Author Archive
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Fisherman and His Wife

Text:

Informant: So anyways, it’s something to the effect of, I don’t remember it very well but it was, it was part of a theater thing that we did and apparently it’s a very old story where, like a fisherman catches like some magic fish that, he and his wife were kind of down on their luck, and the fisherman catches a magic fish and the magic fish gives him a wish every time he catches it, but the fish doesn’t like being caught. So, he gets, he gets them like I don’t know, just kind of enough to feed themselves for like however long they want to be fed because they were kind of born destitute and like need it. And he gets it. And then his wife starts to ask for like, more and more and starts to live a more and more lavish lifestyle, so every day he goes back and catches the fish and wishes for some new thing and the, and eventually the fish just gets fed up with it and takes everything away. And it’s kind of, I don’t know if I would call it, yeah sad, I guess it’s a little bit sexist because it’s one of those like “women are gold diggers” or whatever. That’s basically what the message of it is, but I guess in a larger sense, in just relating to the audience members regardless of gender, it’s just “don’t ask for too much” and “don’t get, don’t get caught up in wanting more when you already have everything you need.”

Context: The informant learned this story from a theater group in New Jersey, where he was told that it was a theater story. It had been passed down from other actors. This story was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1809 (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Von dem Fischer un syner FruKinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (Berlin, 1857), no. 19.). That said, it likely has origins outside of the New Jersey theater community.

Analysis: I tend to agree with the second analysis given by the informant, with the sentiment of “don’t ask for too much.” While it is technically the wife’s desire to have more, that doesn’t mean that the husband isn’t also wanting the same things. At the same time, I also feel like the tale could show how hard work and persistence can lead to getting your goals (at least before they are taken away). Essentially, the idea is to know when one is successful enough to stop taking advantage of others to garner more success when it’s unnecessary. Overall, the idea of complacency and assuming that you can keep all good things is a theme of the tale that resonates with me, especially because of the emphasis on capitalist ideals in America.

Customs
general
Gestures
Homeopathic
Kinesthetic
Magic

Splitting Poles and Friendship

Transcription

Collector: So yeah, I remember when we were hanging out that you, like, had us walk around the poles if we both went on opposite sides of it. Is that something you do with everyone or, like, how did you learn that?

Informant: Yeah! So, when I was in sixth or seventh grade, my best friend did it because she was superstitious. And she was superstitious because her mom was, so like it kind of passed on to me. But now it’s basically conditioned in me so I always do it.

Collector: so what does it even mean to split the poles?

Informant: So if you’re walking with someone or a group of people and you pass by a pole or trash can or anything that’s an obstacle, you all need to walk on the same side of the obstacle or you will split with the person who walked on the other side. And by split, I mean no longer be friends. Like there will be a big fight in the future or the people will just stop talking with each other. So you have to walk on the same side because then you’ll lose each other.

Context

Collector lives with the informant and is best friends with her. The practice was viewed many times as they were together and the collector wanted context for it. This explanation was prompted by the collector’s question about the origins of the custom. At this point, the custom is a habit for both the informant and the collector, who both make conscious efforts to walk on the same side of the pole. If one of them is on the wrong side by accident and realizes after the fact, they will go back and walk around on the correct side of the pole to undo the mistake. 

Analysis 

In this case, I feel that the act of “splitting the pole” is seen as homeopathic magic, as the physical, bodily splitting represents the metaphorical and emotional split as well. However, in this case, it isn’t a representation of the person that is being performed upon, but instead the people themselves representing a future version of themselves. The tangible, current action of walking on either side of the road is a representation of the future emotional split that could happen as a result of the gesture.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Living Well Is the Best Revenge

Text: Living well is the best revenge.

Context: The informant is the collector’s mother. The collector has often heard this saying from the informant throughout her childhood and has often taken it to heart. It was usually said during times where the collector had been wronged by someone else or had been facing hardships as a result of someone else. This was told a lot to the collector in high school and middle school. The informant learned this saying during her career in Wall Street. She doesn’t remember specifically where she learned it but remembered hearing it often at work. She then passed it on to her daughter and other friends. She likes this saying because she sees truth in it and finds it to be a mature take on conflicts. She also thinks it’s a healthy outlook on life and sees it as “taking the high road.”

Analysis: As the informant’s daughter, I felt that I learned this proverb early on and feel that it has helped me over time. It reminds me to not seek concrete revenge, but instead to ignore negativity and focus on moving on and becoming a better form of myself. In a sense, living well IS the best revenge, because those who have tried to wrong you are forced to watch you succeed and become a better person.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Humor
Life cycle
Signs

Birthday Candles Prediction

Text:

P: If you blow out the candles, the amount of times you, it takes for you to blow out the candles is how many children you’re going to have

J: Wow

P: Oh wait, that means you’re going to have one child, cause you blew once

 M: Nooo.

J: See I thought you were saying you get what you wish for and M doesn’t want to have kids, so….

P: But yeah that’s why I said that you’d have zero because I thought it started at zero but I guess it starts at one.

M: But the abortion negates it.

Context: The collector is noted by the letter J. Informant P is the one who knows of this custom, and informant M is celebrating her birthday. Informant P learned this belief from her Indian parents.

Analysis: This custom celebrates not only the birth of the person blowing the candles but also their potential fertility and their future as a reproductive being. That said, the idea of blowing out the candle isn’t necessarily inherently sexual, but instead is just a physical way of blowing out the flames. Perhaps the flame is a representation of single life without children and each failed blow is a child that fails to tame the fire of the blower’s sexuality. However, this isn’t meant to be a ritual to bring on the children but is instead a predictive belief. Despite this, I am confused as to how to reconcile with the fact that people have multiple birthdays. Does the number of blows add up from year to year? That seems impossible given that humans don’t tend to have 13 children (assuming that the counting stops once the being is fertile. Or is it an average of all of the blows per birthday? Regardless, the belief itself isn’t concerned with the mathematics of the custom but instead is primarily focused on celebrating birth and fertility.

Folk speech
Game
general
Riddle

Imagine you are in a Brick Room

Text:

Informant (R): I also used to do a bunch of riddles and stuff, like while hiking at summer camp, you know?

Collector (J): yeah, yeah, that was fun!

R: My favorite was the brick room one.

J: oh yeah, that one messed with me as a kid, I felt so dumb because I couldn’t figure it out.

R: I mean, it was hard!

J: How did it go again?

R: Ok, so imagine you are trapped in a solid brick room, with no windows, no doors, nothing. You have a single piece of rope and a paper clip and a note that says you must escape the room or you’ll die. How do you get out?

J: I mean, I know the answer, but can you say it?

R: Yeah, so I said imagine you’re in the room. Stop imagining.

Context: Both R and J went to summer camp together. They were recalling old games and riddles for the sake of this collection. R learned this riddle from a camp counselor who repeated this riddle while hiking with younger campers.

Analysis: As other riddles are, this riddle contains insider information for those who know the answer to the riddle. Those who “play the game” of trying to solve it are typically misguided and attempt to find ways out of the room with the rope or other tools. Depending on the performance, the “clues” to escape change, keeping those attempting to solve the riddle on their toes. However, those who know the riddle are quick to remember the keyword “imagine.”

Customs
general
Humor

The Brown Helmet

Text:

Informant (R): Yeah the KA’s had a tradition, we called the Brown Helmet, um, we had a travelling trophy that was awarded to the last person that got dumped by a date or a girlfriend. Uh and it was a brown army helmet. The reason it was brown or was called the Brown Helmet, or why it was appropriate was because you had been shat on by your girlfriend or your date who dumped you. So you know if you were unlucky enough to have the brown helmet, you were just waiting for someone to get dumped so you could give it back to them. Yeah, so we had that.

Collector (J): Was that something you learned during pledging (initiation)?

R: No, it was even before, because we lived in the house and we hadn’t gone through hell week or any of those things yet and you know I got, shit, I probably got the Brown Helmet before I was an active actually.

Context: The informant was recalling his experience as a fraternity brother in college. He is remembering his time there and the traditions celebrated as his child goes through the pledging process.

Analysis: The Brown Helmet is a way of expressing the recent loss of a relationship in a humorous way, encouraging brothers to be open about their experiences. The fact that every individual has the potential to wear the helmet also allows for a sense of solidarity for those who currently have the helmet, as they can seek advice from previous recipients. At the same time, it shows other brothers to be more sympathetic to the wearers of the hat. However, this could also make the wearers more likely to be teased for being “dumped.” Regardless, the sentiment behind the color brown certainly shows the negative attitude and stigma around being broken up with. In a way, the brown army helmet shows that regardless of their relationship status, the brothers are able to fight through it and reclaim their identity as a bachelor.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

A Sleeper Receives Nothing But Dreams

Text:

A sleeper receives nothing but dreams

Context: The informant learned this phrase from her mother, who was a Croatian refugee who fled to Canada. The informant likes this phrase because it encourages her to work hard to achieve her goals.

Analysis: “A sleeper receives nothing but dreams” encourages individuals to actively participate in achieving their goals rather than simply dreaming about them or “sleeping.” This is how the informant interpreted the proverb, as her mother would tell it to her at times when she was not actively participating in extra-curricular activities in high school or was not doing her homework. In this sense, “sleeping” is any activity deemed to be a leisure activity or not actively pursuing an end-goal. At the same time, however, this could be interpreted as a positive thing for sleepers, as dreams are something necessary to achieve success in the first place.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Watermelon Seeds Make You Pregnant

Text:

Informant (C): Remember at Walton’s when we used to have watermelon and I refused to eat it and said I was allergic?

Collector (J): Yeah

C: I was never actually allergic and I actually really liked watermelon, but when I was at school some other dumbass kid told me that people got pregnant from eating watermelon seeds so I was crazy paranoid about like, being a child mother, and so I just avoided it like the plague because I didn’t want a kid.

J: Really?

C: Yeah, because, like, my mom was pregnant like my sister and the kid said “oh she probably ate watermelon” and I was like “what?” and they were like “well, like, she has a watermelon in her tummy” or whatever and my dumbass just fell for it. I thought that, like, if you swallowed the seed, you would grow a watermelon in your stomach and then the baby would form in the watermelon. Like now I know that’s ridiculous, but like it was believable as a kid because I didn’t know about sex. I guess that kid’s parents or someone told them that because they didn’t want to explain the whole “your mom and dad had sex” thing. But yeah, after I learned about sex I started eating watermelon again.

Context: C and J met at a summer camp (Walton’s). At the end of each camp session, there was a camp-wide barbeque where watermelon was served.

Analysis: Like the informant said, this belief likely started as a way to wholesomely tell kids how their mothers got pregnant. Instead of explaining puberty and sex, the narrative of having a woman swallow a watermelon seed is easier to explain to a child. It also makes physical sense, because a pregnancy belly does approximate the size of a small watermelon. The inside flesh of the watermelon also arguably could resemble human flesh, which is why it is so believable that a baby can be formed in it. There is also something to be said about the association of fruits and fertility, with the human and plant lifecycle often being associated with each other. The cyclical nature of life as both human and watermelon allow a further association to be made with the human gestation period. Overall, the idea that pregnant women are carrying watermelons and are pregnant because of watermelon seeds isn’t that far-fetched from the eyes of a child who has no knowledge of sex.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Material

Lemon Juice as Hair Dye

Text

Informant (C): I don’t know if this is like, “folk” or whatever ’cause I think it really works, but like, before I started dyeing my hair with, like, real dye, I would put lemon juice in my hair in, like, streaks and then I’d go outside and sit in the sun and wait for my hair to get lighter. Like, I’d do the streaks to get highlights because I didn’t want to be totally blonde, but I wanted something other than just… brown. But like yeah, I’d always see a difference, I mean, it would take a few hours and like multiple lemons, but, like, I’d definitely be blonder afterwards, which was nice because I never actually had to buy hair dye or, like, get yelled at by my parents because it was “natural” or whatever. But after, like, sophomore year, I just stopped giving a shit and went to Hot Topic to actually dye my hair.

Context: The informant is a natural brunette, but frequently dyes her hair, typically red, but originally experimented with blonde highlights. This was a common practice around the school the informant and collector attended. The collecter herself also participated in this practice but didn’t see the same results as the informant.

Analysis: This “beauty hack” is a common belief among young, brunette women who are attempting to lighten their hair. Many online blogs and websites endorse the belief and recommend that those interested put lemon in their hair and sit out in the sun. The belief is that the acidity of the lemon reacts with the sun, creating a bleach-like effect. At the same time, lemon juice is viewed as less harmful than actual bleach and is “healthier” for the hair. This view makes sense, as lemon juice isn’t created in a lab like most artificial hair lightening products. This belief places an emphasis on the “natural” alternative to larger, corporate solutions to lightening hair. It’s a way of outsmarting the beauty companies and embracing a natural way of dyeing one’s hair, which gives the person who used lemon juice a unique story of how they achieved their beauty look. In a way, this practice creates an identity for those who do the practice as natural beauty experts who are savvy enough to avoid the corporate norm of beauty products.

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