta Sigma Theta is founded, as it tells of its origins and identity.

Legends
Narrative

Bunnyman Bridge

The legend:

“So the story is of Bunnyman Bridge, which is like this bridge in Virginia that’s supposedly haunted, is that…there’s this guy, the story changes depending on who you ask, but he was like the Bunnyman, who’s like this serial killer or like child molester, one of those like Freddie Kreuger kind of things. And he would like wear a Bunnyman suit to lure the children. And so the legend is like he…was either in a nearby jail or insane asylum, I wanna say it was like a psych ward or like…one of those kinds of things, that’s now like not in existence or shut down. And he like, he escaped and like hijacked a bus, and like drove it to Bunnyman Bridge and like hung himself from Bunnyman Bridge. And so, that’s why it’s haunted, so people always like…well maybe the legend is that he’s still alive and comes back? I don’t know, the point is, someone hung themselves from Bunnyman Bridge related to the Bunnyman, and he like haunts it or something, so like my sister in high school would go with her friends to Bunnyman Bridge, like so badass and scary. And she like, my mom got so mad at her, and it’s like a thing that like Northern Virginia like teenagers do and know of.”

 

The informant is a freshman at USC originally from Virginia. She learned this legend from stories that her older sister (five years older) used to tell her. This legend is passed through high schoolers in the surrounding area. I imagine it’s just a fun scary story to tell each other, and especially to younger kids, as the informant was in middle school when her sister told her about this legend. She told me that she had never been to Bunnyman Bridge herself because she was always too scared to go, so it’s clear that the legend had a profound effect on her.

Narrative
Riddle

Halloween House

The riddle:

Informant: “It was a dark, Halloween night, and a boy was walking alone. There was a house with no power, like in the woods, in the back of the woods, like there was a pathway up to the house, there was no power. And he went in alone, and he goes, and he was walking through it all, and he kept on hearing creaky sounds, and then he finally got to the back, and this voice over the house just was like, ‘You walked into this house, and now you have to die,’ and he said, ‘but I’ll give you five choices on how to die.’ And it was like, ‘You can take a pill, and you won’t feel anything at all, and you’ll just die peacefully. Or you can, um, I can cut your neck off’…there are like two other ways, I can’t remember, and then, um…oh and then, ‘You can sit in a rocking chair and you’ll die by the…electric chair.’ And he…what would you have chosen? The pill where you don’t feel anything?”

Informant’s mom: “No, or the electric chair, or what?”

Informant: “Getting your head chopped off.”

Informant’s mom: “I don’t know, I wouldn’t do the pill, because I would think that I might have a chance to escape. So I wouldn’t do that.”

Informant: “Alright, well, he picked the pill, but if he would’ve picked the electric chair, he wouldn’t’ve died, because remember at the beginning, I said there was no power.”

Informant’s mom: “Ohhhhh (laughs).”

 

The informant, a sophomore in high school, told this to her mother. She says that she learned this from a classmate in second grade. The riddle doesn’t seem to be that clever, but I think it was probably very clever for second graders once they knew the right answer. It probably amused them while also skirting around the taboo of death and violence at such a young age. While effectively harmless, it was fun for young children to sort of trick one another.

Legends
Narrative

The Ghost in the Weiner Theater

The legend:

“During play rehearsal at the Weiner Theater, one girl brought a Ouija board, and while they were on break, the characters went backstage and asked if there were any ghosts residing in the theater. The Ouija board replied with the name Annie, and we have learned that there is a ghost named Annie in the Weiner Theater, and we keep a chair set for her in the tech booth during every show…But Ms. Caskey and everyone else already knew there was a ghost named Annie in the Weiner theater. And then, and then, so the Ouija board moved to Annie, and they were like, ‘There’s a ghost named Annie here,’ and everyone was, everyone who wasn’t there for the Ouija board was like, ‘Yeah we know,’ and they were like, ‘What?!’ and so, it was completely, like…there’s an actual ghost in the theater. Like, actually a ghost. Like Virginia and the people who were moving the Ouija board had no idea that there was a girl named Annie in the theater…but Mrs. Davis told them that there was an Annie. It’s really creepy.”

The informant, my sister and a sophomore in high school, heard this from her friend Virginia who was in a play at the all-girls k-12 school she attends in TN (and from which I graduated). The Weiner Theater is the school’s huge main theater that seats approximately 600 people for school plays, recitals, and other events. Ms. Caskey is the school’s theater director, and Mrs. Davis manages the tech booth in the theater department; according to the informant, both of these faculty members previously knew about the ghost named Annie who haunts the Weiner Theater. Virginia and some other girls in the school musical in the fall of 2014 were unaware of this ghost. Since the girls had no previous knowledge of the ghost, and the older faculty members already knew of such ghost, this Ouija board experience therefore proved to them that the ghost Annie is actually real. Memphis has a lot of old places, especially in midtown and downtown—the Orpheum Theater downtown is also presumably haunted by a little girl ghost—so belief in ghosts isn’t that unusual. The school was founded in 1902; it was one building on a small plot of land with very few students. Its old campus was downtown, but it moved campus to its current location in 1964. This is the history they taught us throughout elementary and middle school, along with even more detailed descriptions of the founder and her students. A portrait of the founder even hangs up in the library. Being over 100 years old, there is great emphasis on the school’s history and traditions. I believe its status as such a historical institution makes it very easy for its students and faculty to believe that it is haunted by ghosts. Ms. Caskey and Mrs. Davis have obviously accepted the fact that Annie exists. Most people who know this accept the knowledge and carry on with their day. They have even given her a chair in the tech booth to watch every show the school produces. And although the informant thinks it’s creepy, she obviously believes wholeheartedly that there is a ghost in the Weiner Theater.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Hot dogs

The belief:

“You can only eat 2 hotdogs per year, because they take a long time to digest.”

The informant is my sister, a sophomore in high school. She does not remember where she heard this, but she claims that she hasn’t eaten a hotdog since 2012. She told me, “I save my 2 hotdogs for 4th of July every year, but even then I don’t eat hotdogs.” When I told her that I ate a good amount of hotdogs last year, she jokingly responded that I should refrain from eating more hotdogs for another five years. I think this belief comes from apprehension of Genetically Modified Organisms and non-organic food in recent years. More and more people want to eat naturally grown meat and vegetables, and are starting to question what exactly is in their food. With hotdogs especially, it is hard to tell what type of meat (or meats) is in them. Whether or not this belief is true, it is understandable for people to think twice before ingesting something they can’t identify.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

A watched pot…

The proverb: “A watched pot never boils.”

The informant is an American college student in Arkansas. She thinks she first heard the proverb from her mom. The proverb is pretty straightforward. On a literal level, the proverb isn’t fully true, because the pot will eventually boil. What it means is that a watched pot seems like it never boils, because it boils so slowly that it isn’t noticeable. The proverb’s message is that you shouldn’t be caught up with waiting around for things to happen; if you are patient, your prayers/wishes will be answered/come true–Be patient. Since the informant first heard it from her mother, I imagine her mom wanted her to be patient for something in her life that she was anxious about at the time.

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