Author Archives: Tamsen Cronin

Greek Life Shotgun Pinning

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The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC in the Greek community. We were discussing a “shotgun pinning” that was to occur later that day. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Collector: “So, what is it exactly?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s the people who are more wacky or untraditional in the way that they don’t want a normal pinning. So their friends set it up for them. It’s so much more fun than the normal pinnings. It’s funny.”

Collector: “What do they do?”

Informant: “First, the guy’s friends get him really drunk and the girls do the same thing. Then all the friends tie the couple to a mattress. They have to sit on the mattress in front of the house while all their friends give embarrassing speeches and everybody cheers.”

Context

The Informant learned of this custom within the Greek community at USC by first hearing it from other members, both in her sorority and friends in fraternities. The Informant then witnessed it herself. She believes it to be a non-serious, fun way to show off your partner but stress-free because that how the couple acts anyway. She remembers them because they occur at least once every year before the seniors graduate.

Interpretation

            Upon first hearing about the untraditional tradition, I laughed at the strangeness of it. But after witnessing one myself, I believe it to have a slightly different meaning. I think the couples that participate in the shotgun pinnings are, like my informant said, a non-typical sorority or fraternity member. By allowing their friends to handle it and force them to go through with it, the stress is removed from the situation. I also believe that everyone finds them to be more fun because no one is taking themselves seriously. If a couple were to participate in a shotgun pinning ceremony, I would immediately think, ‘Oh yeah, so they’re not that into the normal pinning.’ Then I begin to think about all the possibilities of that couple to dislike the Greek community and so they act in unconventional ways in order to make that point clear.

Drawing Game — Pig Protector

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The following information was collected from a seven-year-old Caucasian girl from South Haven, MI. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Daddy sometimes will draw pigs on our hands when we are sleeping.”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “Um…haha…I don’t know. It’s funny because we don’t know who did it.”

Collector: “Does he do it to you and your sisters?”

Informant: “Yeah haha…He will draw it on my hand and then on my sister’s hand. And we wake up and he pretends he didn’t do it…Umm haha… But we know he drawed it.”

Context:

            The Informant picked this up from her father. He would draw pigs on the Informant and the Informant’s sisters’ hands when they were sleeping. Then they would wake up with a drawing on their hand he would pretend he hadn’t done it. It became a game of who could find him and get him to admit he drew it first. The pig looks like a smaller circle inside a larger one, with two ears, four legs and a tail. It is the same drawing every time. The Informant remembers because she finds it funny and enjoys playing.

Interpretation:

            I found this piece to be very intriguing. I understood it to be a sweet little game played between a father and his young daughters. But while searching for a deeper meaning, I’ve come to another conclusion, one that is hardly obvious to a seven-year-old. I believe this game to be a way a parent can make a child feel like he or she is always watched over and cared for, even in sleep. It reminds me of the childhood comfort of falling asleep on the couch, only to awake in your own bed, tucked in and warm. I imagine that waking up with this drawing on your hand, a sign that someone who loves you is with you even when you are unaware of it, would be a huge comfort and affirmation of the love that you feel from that parent.

Heard of a Cow Herd Joke

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The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I’ve got a joke.”

Collector: “Let’s hear it.”

Informant: “So two guys are driving by a pasture. And one guy says, ‘Hey, look! A bunch of cows!’

The other guy says, ‘Not bunch, herd.’

‘Heard of what?’

‘Herd of cows!’

‘Of course I’ve heard of cows.’

‘No, no, no. A cow herd.’

‘What do I care what a cow heard? I don’t have any secrets from a cow.’

Context

The Informant told me that a lawyer friend of his from Chicago told him that joke once when they had to travel to Springfield, IL together. The Informant relayed the “good laugh” they had about it on the dreary drive down. He remembers the joke almost every time he sees a herd of cows in a pasture. He believes it be at first just a funny joke about a miscommunication. But upon a second look, one that got a greater laugh between the two lawyers who shared the joke, they found more humor in it because of their profession where words mean everything.

Interpretation

            At first glance, this joke is one to get a quick laugh, something to chuckle about when passing fields full of cows. But I agree with the Informant that one’s profession, his being a lawyer, can make the joke seem funnier. I believe that the Informant and his friend found the joke to be funnier when looked at through the lens of the law. When doing so, because of their profession, the joke reaffirmed for them the belief that words carry a lot of weight and they have their own power. Even when told in a corny joke, the punch line is a misunderstanding of words, something that happens on a larger and more impactful scale everyday.

Folk Medicine — Face is red, raise the head

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The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My father was a doctor, he was always bring home doctorly advice for us kids.”

Collector: “What did he say?”

Informant: (laughing) “I remember, probably his most common medical phrase, a simple solution to seemingly every ailment, went like this: ‘Face is red, raise the head. Face is pale, raise the tail.’”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Just what it sounds like. If you’re face is red, stand up so some of the blood leaves your head. If your face is pale, you need more blood to flow to it, so you raise the bottom half of your body. But sometimes, he’d say it when no one was sick. Sometimes, I think he meant it in a whole other way completely.”

Collector: “What other way did he mean it?”

Informant: “He never said, but I always thought he meant that sometimes there was an easy…a simple solution to something. Like I was overthinking something, and he would tell me to ‘raise the head’ and I would go with my gut. The easiest solution.”

Context

The Informant learned this saying from his father, an orthopedic surgeon. He informed me that his father was constantly weaving his career into his everyday life, and one of his most common ways of doing this was by informing his children of his many medical insights. The Informant remembers this phrase, tells it to his own children, for its simple effectiveness and its complete ability to be applied to countless scenarios.

Interpretation

I agree with my Informant: the simple solution within the phrase is an easy way to fix a small ailment. Similarly, I really enjoy the thought that it can be applied to other situations, ones that do not involve a physical ailment. Meaning behind simple phrases or sayings always seems to me to reveal so much more.

Polish Funeral Custom — Cannot Dance

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The following piece is a Polish funeral custom that I learned of through my family’s babysitter whose father had recently passed away. The woman is a forty-eight year old Polish native who lives in Chicago now. I had been dancing around and in my attempt to get the Informant to join me, she explained why she was unable to.

Informant: “No, no…Can’t dance, no.”

Collector: “Come on! Why not?”

Informant: “No, no…My father die. I no dance for six months.”

Collector: “You can’t dance for six months because your dad died?”

Informant: “No dance for six months for father and mother. Four months for brother, sister.”

Context

The Informant has understood this Polish funeral custom for as long as she can remember. She remembers not dancing for a while after her grandfather had passed away, and has always understood it to be something she must also partake in. When her father passed, her entire family made the unspoken vow not to dance as a sign of respect to the dead.

Interpretation

While surprised at first, after hearing the Informant’s absolute belief in this funeral custom, I was beginning to also see it as a reasonable practice of mourning. I believe that the reason the Informant and her family undergo such a long process of morning, with such a specific time period, is out of respect for the ones they loved who have passed away. By vowing to not dance for six months, the participants must make a conscious effort everyday to not partake in overly joyful actions, excluding dancing altogether. I believe that commitment to this vow displays a respectful process of mourning, a way of honoring the dead by not moving on quickly after they are gone.

Jewish Baby Shower Custom

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The following piece is a Jewish custom collected from a twenty-two year old girl in a library with a group of other girls, all studying. The girls were discussing an upcoming family pregnancy. The “Informant” shared the following information with the table. I will be referred to as the “Collector”.

Informant: “Apparently, in Jewish culture, Jewish women aren’t allowed, or like supposed to have baby showers. Apparently it’s bad luck.”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Well, Jewish women are not supposed to prepare for the baby before it is born. It’s bad luck to receive presents for the baby before it’s born. So, like the mother or friends can accept the presents but she can’t give them to the mother. Also, you’re allowed to paint the baby’s room but you can’t bring in the crib. So when the mother finally goes into labor, whoever had the presents or other baby stuff goes to the house and sets up the crib and baby’s room with all the presents. So that it’s ready by the time the mom and baby come home.”

Context

            The Informant learned of this custom from her friend who is Jewish. When questioned, the Informant said that her friend’s mother was the one who told her and was very strict about the tradition. Her mother did it and all the women of the family still uphold the tradition. The Informant remembers learning of the tradition very clearly because she remembers her friends’ anger at the tradition overall.

Interpretation

I had previously never heard of this Jewish custom. I was surprised to hear that it was still very much a part of Jewish women’s practices and belief system. I understand how some of the preparation for a baby coming might lead to superstitious beliefs, or the thought of jinxing the pregnancy, but the idea that the baby shower in particular is bad luck was surprising to me. I’ve always thought that the purpose of a baby shower was to welcome bother the woman to motherhood and the baby to life. It has always seemed to me to be a celebration of life. It’s interesting to me to know to understand the other perspective that it might be an unlucky aspect of the pregnancy.

West Virginia Blue People

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The following piece was collected at a dinner table with a group of girls out celebrating a friend’s birthday. One of the girls, the “Informant”, was discussing an upcoming trip to visit her brother at West Virginia University. Laughing, the Informant launched into a story of the “West Virginia Blue People”, a story about a genetic condition the resulted from intermarriage.

Informant: “So, what my brother told me is that there’s a story that there are people in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, near the campus I guess, and there is skin is blue. It’s blue, and their people have always had blue skin because of all the intermarrying and incest. So you can tell if someone is a product of incest if their skin is blue! Sometimes, it can be really faint though, so you have to look closely at their lips or fingernails. Apparently, it shows more easily when they’re cold!”

Context:

            The Informant learned this information from her brother, when he returned home after his first semester at school. From California herself, the informant was very curious to hear about what the people of West Virginia were like. She remembers the story very easily, most often humorously, because she remembers the manner in which her brother told her. He recounted how, after hearing the story for the first time, he and his roommates would make a show of continuously checking to see if their other friends’ lips or skin ever looked blue. Finding it ridiculous herself, the Informant told me that she still enjoys being a part of the joke.

Interpretation

            My first reaction to this story was wondering whether there was a scientific reason, or condition perhaps, that acted as a precursor to this belief of a skin condition that was a result of incest. Upon further research, I saw that the original story was based on a specific family that was said to be suffering from blue-tinted skin. Researchers believe this to truly be the case, a result of the family suffering from a genetic condition called methemoglobinemia, which is an excess of methemoglobin in the red blood cells of the body. This condition does, in fact, cause blue-tinted. Hearing this story and conducting some research of my own led me to believe that people love to come up with their explanation for things they cannot explain, no matter how perplex.

Legend of Hicks Road — Albino Colony

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The following piece was collected from a nineteen-year-old female during a road trip from Los Angeles to San Jose, CA. As we were driving, she yelled out and pointed at an exit sign to “Hicks Road” leading off the freeway. Girl hereafter referred to as “Informant” and I will be referred to as “Collector”.

Informant: “Look, look! There’s an old ghost story about that road! Have you guys ever heard of Hicks Road?”

(Chorus of negative responses)

Informant: “So, the myth is that at the end of Hicks Road there’s an albino colony. The albinos all live up there in really creepy trailers. They say that the albinos really hate outsiders, or, like people that aren’t albino. So its supposed to be that if you ever are routed somewhere and you’re supposed to go through Hicks Road, you should reroute because if you go through there, the albinos will get you.”

Collector: “Do they just live on the road? What will they do to you?”

Informant: “No, they live in the dead end, basically a cul-de-sac of albino people. There are some parts of Hicks Road that are okay, but if you turn right at the dead end part, it will take you right to the albinos. Nobody knows what they’ll do to you, all you know is that they don’t take well to strangers.”

Context

It was obvious that my informant found this story to be highly entertaining. While the Informant made it very clear that she did not truly believe that there was an albino colony living at the end of Hicks Road, she was still very adamant that we did not venture near it when I suggested we make a quick detour. The informant lives in San Jose and claims to have known the story for a very long time; she believes she heard it at school. When I asked her when she learned of it, or from whom, she couldn’t recall but remembers it as always being present. She remembers it because it is one of the signs she always sees on the drive from her home in San Jose to USC. She heard a theory that the story originated from a couple of people who were out at Hicks Road one night when they stumbled across a man. The kids ran away because they were scared of being caught trespassing, and apparently during an account of what they had seen, one of the kids claimed that one guy had been “very white”. Thus, the myth of the albino colony.

Interpretation

I was very interested in hearing this story. I similarly do not believe that there is truly a colony of albino people living on Hicks Road in San Jose, CA. Like my informant, I am inclined to believe that the myth began when the story passed from friend to family member after one of the originators claimed to have seen a “very white” man up at Hicks Road. I love the idea that whole myths begin by one person’s account of an event, that childhood horror stories can be created by a simple phrase.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph — Prayer for Good Luck

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The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She is Irish Catholic. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Oh, whenever my family needs a bit of luck, or we think someone else could use it, all you have to say is ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.’”

Collector: “Then what’s supposed to happen?”

Informant: “Nothing is supposed to happen. It’s just a way of trying to get some extra help from above.”

Collector: “When do you say it?”

Informant: “Well, we’ve always said it whenever we see an ambulance. If one drives by with the sirens, you say a quick JMJ and that helps. Or…haha… if you need some help on a test you think you did poorly on, I would always write JMJ very small in the corner of the paper right before I turned it in. Couldn’t hurt.”

Context

The Informant learned this practice from her father, who would always stop the car and make the kids said JMJ if they saw an accident or an ambulance. It later leaked into other aspects of their lives, more lighthearted in nature. The Informant always felt more confident, or at least hopeful, about a test that she had written JMJ on. She believed that with God on her side, there was such a better chance of things turning out well in the end.

Interpretation

            I believe this piece to be interesting in the ways it can be applied and at the same time very familiar to me. Growing up, my family’s mantra for a quick bit of help or luck came as a result of very quickly saying “Come, Holy Spirit”. Hearing another family that has a similar practice, but different words is heartwarming to me, because I enjoy hearing that people have faith in small phrases, that saying them can bring good luck and fortune.

Shaka Hand Sign — Hawaiian Legend

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The following piece was collected during a conversation with a girl who had recently visited Hawaii. We had been discussing the varying uses of the shaka, commonly referred to as the “hang loose” gesture. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I, the “Collector”.

Informant: “So, I was talking to my cousins who live there and we were talking about how to properly do the shaka sign. I told them that I felt slightly phony trying to pull it off because I don’t surf, but they told me that it’s not only for surfers. They said it was their way of saying ‘hello’. They told me that apparently, the reason why it was thumb and pinky out, all other fingers closed, was because there was a Hawaiian man once who lost his fingers, they don’t know how, but that he lost his fingers and that was just how he waved.”

Collector: “Was it because of a surfing accident? Is that why it’s a surfer sign here?”

Informant: “They don’t know why, they think it’s because of a shark or surfing accident.”

Context

            The Informant learned this belief when she was visiting her cousins in Hawaii. The Informant believed her cousins and thought the origin of the shaka, according to the cousins, seemed like a reasonable beginning of the very popular hand sign. The Informant believes there must be some truth to this, mainly because it originated somehow, it’s very possible this is the reason why.

Interpretation

On the other hand, I believe that it is very possible that people who use the sign very regularly will not think much of its origin, but when told the story of a surfing or shark accident, will accept it as truth. When I first heard it, I remember nodding to myself and thinking “that makes sense”. I believe that people revel in coming up with explanations for things they normally would not be able to explain. I read other beliefs on this gesture, and some say it is a very popular sign whose meaning has become misconstrued. The idea behind the shaka, in many of these accounts, was simply a gesture that would encompass the meaning of “aloha”.