Author Archive
Legends
Narrative

Pineys and the Jersey Devil

“So I grew up in NJ, but not in the part of NJ that’s near new York. I grew up in the part of New Jersey near Philadelphia, and that’s considered South Jersey. In South Jersey, toward the Jersey Shore, there’s an area called the Pine Barrens, and the people who live there are referred to as Pineys. They’re described as not having running water or electricity. They live in a very primitive way, and live in shacks. Their families have lived in the Pine Barrens for generations. And there’s a legend that in the Pine Barrens lives a creature called the Jersey Devil, and if anything unexplained or violent or weird happened, it would be in South Jersey in the Pine Barrens. So people would say it had to do with these people who are not very sophisticated and live just among themselves and don’t mix with others combined with the evil that is the Jersey Devil. People in South Jersey really believe that there is this phantom Jersey Devil.”

Context: The informant was raised in Cherry Hill, South New Jersey.

 

Interpretation: It seems clear that the Pineys and the Jersey Devil are both used as a scapegoat for New Jerseyans’ anger and sadness in response to tragic and/or unexplained events. The Jersey Devil could also be viewed as the embodiment of New Jerseyans’ negative feelings toward Pineys. Instead of explicitly citing the elusive, exclusive Pineys as the root of evil, they can veil their hatred in a more fantastical being and dehumanize whoever is being blamed for such events. For another interpretation of the Jersey Devil, see the “Jersey Devil & Folklore” page of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance website.

 

Legends
Narrative

The Mountain of el Espiritu Michoacan

So where my dad lives, el Espiritu Michoacan, there’s a big mountain with a large cross that is visible to the naked eye at the top. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but they say that religious groups took it there on horseback. The wood used was so big that they needed a lot of people and lot of horses to move it or transport it. There’s a story that after it was built, many people were at the top of the mountain and I guess praying or worshipping… and because it’s at the top of the mountain, they got dizzy when they were staring at the cross. They thought that the cross was falling or that the sky was falling and they began to run, and some people maybe got hurt and fell down because it’s steep. They also say that the people might have been partying, so they could have been drunk or intoxicated or something. You know, your depth perception isn’t great under those circumstances. So they were being punished by God.

Context: The informant’s father is from Michoacan, and he has visited the state almost yearly since his childhood. He heard this story from his father.

Interpretation: This story has a cautionary element that warns audiences not to mix worship with intoxication for fear of punishment. It also seems reminiscent of Judgment Day, where worshippers are evaluated as the world appears to end (i.e. the sky is falling). It also suggests the power of religion, both in that it brought people together to build and transport the cross and that it is powerful enough to send a large group of people falling down a mountain. The fact that this story is widely spread in the area shows that the people of el Espiritu Michoacan value religion and are dedicated to spreading the word of Christianity (more specifically, Catholicism).

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Jewish Bread and Salt for New Homes

I guess it’s a Jewish tradition to bring salt to somebody when they move somewhere new. When I moved into my first apartment, my mom brought a loaf of bread and salt. I think she said it’s supposed to be so you never go hungry, and then the salt brings flavor. She also sprinkled the salt on the floor because she said it protects against evil, and I couldn’t vacuum the salt for at least twenty-four hours. She said that her parents did the same thing when she moved into her first apartment, so she was passing that tradition on to me.

Context: The informant’s maternal grandparents are both Jewish, and the informant practiced Judaism throughout his childhood.

Interpretation: This is an act of love and concern from whoever brings the homeowner salt and bread. In this case, it also connects the informant to his grandparents by bringing their tradition into his home. Lastly, it is a religious practice that connects Jewish people to one another by practicing the same traditions.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Skate for fun, not for fame

“Skate for fun, not for fame.”

Context: The informant has been skateboarding since he was six-years-old, and has encountered many amateur and professional skateboarders.

Interpretation: There is a lot of backlash in the skateboarding community against skaters who “sell out” and skateboard for the sake of money and fame. It is well-known that a “true” skateboarder skates because they are passionate about improving and about the culture of skateboarding. This proverb encourages skateboarders to fully enjoy the activity rather than putting pressure on themselves to be of a certain skill level in order to pursue skateboarding professionally. It also shames skateboarders who see skateboarding as their greatest strength and opportunity for success, and makes it more difficult for skateboarding to progress as an industry.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Av barn og fulle folk får ein høyre sanninga

Av barn og fulle folk får ein høyre sanninga.”

“From children and drunk people we hear the truth.”

Context: The informant’s grandmother was a Norwegian immigrant with many peculiar sayings. This was his favorite, as it gave him a rare sense of power as a child.

Interpretation: Because sober adults often act in their own self-interest and mask their intentions with flattery and deceit, it has been said in more than one language that honesty is reserved for children who have not yet learned to lie and manipulate and drunk people who do not have the mental capacity to mask their feelings and intentions. This can be used, as is the case with my informant, to empower children and encourage them to maintain their honesty and forthrightness. It can also make adults more likely to share their true feelings because it indirectly shames their general dishonesty. Lastly, it makes people more receptive to the thoughts and feelings of children and drunk people, who are both often overlooked because they are seen as foolish and incapable of sharing knowledge.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht

“Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht.”

“You do not see the forest for the trees.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this proverb from her friend when she was upset. She continues to think of this proverb in stressful situations.

Interpretation: This proverb is meant to help people when they are wrapped up in small problems. It teaches the audience to see things from a broader perspective rather than focusing on specific issues that will not matter in the greater scheme of things. It also works to soothe people who are upset or overwhelmed.This proverb also tells the audience about Germany’s environment. One-third of Germany is covered in forestry, so it is fitting that a well-known German proverb utilizes the forest as a symbol.

 

Foodways
Material

Brownie Recipe

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9×13 baking pan

  1. Melt two sticks of unsalted butter and 4 squares of unsweetened chocolate together in a pan on the lowest heat.
  2. Combine 4 eggs and 2 cups of sugar in a big bowl by hand and add 1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  3. Pour the melted chocolate and butter mixture in with the sugar and eggs. Stir to combine.
  4. Slowly add 1 cup of flour s little bit at a time until you see no flour
  5. Pour batter in baking pan.

Bake 16 minutes at 350. Turn heat down to 325 and bake the rest of the way.

Cool and slice into squares

 

Context: The informant received this recipe orally from her mother. Her grandmother never let her mother in the kitchen when she was growing up, but it was the one thing she learned to bake. Everyone loved these brownies and wanted the recipe. It was the informant’s mother’s ‘go to’ when her parents had company.

Interpretation: This recipe is geared towards people who are not well-versed in the kitchen. It is an example of how recipes can empower people. Despite the informant’s mother’s lack of skill, she was able to impress the people around her and provide a delicious gift. This recipe also connects the informant to her mother, who is now deceased. By making this recipe, the informant is able to pass on her mother’s memory.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Life cycle

The Jewish Slap

“It’s a Jewish tradition for mothers to slap their daughters after their first period. I don’t actually know the source of this tradition. Maybe it’s to warn the daughter of the pain of womanhood. I also heard from someone that the slap is supposed to bring blood to the daughter’s cheek, but I don’t know what that means. I never slapped my daughter, and my friend yelled at me because I didn’t. She slapped both of her daughters when they got their periods.”

Context: The informant is a Jewish woman with one daughter. Both of her parents are Jewish. She was raised in a Conservative Jewish household and raised her children in a Reform Jewish household.

Interpretation: The most reasonable conclusion seems to be that the slap is a symbol of the pains of womanhood. It could also be used to shame young girls out of sexual activity by immediately punishing them for being capable of reproduction. It also connects Jewish females both to their mothers through the slap and to other Jewish women through the shared experience.

 

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle
Tales /märchen

4 Questions, 4 Tests

This conversation is between the collector (C) and the informant (I).

I: I’m going to ask you four questions, and this isn’t just for fun. It’s going to test you on your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Are you ready?

C: I’m ready.

I: The first question is, “How do you put a giraffe in a refrigerator?”

C: (After a long pause) I don’t know.

I: You open the refrigerator, put the giraffe inside, and close it. That was to test if you overthink simple questions. The second question is, “How do you put an elephant in a refrigerator?”

C: You open the refrigerator, but the elephant inside, and close it.

I: Wrong. First, you have to take out the giraffe. That was to test whether you understand the consequences of your actions. The third question is, “The whole jungle has an animal meeting, and all but one animal show up.Who isn’t there?”

C: (After a long pause) I give up.

I: The elephant! He’s still in the refrigerator. That was to test your memory. You have one last question, and it’s the most important one: “You need to cross a river. It is filled with crocodiles, and you have no boat. How do you get across?”

C: You distract the crocodiles?

I: You don’t need to. They’re still at the animal meeting. That was to test whether you learn from your mistakes.

Context: The informant is significantly older than the collector, which might add to the educational aspect of the joke.

Interpretation: Obviously, this is first and foremost for entertainment. But it does teach the audience to think through their answers carefully, understand that actions have consequences, and learn from past experiences. It is a silly series of questions with a surprising amount of moral value. It is distinctly structured for educational purposes, and therefore places the joke-teller in a position of authority and wisdom over the audience.

 

Game

Zap Game

“We used to play this game in middle school called “Zap.” You wrote a name on someone’s palm and a time on the top of their hand. If they look at their palm before the time on their hand, they have to ask the person named out. Obviously, the names would be of people of the opposite sex. One time, I lost “Zap” and I had to ask out this boy who I actually hated with a passion. That’s probably why my friend wrote his name. Anyway, no one took it seriously because we did it all the time, so people knew it was usually a joke when classmates asked them out.”

Context: The informant went to school in St. Helena, California, twenty minutes from Napa. She is female, and grew up in a small, close-knit community.

Interpretation: This can be viewed as an introduction to the courtship process with less pressure than truly trying to ask someone on a date. It is interesting that both genders engage in “Zap,” as Western ideals would usually impose this burden on men for the most part. It is a lighthearted way of familiarizing children with the pressures and uncertainties of finding a romantic partner while also shielding them from the consequences of earnest romantic rejection.

 

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