USC Digital Folklore Archives / April, 2015

You Girls Back Again?!

Well this was in Wisconsin… me and and all my sisters went to the bar… it’s called Jacobi’s now. What was it called then?

Informant 2 (her husband, Howard, age 84)- Hiawatha.

Right so the Hiawatha, then. And so my sister, Janet, and my sister, Rita, went to the bar.

The boys, Howard and Dennis, were out fishing. So we decided to go down to the Hiawatha a drink.

Well, the boys came back and we’d already come back from the bar and they felt bad for leaving us all alone in the cabin all night while they were out having fun and fishing. And they decided to be nice and take us to get a drink and we said sure… we’d already gone but we didn’t say anything.

But when we got back to the Hiawatha, the bartender (laughing), the bartender says, “Are you girls here AGAIN?!”


The informants, Grandma, and with a little help with name recognition from Papa, told me this story over the phone, but it was certainly not the first time I’d heard it. Typically, Papa tells it once or twice a summer when our whole family returns to those cabins in Wisconsin whenever we go to that bar/restaurant, now called Jacobi’s. They both find it really funny and don’t try to hide it.


I think this story has been told and retold because it is sort of out of character for Grandma to hide the truth or bend it from Papa and the fact that the bartender blew her cover makes it even better. Both of them have told it on multiple occasions and knowing them, I’m sure they’ve told it to a number of waiters and bartenders upon returning to that establishment. They’re very friendly in that way.



Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Day of the Dead

“Una de las tradiciones que es muy popular en la universidad donde estudié mi licenciatura (la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) se celebra cada primero de noviembre, el día de los muertos. Una de las actividades que se efectúan en esta festividad es la de construir altares y ofrendas para honrar a los muertos. En esta universidad las ofrendas son especialmente gigantescas. Se acostumbra a que los estudiantes de diferentes facultades se reúnan para construir enormes calaveras con adornos artísticos usando flores de cempasúchil.”


“One of the traditions that is very popular in the university where I did my undergraduate work (the National Autonomous University of Mexico) happens every first of November, when the day of the dead is celebrated. One of the activities that includes this festivity is to build offerings or altars honoring the deceased. In this university the offerings are famous for being gigantic. It’s very common for students from every school to get together to create enormous skulls along with artistic decorations using marigolds.”


The informant is a PhD student at the University of California, studying Electrical Engineering. He is from Mexico City, Mexico, where he was born and lived most of his life. His native tongue is Spanish, but he is fluent in English, as well. He got his undergraduate degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which he graduated from in 2012. He enjoys ballroom dancing in his free time.


The informant was asked to send the collector a description of a holiday celebrated in Mexico that has a particular tradition associated with it. He typed it first in Spanish, then was kind enough to translate it. As he says, this tradition was practiced at his undergraduate university, though he had celebrated the holiday all his life.


The Day of the Dead is celebrated on the first day of November. The holiday’s main purpose is the gathering of friends and family to pray for loved ones who have died. The holiday originated in Mexico, and originally was celebrated at the beginning of the summer, but was moved after the colonization of the Spanish to correspond with All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day. The celebration can often last three days, beginning on All Hallows’ day to make the alters; Day of Innocents, to pray for dead children’ and Day of the Dead, for lost adults.

The altars are the main focus of the holiday. On them, people will place memorabilia from the dead person, whether it is pictures or their favorite food or sometimes they will play their favorite music. toys can be brought for children. Often times, there will be marigolds, the traditional flower in Mexico to honor the dead. Altars can be located at the cemetery where the deceased is buried, or within people’s homes if they are far away from the cemetery.  Family members can spend all night at the altar, praying. Most public schools create their own altars, avoiding religious symbols that might exist on other altars.

The informant’s university also builds its own altars. It is famous for building especially large altars in comparison to other schools, and that is a source of pride for the university (showing how important this holiday is). The students get together to decorate skulls, a major symbol for the holiday. In some places, people wear skull masks or make chocolate or sugar skulls for the day. At the informant’s university, the skulls become works of art, decorated with marigolds to show respect for the dead.


Aunt Pat and the Shelayley vs Bullies

So, as you know, when I was a kid, we moved from the south side to Palos Park. And outside some bullies in the neighborhood…uh, chased me home.

And Aunt Pat was standing by the window and she looked outside and saw the bullies chasing me. So she ran and grabbed my mom’s shelayley, which is like this Irish cane…I don’t know how to spell it but you can just look it up…

And she just chased after these guys! And they ran away! They thought they were real tough and then Aunt Pat, you know, who’s a woman, just made them run away.

Why do we tell and retell this story?

Just, you know, to show, you know, uh that to tell a story about Aunt Pat. And show how she, you know, protected her brother. Good over evil, you know, that kind of thing.


I went home this year for Easter. The informant, my dad, or one of his siblings tells this story at most family parties. They used to tell it with an umbrella as the weapon of fear but Aunt Pat changed it to shelayley. He told this to me one-on-one, otherwise there probably would be a bit more flare to it, if his siblings contributed.


It’s funny that his interpretation of why we tell and retell it is because it shows how good triumphs over evil. I personally think it is more to paint his sister as a heroine, especially when she is down. All of the cousins know it and can and do tell it.


Dunkin Donuts Robbery version 2

You know this story. I don’t get what the point of this is.

I can’t collect folklore from myself.

Can you just have Vince tell it?

I did but it will be cool to have two versions to compare. Please!

Okay. So this is the story of Dad and Dunkin Donuts. So Dad was studying and Dunkin Donuts was robbed…at gunpoint. And the cops came in and asked him, “What happened. What did the guy look like?” and he didn’t know. Dad didn’t even notice the entire thing happening.

Why do you think we tell this tale so often?

‘Cus it’s funny… you should ask Vince to tell you the story of when Frankie pooped on the roof.

Yeah, maybe. Thanks!



I went home for Easter this year, where my younger brother still lives because he is in high school. In a one-on-one, obviously not super stimulating conversation with my younger brother, he told this family tale. There is another version of this same tale with a bit more to it also in this folklore collection told completely separately by my older brother.


It would be interesting to have another version of this tale by the same informant but in a good mood.



Band laps

“You take a lap. You have to, like, run around the entire band and if, like, Bartner, or something happens that is about you, related to your name, where you’re from any like quirky traits you have, activities you do. [The purpose:] to point out that you have associations with that.”


The informant is a member of the University of Southern California Spirit of Troy. She is a sophomore, both in the school and in the band ranks, studying Computer Science and Computer Engineering. She plays alto saxophone and has travelled with the band to the Weekender and to Notre Dame.


Th informant was asked of any band traditions that take place during a practice. She had first learned and experienced this tradition at her first full band practice, and has participated in it ever since.


The first thing to know about the marching band is that usually a week or two after joining the band, every one is given a band name, often referred to as their “real name.” For some people, that becomes the name they are known by for the rest of their time in band. The are often only a few words long, but some have been as long as the verse of song. They are often based on traits that the person has or something that they did, and they often tie back to some kind of popular culture, like a movie or book. Some people are even given two names, in which case they are “so-and-so” AKA “something-else.” There are a lot of traditions that are attached to these band names, including taking a band lap.

Practices can be long and kind of boring, at least for rowdy college students, so there are many band traditions that are meant to pass the time and release restless energy in order to get more work done during practice. The band is a group of volunteers, so it is important to keep people entertained enough to keep coming back. One custom, meant to entertain, is taking a band lap. Everyone must constantly be on the look out for an excuse to take a lap, or to make someone else take a lap. The most common reasons to do so are if leadership says something related to someone’s band name, saying the city or state where someone is from, or some clearly identifying feature or characteristic of the person, like “chorus” (in reference to the location of the song, but pertaining to choral people) or “sexy” (anyone who thinks they’re sexy takes a lap). There was one time, the informant shared, where the band was playing “Play That Funky Music” and the director starting singing the main line: “Play that funky music, white boy…” and all of the white males in the band had to take a lap. That kept the band pacified and laughing enough to finish playing the song without outbursts.

Another purpose for taking a lap is to condition the band. A lot of stamina is required to survive a game day, where a band member may be on their feet for up to 12 hours at a time with little to no sitting down. Taking laps periodically during practice keeps band members in shape and more able to stand for such an extended period of time. Also, as the informant mentions, laps just point out that you have an association to that trait or name. It is possible to see who else in the band is Irish by seeing who takes and Irish lap (in the case of “Beat the irish” for notre dame [opposing teams and their mascots do not earn the respect of having capital letters]) with you. It is a way to bring people, who might never have met in the more than three-hundred person band, closer together and encourages connections with other sections.

There are also particular ways to take a lap. Under normal circumstances—mostly during music practice but under other instances, as well—the person whose name, characteristic, or home state was mentioned takes a lap around the entire band, including directors, silks, and all of the instruments, but not including twirlers or prop crew (if they are far away). This is always done in a counter-clockwise rotation. If the band is working on drill for a show, or during a gig when it would not be prudent to run around to the confusion of the audience, then a lap is taken in place, still counter-clockwise. If the band is at attention, then no laps are taken until after the band is put at ease. Then people can do make-up laps for the time when they were at attention. If a band member is sitting down or it is physically impossible to take a lap, but the band is not at attention, the they will do a “finger lap” and point their right index finger to the sky and move their hand in a counter-clockwise direction. There are also more local instances for taking a lap. The informant had a section leader, for example, who would encourage “Galen Center laps” during basketball and volleyball games. The band member would then have to run around the inside of the Galen Center. This is not a band-wide occurrence, just a section-wide one. Other sections have their own special lap circumstances. The flutes, for example, take laps whenever the first letter of their name is called. Since the marching band divides its music into sections with “A,B,C, etc.” letters get mentioned a lot.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

One hundred steps

“Basically, yeah, one of our common sayings is that if you, you know, walk, like, a hundred steps after you eat your food, it helps you live longer.”


The informant is a 19 year old, undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, studying accounting. He was born and lived in Shanghai, China for most of his life. He spent his high school years at a boarding school in Connecticut, before coming to college in California. He still spends his summers back in China, where he likes writing music and working on potential future business projects.


The informant was asked if there were any common sayings that he heard in China. He had heard this saying from his family, often after meals.


The Chinese are renowned for their medicine practices. They are largely responsible for what many call “holistic medicine” today—acupressure, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. They are very interested in health and have many folklore remedies, as a result. This particular one, of walking a hundred steps after one eats, is just another of such remedies. Exercise is always a good thing, and walking after a meal can help circulate the blood in the body.

Why 100 steps? Well, 100 is an important number in Chinese culture. On a baby’s 100th day, there is a large celebration. A hundred is also ten times ten. Ten is a holy number, as it is the sum of the first four numbers (1+2+3+4), and people have 10 fingers and 10 toes. Ten would be too few of steps to walk, so the Chinese say 100  to maintain the holiness of the numerical symbolism, while still making it a practical way to maintain health.

It is interesting that the Chinese, with this saying, have people exercise after they eat. In America, there is the saying that you should wait to swim until an hour after you have eaten. This is thought to protect from cramps, and therefore drowning. The Chinese would likely disagree with this way of thinking.

Folk Beliefs

Death Means…

The informant was born and raised into the American culture and way of life. Her mother’s side of the family is in touch with their Jamaican culture and heritage and as the informant grew older she was able to become more into with the beliefs and customs of Jamaica.

Jamaican Death Means…


When I asked the informant about different believes in the Jamaican culture this was the first one to come to her head. She said that “death signifies the end of someones physical life, however if someone dies and is said to have “unfinished business” their spirit will not rest. Instead, the spirit roams the earth until it is able to finish it’s business.”

I was then really intrigued by this so I asked her if she had ever witnessed this or knew someone who did and he informant said that her grandmother passed away and a few weeks later the informant’s mother saw her grandmothers spirit or ghost. This was important to the family to know this because it told them that she hadn’t passed on and would watch over them until she was able to continue on. This is a normal thing in there culture, so it is safe to say that this culture believes in ghosts  and spirits waling the earth. This is interesting because it clashes with other beliefs in society.


This culture does believe in ghosts and spirits roaming the earth with unfinished business. This kind of collides with other religious beliefs that the culture may have about God. I didn’t get a chance to ask the informant how that works, and how they deal with the collision of beliefs, but it is definitely a part of my thought process while analyzing this specific aspect of their culture. It seems like Jamaicans are in touch with their ancestors whether that is doing rituals to please them, or seeing their spirits roam, they have a close connection to their families. Maybe Jamaican culture is big on family, I just have to assume this because I didn’t ask the informant this question either.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

St. Nicholas Day

My good friend and roommate, the informant, is half German. Her father was born and raised in Germany and her mother is American. The two met while her mother was in Germany and moved to the United States after they married. She is their only child. Her father still has a thick German accent and speaks German with her; she speaks the language fluently and still has family who live in Germany. She lived there from ages 1-3 and then decided last year to study abroad in Berlin. I talked to her about Germany and asked if there are any traditions that she can remember participating in while she lived there.

Informant: “I might butcher some of the details because I don’t remember everything, but on the 5th of December at night, children put their shoes outside of their door for St. Nikolaus, and he comes in the night and fills all of the children’s shoes with coins and um… clementines, and things like that. And you wake up on the 6th with stuff in your shoes. If you were good, it’s basically your reward. If you’re good, you get that, if you’re bad…you get a stick. At least that is how they celebrate in Germany.”

She describes this to me as we sit on my bed. She says it is basically the same thing as Santa Claus in a lot of ways. I think it sounds magical. I love everything to do with Christmas so I love hearing stories about other cultural festive traditions surrounding the holiday and December in general.


Circling Fools version 2

Okay, alright,okay…um it’s strange to just randomly start from the beginning. But, okay, yeah, we were all at Morris like every summer. And, uh, one group decides to get in a a canoe and just sort of leaves us. And yeah (laughs), um, meanwhile four of us – Brit, me, you, and Nicole- are um, fucking around, and trying to figure out the paddle boat. And that took a long time.

Yeah and we had a big fight over who was well-equipped to paddle. And I definitely pulled some bullshit like having a skating thing the next day and guilted Brittany or you into it. I’m sure Nicole was in the back with me. And we were just telling you how wonderful you were for paddling, stroking your egos.

And uh we didn’t know which way the canoe went, there’s kind of a fork in it so we just picked a route and start going down it, you know, slowly but surely… and uh eventually at the fork um we start shouting for the canoe because you know, that’s our only way of dealing with things.

And as we’re sort of paddling, this one boat keeps passing us. And it’s got a man, who’s I guess 60 years old…and a young man with him who’s probably like 20.  So the first time, it’s common courtesy on the water, to wave to people and so we uh, we did. People are more friendly on the water, I think.

And then a couple minutes later, they pass again and so we wave again. And we’re thinking that it was kind of weird, like they kept smiling at us…pretty strangely.

And eventually, you know, we’re just stagnant. People are yelling at each other, probably Nicole was, even though she was in back. And eventually, uh that same boat came back and slows down and is just coasting past us.

And we’re thinking, “Oh God.” and the old man goes “Do you guys need help?” or something but we were all like “No, no, we’re fine, no problem, no, no.” and then the next thing you know they were circling us!

And we are feeling so vulnerable and we couldn’t even paddle away if we wanted to like we didn’t know how.

And the 20-year old guy takes out a rope and just starts like lassoing in the air. And I think we were all halfway laughing and halfway panicking. Just like, “Is he going to lasso us?”

And he passes the lasso to I guess his father and he fucking dives into the black water like the depths of this lake!

And we’re just sitting there and call out but don’t see him. Where is he? Where is he? And then he just puts his arms over the boat! And looks at us with this like grin on his face and goes (in a deep southern accent) “Y’all ever been tipped?” and we all look at each other and we’re not sure, just a mix between laughing and screaming.

But because we’re all pathologically polite from our Catholic school upbringing we’re just like “No, no, no, it’s fine.” But I feel like we need to get out of there.

And I remember you, (the collector), you were just laughing your head off, your turkey cackle laugh, and we are not moving and so I yelled at you and I just go, “Grace, FUCKING PADDLE!” (laughs).

But you don’t. And Brittany is sitting in this awkward position in the front and she’s not paddling either and I go “Brit what are you doing?” and that’s when I realize she peed herself. Are you kidding me?! And she gives me this like impassioned plea look she does sometimes and goes “Katie. I can’t. No.”

So I tell her to get out of the way and switch spots with her… and I had to sit in this girl’s PISS and…’cus she couldn’t move… and I paddled away from those fuckers (laughs a lot).

Then, we get back to the, um, the shore. And of course, our parents are there. We’re like strangely close to our parents… anyway, yeah, and we’re trying to tell them what happened and just laughing and freaking out.  And they just shrugged it off as if it were nothing! And we were all shocked at this, but eventually let it go.

So I guess all this was, Morris 2010? I think, not sure. But fast forward to 2013 or 2014, I feel like ’14, and yeah, so last summer, and we’re there and Brit’s uncle takes us for a pontoon ride and we bring it up because you know, we tell this story any chance we get, and he just looks up at us and knew who we were talking about. Like “Bob and Joe?” or I don’t remember their names but you know and he says “Keep your voice down…those guys cause a lot of trouble on this lake.”

And apparently, he tells us that they make their money, based on suing other people. And so now the son in estranged from his father and the father…(very loudly, animatedly) the father faced criminal charges for smacking someone in the head with a SHOVEL!!

Collector: When was the first time you told this story or it was told?

The second we got back to shore.

Why do you retell it?

Um… I think that uh, we retell it a lot because it is so characteristic of our friends to get into shit like that…and our reaction were so funny. Panic or laugh? And the fact that we um, we just really love that “Y’all ever been tipped?” line, definitely the climax of the story. It’s just shocking someone actually said that… he definitely said “y’all” but not sure if he was that Southern, now that I think about it.

Also our friends tend to embellish and you know, sensationalize, but this is fucking true.

After all these years, we realized we were in serious danger, like hit your head with a shovel kind of danger!

Context of the Performance: 

I asked the informant if she would tell this story specifically so we could compare with the Circling Fools tale previously posted, as told by another informant, Brittany. This was the first time she had told it individually, as it is generally a group performance, but this time she told it directly to the collector. The “you” she refers to is the collector, once again in this case, because she told it to me, a close friend.

My Thoughts on this Piece:

In both tales, (Circling Fools and Circling Fools, Version 2) the basic plot points are the same but some key details change, which is interesting and sort of speaks to the informant’s worldview. As mentioned in the first version of this tale, typically it is told by several people at once, with lots of interruptions so both informants felt odd telling it by themselves directly to one single person.




Skating “Five-0″

Tanner is a student at USC and one of my closest friends. He grew up in Brea California, on the boarder of Orange Country. He was a part of both soccer, skate, and fishing communities as a kid, as well as the public school community and his local community.


Performance: “So we’re at the skate park, and everybody has to wear helmets at the skate park – it’s the law. obviously we’re all skating and nobody is wearing helmets because… come on. haha. So we will all be skating and somebody is sitting at the top and all of a sudden you will hear somebody yell “Five-0!” And then you hear it and everybody panics and then runs to the bleachers and acts like they aren’t skating. I mean you say Five-0 because of the whole Hawaii Five-0 thing, and obviously the cops are showing up, and if you’re skating around and you don’t have a helmet on you get like a $200 ticket…which is like…not chill.”

Do you think that’s just a thing in Brea (where he is from) or do you think that’s a larger skate community thing? i asked.

“I mean i’ve been to other skate parks in like Chino and Santa Anna and people will yell Five-0 and the exact same thing happens. so yeah, I guess you could say it’s a bigger thing. One time though I was skating in Palmdale and yelled it and everybody thought I meant somebody was getting arrested and got really sketched out. I guess it means different things sometimes.”


Analysis: I believe that this skate folklore has both multiplicity and variation. As I never skated when I was younger, I had never heard of this warning call. It’s like a sort of code to say that cops are nearby without notifying the cops that the kids know. It is interesting that Tanner referenced a potential cause for the saying, the TV series Hawaii Five-0. The saying seems to sometimes mean different things in different skating communities but always has something to do with the police.