USC Digital Folklore Archives / November, 2010

Family Proverb – Saratoga, California

Zager Family Proverb- Saratoga,CA

“Trust everyone but always cut the cards”

Phil told me he learned this proverb from his father when we probably around 8 years old. He learned it in his home of Saratoga,CA but his father said he first heard it when his dad was working as a lawyer for an international trading company, and his boss came to check the records with some higher officer from the government. Even though his dad knew both of the men, he still asked for ID. The government guy was happy with Phil’s dad’s responsibility and said, “Trust everyone, but always cut the cards” and his dad has used that phrase ever since. Phil added that he would use this proverb most relationships with other people. In my opinion to properly practice this proverb one has to use prudence, it is not easy to determine where someone’s alliance actually lies. In this situation Phil’s dad knew both of the men, but who is to say whether it was really them, or if they really had good intentions.

Phil also says it means trust in the people around you but do not leave yourself completely exposed to be taken advantage of. It also means do not trust yourself completely and think ahead before doing something so bold it’s stupid. His example was, feel free to get drunk, but don’t get so drunk you do not remember where you hid your wallet. I think this is a very practical proverb because it deals with the issue of trust and can be put into practice daily when we interact with other people.

I feel this proverb deals directly with people’s perception of others. Even if you trust them, don’t put yourself in a situation where someone can exploit you. We assume that most people in the world are inherently good, but we can not be sure of that fact so we have to watch our backs. The “cut the cards” aspect of the proverb really means that if an opportunity presents itself where you can benefit yourself you should do it. If you do not someone else will, leaving you at a disadvantage.

Annotated: This proverb can be seen in the novel The Hustlers by Douglas Thompson. Thompson, Douglas. The Hustlers. London. Sidgwick & Jackson: 2007


Festival – India

Dhashera- Celebration of Good

Sudharam told me of this festival that is celebrated in his small town. The Dhashera festival celebrates the victory of good over evil. To celebrate an enormous forty foot edifice is constructed and filled with firecrackers. The entire town contributes to this process. On the night of Dhashera the whole town gathers in the square and man with a  bow shoots a flaming arrow at the edifice creating an emormous explosion of lights and flame. The crowd is of course a good distance away as to not get hurt but everyone is there reveling in the wonder of the lights.

The festival is celebrated typically in the first week of October. The festival is based on the Ramanayna, the Holy Book of Hindu. There is a tale about a man with ten faces who is very powerful and wreaks havoc amongst the countryside. There is a very poor man who is very just and righteous that lives in the forest and has a beautiful wife. The powerful man with ten faces comes and steals the wife and takes her back to his kingdom and rapes her. The virtuous man travels to the kingdom of the man with ten faces and defeats him. Therefore, the people celebrate the defeat of the evil man. Sudharam described the celebration itself as very festive as the entire town gathered.

I feel this is a very joyful event that emphasizes the social attitude of the village. They come together to build the edifice of fireworks and then gather again to see it lit off. It seems the main purpose of the celebration is to create a sense of unity amongst the town and create a good environment for socializing.


Festival – India


Diwali is one of the main celebrations of the Indian people. I am recording this as folklore to examine Sudharam’s own personal experience surrounding the holiday. The celebration is a festival of lights and literally means happiness. There are several unique customs that occur surrounding this holiday. For example, if you are a business man several things are practiced including closing the financial books for the past year and opening new ones. Also, as a business man you pay respects to a goddess known as Lakshmi who is the goddess of money for more prosperity and fortune in your life. Some practices even rival that of Christmas in the United States, people often cleaned their house and decorated with candles on the outside. Children also receive gifts from their family members. At the end the whole family gets together and eats. There is also a practice known as Pujja where people go to a temple and there is a fireplace known as a Havana, everyone proceeds to close their eyes and chants.

For Sudharam he emphasized the experience with his family. He recalls in particular how his grandmother being the eldest one in the family made the entire meal for his family. She makes a sweet known as Halwa which is made from wheat. She also makes a dish known as aloo-puri, which is a potato like vegetable mixed with gravy. You take the halwa and dip it into the aloo puri. This particular dish is eaten by his family every year.

Sudharam believes that this holiday reflects the true spirit of familial love, especially for him. He truly enjoyed the time he got to spend with his family. The practice of a business man closing his books, as his father did, he believes shows the acceptance of a new year and the probability of bringing in new revenue and new chances to succeed.

Personally I feel the holiday reflects the importance of family in our lives. This holiday is a perfect way to be able to come together and celebrate with your loved ones. I did find the practice of business men opening new books a very odd practice, but feel it could be a sign of turning over a new leaf and beginning the new year off with a clean slate. The fact that this celebration focuses on happiness displays a very optimistic outlook on life from their perspective.

Annotation: Ganeri, Anita. Hindu Festivals Through the Year. Smart Apple Media: 2003.


Ghost Story – Georgia

Every senior class took a picture together outside the school.  One year in the early years of the school, there was a graduating class of around 8 girls.  They were very close to one nun and she promised them that she would be in their senior picture with them.  Unfortunately, she died 3 days before the picture was scheduled to be taken.  They took the picture as planned, but without their favorite nun.  Once the picture was developed it was hung in Main Hall along with the pictures of every graduating class since the beginning.  However, when you look at the picture, you can see a somewhat blurry nun standing in a window.  Right next to her is the dog that belonged to the nun the senior class was close too, the outline of the dog is completely clear.  Everyone says that the nun kept her promise, and returned to be in the picture with the class.

In Georgia, I went to an all girls school that was founded in 1825.  The school is in an old plantation home, as it has been since its start.  There are many stories about the house being haunted, and this is just one of them. Main Hall is the main wing of the house where most of the hauntings are centered, and no one will go into that wing after dark because of these hauntings. When you come to the school as a freshman, you are assigned a big sis, and there is a lock in at the school.  All the freshmen spend the night in the house, and it is then when their big sis tells them about all the hauntings.  At the lock in and especially during these stories, you are not allowed to use any electricity for light.

Haunting stories like this one are very common across the nation, but especially in the south.  This is because the south is one of the oldest parts of our country, but also because it has some of the most brutal history.  Much of the civil war was fought in the south, leaving many ghost stories behind.  Also, the presents of slavery and the brutality involved gave rise to many ghost stories.  Slavery becomes especially relevant in this instance because her school was in an old plantation home in Georgia.  The odds are very high that there were many slaves that worked on that plantation, and it is possible that they are responsible for the hauntings.

I found it interesting that the ghost stories involved the nuns.  I do not know much about the catholic faith, but even though they believe in saints and spirits, they usually look down upon ghost stories and similar superstitions. This brings up the idea of negotiating one’s beliefs.  On one hand the nuns disregard the idea of hauntings, but at the same time the nuns at Stephanie’s school would avoid Main Hall after dark.  Even though they denied belief in the hauntings they obviously believed enough of it to avoid the area.

The ghost stories were also a part of a right of passage at the school.  As Stephanie explained, part of being initiated as a member of the school was to be locked in the school at night with your big sis.  While locked in the school, they were told these ghost stories.  This was a way of developing the identity of being a member of her school.  Only those girls who went to the school actually knew what happened during the lock in, and knew all of the stories.

Tales /märchen

Tale – Native American

One day, all the Indians in tribe decided to go hunting.  Little Yoni was excited to go on the hunt, but his mother told him that he was too young.  Little Yoni got upset.  He thought no one appreciated him, so he decided to run away from his teepee and live by himself in the woods for a while.  It started out fun.  Little Yoni got to go swimming and do whatever he wanted without anyone older to boss him around.  But then night came, and Little Yoni got scared.  He was lost in the woods alone, and it was scary.  While Little Yoni was crying by himself in the dark, all of a sudden he saw a light!  It was his tribe, coming to find him.  Once he hugged his mother and got home to his teepee, Little Yoni realized that his family did appreciate him, and he learned to deal with his problems instead of running away.

This is just one example of the Little Yoni stories that my Grandpa used to tell.  With 37 grandkids, he had a lot of kids to tell stories to, and Little Yoni was a usual character.  Little Yoni was a young boy in an Indian tribe and often got himself into trouble.  My grandpa would tell these stories often to all the kids in order to teach important lessons, though the stories were usually pretty simple because they were geared toward the younger ones.

Stephanie did not know where the character of Yoni came from; she thought that her grandfather just made it up.  I found it interesting that the character was an Indian.

When I asked Stephanie to self identify her ethnicity or nationality she said Caucasian American.  When she told me this story I asked her more about her family history and she told me that she did believe that she had some Native American decent.  Even though her family only had a small connection to Native American blood line, I find it interesting that her grandfather still chose an Indian as the main character he would use.

In this particular story that she recalled, it is a good example of the purpose of her grandfather’s stories.  Many kids often feel unappreciated and want to just run away.  But, they usually realize that they do need their parents, and their parents do love them.  By telling this story in a very simple manor it enables the kids to learn the lesson.  This reflects the universal hope of parents and grandparents to help children avoid certain hardships by teaching these lessons early on in life.

The format her grandfather used is a very common one for folk fairy tales.  I’ve heard of many cases where parents will stick with one character and manipulate the story around that character to teach a specific lesson.  When I was young, my dad would tell me bed time stories that always started with “Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess…” He would make them up as he went and they usually involved some sort of lesson.  Stephanie and I probably heard many of the same general stories growing up even though we lived on different sides of the country.


Camp Song – Texas

I’m in love with you Camp Sweeney

For you deeds so true

Perseverance faith and courage

Help our tests stay true

Forward onward never falter

Friendship never fail

All our hopes and dreams forever

To our camp all hail

Happier times we’ve never known

Than our days spent here

Swims in lovely blue Lake Dealy

Classes we hold dear

Proteins fats and carbohydrates

We can count with ease

Bravely we will face life’s hurdles

Hail to Camp Sweeney

This song is from a diabetes camp called Camp Sweeney in Gainesville, Texas.  It is the main camp song and everyone learns it when they first get to camp.  Most kids there have been going for years so most of the people already know it anyways.  We sing it every night after whatever camp activity we have, such as camp fires or Olympics, etc.

This song involves two different identities.  The first is being diabetic.  Often, having a disease can create a folk group.  Only the people with that disease share the exact same daily routines.  They also have a language that only those who are familiar with that disease know.  In terms of diabetes, this can be seen in the lyrics of the camp song.  For example, the line “Help our tests stay true”.  Someone without knowledge of diabetes probably would not know that they have to test their blood sugars regularly.  This identity is a broad one because it can apply to those who are diabetic and those who simply have familiarity with the disease.  I understand most of the song because my sister was diabetic for most of her life, so I understand the references.

The second identity that is brought forth in the song is those who have attended Camp Sweeny.  This is a much more exclusive group of people.  Stephanie had to explain parts of the song to me such as “Lake Dealy”.  Lake Dealy is the lake that is owned by the camp and the campers get to swim and play in it.  The song is taught to the campers at the beginning of each session, so it is a way of initiating them into camp because they now know the official camp song.

When Stephanie started singing the song to me I could recognize the tune immediately, but I could not identify it.  I finally figured out that I remembered it from the movie Dirty Dancing.  Neither of us was able to figure out the official name of the tune, or where it originated.  In Dirty Dancing it is called Kellerman’s Anthem.  But, the camp song was written long before the movie was made so I still do not know the origin of the tune.

Annotation: The Emile Bergsteign Chorale. “Kellerman’s Anthem.”. Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 2007.


Recipe – Georgia

10 lbs. Whole kernel corn, untreated
5 Gallons Water
1 Cup Yeast, champagne yeast starter

Put corn in a burlap bag and wet with warm water. Place bag in a warm dark
place and keep moist for about ten days. When the sprouts are about a 1/4″ long
the corn is ready for the next step. Wash the corn in a tub of water, rubbing
the sprouts and roots off. Throw the sprouts and roots away and transfer the
corn into your primary fermenter. With a pole or another hard object mash the
corn, make sure all kernels are cracked. Next add 5 gallons of boiling water
and when the mash cools add yeast. Seal fermenter and vent with a water sealed
vent. Fermentation will take 7-10 days. When fermentation is done, pour into
still filtering through a pillow case to remove all solids.

This is a recipe for moonshine whiskey that my neighbor in Georgia makes for special occasions.  He likes to make it for everyone on Christmas and Easter, etc because he’s convinced you can never have enough moonshine.  He actually uses his bathtub to ferment it in, but didn’t want to throw that part into the recipe.

Stephanie later added that the recipe had been passed down to her neighbor from his ancestors.  The most logical conclusion is that his ancestors were moonshiners.  Moonshine has always been illegal, and still is today, but her neighbor felt the need to risk getting caught in order to keep up the tradition of his family.  He also created a new tradition by giving moonshine to all of his friends on holidays.  Like Stephanie said, her neighbor made the moonshine in his bath tub, which is very authentic to the original moonshining days when stills were created and hidden in all sorts of places.

Her neighbor was originally from the south, but she did not know where his family was from.  The reason that is relevant is because the tradition of moonshine is opposite of most folklore.  Most folklore spreads over time.  Moonshine, however, was present all over the country during the days of the prohibition, but now it is mainly in the south.  It has become a part of the identity of the south, including there is a southern beer called Shiner.

Another thing I found interesting about moonshine today versus in the past, is when it is made and distributed.  Moonshine got its name from that fact that people would make it and distribute it at night in order to hide from the light of day. Now, people like Stephanie’s neighbor, make it in their house during the light of day, and distribute it to friends openly in the day time.  This is even more interesting considering the fact that the law is much more difficult to avoid today than it was back then.

Annotation: The Dukes of Hazzard. August 2005.


Proverb – Mexican

Tenga Cuidado del Cocui

Have Caution of Cocui

Beware of the Cocui

My abuela, grandma, used to tell me this when I was younger. El Cocui is the Mexican boogeyman.  She would say this to me when she wanted me to come with her.  She would also say this went she want to go to bed.  She said she was told the same thing as a child by her grandmother in Mexico.

Julie’s grandmother was born and raised in Mexico, so she grew up with a lot of Mexican traditions.  This is one of the many things that she passed along to Julie.  Julie could only remember the phrase.  She had heard an actual story of El Cocui, but not from her grandmother.  I have heard the story before from friends and in class, but I could not recall it.  The most that Julie could describe about the story of El Cocui was that it is the Mexican Boogeyman.  I found this particular interesting because Julie identified herself as Mexican, than German, but before I asked her any questions about El Cocui, she immediately put it in terms of American folklore.  This shows how two very similar stories can arise in two completely different cultures.  I do not know if one originated from the other, but it is quite possible that both the boogeyman and El Cocui were created completely independent of one another.

I had always heard of El Cocui in terms of a fairy tale, but I find it interesting that Julie’s grandma used it as folk proverb.  This is an example of how different pieces of folklore not only vary, but can also develop into know folklore.  As the folklore morphed, it also took on knew meaning.  As far as I understand it, the tale of El Cocui is used as a sort of cautionary, scary, bedtime story.  When Julie’s grandma used the phrase, it was used as a command.  I can understand how it would mean go to bed.  Several phrases are commonly used to replace “good night”, and often people have specialized phrase between two more of them, as in the case of Julie and her grandmother.  The part I do not really understand is how she used it to mean come with her.  The only explanation I could figure is that by saying beware of the cocui it was a way of scaring a child.  And, when a child is scared, they run to whoever is safe, like grandma.  So, it is essentially saying if you come with me I’ll protect you.


Recipe – Mexican


Masa (ground corn meal and lard)

Carnitas (shredded pork)

Green Chile sauce or red pepper sauce

Corn husks

Spread the masa on the corn husk and fill center with the carnitas and add either red or green sauce. Roll up tightly and ties both ends. Steam for about 2 hours and serve.

I don’t remember the first time we ate these.  My family makes them every year on Christmas Eve.  I know the original recipe came from my Mexican grandma’s side of the family.

Tamales are a very traditional Mexican dish.  They include very traditional Mexican ingredients like masa and corn husks.  As for the other two ingredients involved, pork and chile/pepper, I am not sure how long they have been available for.  So, that may determine how old the tradition of tamales is.  The preparation of the tamales is still very traditional.  With the exception of maybe the steaming part, everything else is done without the use of modern tools (as much as possible).

Julie did not know how far the recipe went back in her family, but she did know that it had been around for several generations.  Her grandma was born and raised in Mexico.  She does not know the tradition got started as a Christmas tradition.  I speculate that since Christmas is a family time, making the tamales became a tradition because it was a way of celebrating their identity as descendants of Mexico.  Julie did not have to call her family or anything to get the recipe; she just sat down and wrote it out from memory.


Charm – Turkish

Nazar Bonjuk is a Turkish good-luck “evil eye” charm.

The “evil eye” superstition is on the basis that one person can put a spell on someone else. The evil eye was started by Anatolian to prevent the spells, and these evil eyes were placed in homes, near doorways, on people’s handbags or clothing to watch over the person for safety. The evil eyes today are most common to be found in a blue glass with an inner circle in white with an eye on top of the white inner circle.

Robert is Turkish and although his main residence is in the United States he has spent a large portion of his life in Turkey.  He first learned this superstition as a young child because many people still have the “evil eye” in their homes.  This is particularly interesting when looking at it from an American stand point because we do not have very many superstitions that are still taken as seriously.

When I researched Anatolian, it found it to be defined as region surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the black sea, and the Aegean Sea.  This is mainly associated with Turkish and Greek Culture.

I find Nazar Bonjuk to be a sort of oxymoron.  The term evil eye is usually associated with something bad, but in this case it is a good luck charm.  I interpret this to mean that you are turning the evil eye on others in order to keep away bad fortune and spells.  This brings up another interesting fact that the Turkish have a belief in spells, which you rarely see in America.  Turkey is a very modern place today and many of the people do not admitted believe in charms and spells.  But, the fact that people still keep Nazar Bonjuk in their homes shows that there is still some sort of residual belief and respect for the tradition.