USC Digital Folklore Archives / May, 2018
Myths
Narrative

American Alabama Tribe Myth: Fire

Informant: I have a myth I heard from an Alabama tribeswoman I used to work with. Want to hear that one?

Interviewer: Sure.

Informant: At the start of the world, Bear owned Fire. It kept him and his people warm and let them see even when it was dark. One day, Bear came to a forest. On the forest floor, he found tons of acorns. He set Fire at the edge of the forest, and began to gorge himself on the delicious acorns. As the acorns around him began to run out, the wandered deeper into the forest.

While Bear was eating, Fire was burning at the edge of the forest. Soon, though, Fire had burned up nearly all of its wood. It began to shout “Feed me! Feed me!” to Bear, but Bear was too far away.

Man, however, was not far away, so he, hearing Fire’s cries, wandered over. Man hadn’t seen Fire before, so he asked it what he could feed it to help out. Fire explained that it ate wood, so Man picked up a stick and fed fire. Then he grabbed another, and another, until Fire’s hunger had been quenched. Man, meanwhile, warmed himself by the Fire. He sat nearby, feeding it wood and enjoying its warmth and colors.

After a while, Bear returned to Fire, but Fire was angry at Bear for abandoning him. Fire blazed brighter and brighter until it was blinding to Bear, and told Bear to leave it alone. Fire’s heat scared Bear away, and Bear could not get close enough to carry Fire back with him. Man and Fire were left alone, and that is how Fire came into the possession of Man.

Context: My informant is an eighty year old woman from a very scientifically/factually inclined Midwestern family. This performance was done over Facetime with my informant, since she lives in Seattle. Otherwise, however, it resembled a classic storytelling situation.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of her coworkers while working at a company in Alabama. It stayed with her because she enjoyed how well the story personified the wildness of Fire, but also thought its dependence on other beings for “food” made a lot of sense. Furthermore, the fact that Fire had not been found by Man, but rather had been inherited by a member of the natural world also stuck with her.

Analysis: Personally, I thought the story was great. It shares many similarities with myths I’ve heard from my own home region in the Pacific Northwest, primarily through its use of animals as characters and its personification of elements such as fire. It also demonstrates a really interesting progression where an important facet of our own life – in this case Fire – is not discovered by the ingenuity of mankind alone. Rather, mankind receives Fire from nature, as if we were successors of animals and part of the natural world, rather than detached from it.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Italian–American Proverb about Age

Main Piece

“I was where you are, and you’ll be where I am.”

For a similarly worded proverb with a different usage, see Frederick Hartt. Italian Renaissance Art, Third Edition, 1987, published by Harry N. Abrams, pp 203-4.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island, New York

Language: English, Italian

The informant learned the above proverb from her grandmother. The informant’s grandmother will first state the proverb in Italian, but the informant does not speak Italian, and so the informant’s grandmother will follow up by saying the proverb in English. Hence, the informant only understands the proverb as it is told in English, which is why I have chosen not to include a translation.

Context

The informant’s grandmother says the proverb when any of her children or grandchildren make fun of her for being old or says something along the lines of “Grandma, you don’t understand,” in regards to the grandmother’s technological prowess.

Notes

I have seen this proverb before, but I have only ever seen it as an epithet on gravestones, which is the usage of the example I cited above. In either instance, the informants example or the gravestone, the proverb speaks to the inescapability of time. Most people tend to shy away from such topics, and the proverb helps state the truism in a pithy, approachable way.

 

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Senior Speeches” in a Catholic High School

Main Piece

The following is a tradition from the informant’s high school theater group. Before going onstage for a performance, the theater group would pray to all the saints and all “the big guys,” as the informant referred to them, and then they would hold hands and close their eyes. Then, one person would begin an energy circle by squeezing the hand of the person to their left, and the squeeze would be passed around, hence passing  the “energy” around. Next, all the Seniors would do a shot of vodka before finally going on stage. After the show, all the Seniors gave “Senior Speeches.” This tradition is rather long standing, and has been going on at least since the informant’s sister started high school in 2009.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant recalled the whole experience fondly, and the tradition seemed to be something that everyone enjoyed and looked forward to. While the way the tradition carried out was passed down from older students to the informant, the informant looked forward to engaging in the tradition after having talked to her older sister about the same tradition and the theater group in general.

Context

The informant attended a Catholic all girls high school in Staten Island, and the theater group consisted of members both from her school and a Catholic all boys high school nearby.

Notes

The interchange between religious ideology and ‘pagan’ ideas of “energy” is terribly interesting. The informant specified “energy” rather than “the Holy Spirit” or another specific religiously inclined symbol. Given that the informant attended a Catholic high school, this seeming conflict is rather interesting and has much potential to be expanded upon.

 

general
Initiations
Legends

The Legend of Camino Hall

The following informant is a 22 year old student from the University of San Diego. In this account she is describing a legend about one of the buildings on her campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: There is this urban legend that someone, umm… like killed themselves in either the Camino bathroom. Thats like one of the residence halls but you know also where the administration building is. Umm… yeah so apparently, she had gone to class, this was a girl, and she was going through a hard time and she just like went to the bathroom, like in the middle of class. And people were like “what the fuck, why did she not come back” and then they were like “oh she is probably still in the bathroom”. So they went to the bathroom and she was just like hanging from the ceiling. So like it may or may not have happened, most people believe it, but like some don’t.

K: So when did this happen?

S: Like right when the school opened, like around that time, the school was established in 1949

K: How did you hear about it?

S: oh, just people were randomly talking about it when i transferred, like that first semester, and i was just like what the heck why are we talking about this right now. It was the older students telling the new ones, it was very random, and i don’t know if it was to scare us but i was just like “thank you so much for this information, what do you want me to do with it”

K: did they ever say why she killed herself?

S: no one knows why she killed herself

K: What did you take away from this?

S: I was kind of just like taken back, because i had just transferred, and so i was kind of like um so why are you telling me this. but i had not thought about it since they told me, so… yeah, its not something i think about often.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she launched into this story. As we were in a public space, people overheard the conversation and a few even nodded in agreement, like they were validating what she was saying.

Thoughts:

This is a particularly interesting legend for a couple of reasons. One is that out of my own curiosity I tried to do some research to see if there are more details on the internet and the search came up empty. This by no means insinuates that what she is saying is false, especially because the group of not so subtle eavesdroppers seemed familiar with the legend. But in the age of the digital realm, it seems odd there is no account of it only. The other interesting aspect is how the legend is used now. She explained that the older students tell it to the new students while they orient to the new campus. This seems like a mild form of hazing, in that in order to complete your transformation as a student of USD, you have to get mildly scared by the older students first.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Right Foot First – An Ice Skating Superstition and Ritual

The following informant is a 22-year-old student who competed in ice skating throughout her childhood and well into her teenage years and continues to ice skate recreationally now. She is describing a common superstition she and some of her teammates have. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: One superstition that I have always had when I used to ice skate was that I always used to put my right skate on and tie up the laces before putting on my left skate. I made sure I always did that.

K: What would happen if you put your left skate on first?

S: I just had this belief that if I put my left skate on first, then I would not have as good of a skate, or I would mess up and risk hurting myself. I always thought oh my god you have to put your right skate on first

K: Were you the only one to have this superstition or did your teammates also share it?

S: I’m not sure if other people shared my superstition specifically, but some of my other teammates had similar superstitions. Like my friend J, when she steps on to the ice, she always puts her right foot down first and never the left first for the same reason I put my skates on right first. I, and a lot of the other girls, also followed her superstition as well. Which is probably where I got my superstition about skates.

K: Would you only do this before a competition or anytime you put on skates and stepped on to the ice?

S: Oh, every time I put on skates and went on the ice. I’ve been doing it for years now that I don’t have to worry about accidently putting my left skate on first because I have trained myself to always put my right skate on first and step with my right foot first.

S: One more thing, I am not sure why my superstition has to do with the right-side, maybe it’s because I’m right handed… but that doesn’t really make sense because my friend J is left handed… I honestly don’t know

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. The informant brought up superstitions and I asked if she would like to participate in the folklore collection project. The conversation was recorded and transcribed. Although she only acts out the ritual when she ice-skates.

Thoughts:

I find her superstition about always doing things on the right side first very fascinating, along with her reasoning, that she later disagrees with. But maybe she is not wrong, It seems pretty obvious that if you are right-hand dominant that you would consider your right side to bring good luck and your left side to bring bad luck. But how would this explain her friend. Or maybe in our everyday life we tend to go from right to left, like reading English, her first language, you always read right to left, reading left to right just would not make sense.

general

Baby Blue

Instructor: Can you guys think of any legends or ghost stories that you learned at home or from friends?

(There were multiple responses from varying students, however this post focuses on a single student’s response)

Angel*: Yeah! Baby Blue

Instructor: Whats that?

Angel*:

It’s like uhm you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and uh fold your arms, and if you feel a weight in your arms its Baby Blue and you gotta drop it!

Maria : No no no, you gotta go into the bathroom by yourself and turn the lights off and cradle your arms like you’re holding a baby and say ‘Baby Blue’ in the mirror three times. If you feel a weight in your arms like you were holding a baby, you gotta pretend to drop it in the toilet and flush it before it gets too heavy.

Instructor: Or else what happens?

Maria: The baby will haunt your family.

Daisy : No if you don’t flush the baby, her mom will turn up behind you and scream at you to give it back and kill you if you don’t.

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: It’s like a evil baby that will haunt you if you don’t get rid of it I think.

Instructor: And who is the women?

Daisy: Some kinda evil spirit I guess.

Instructor: Have any of you done this?

Daisy: I tried it once with my big sister.

Instructor: And did the woman show up?

Daisy: No, but I felt a weight in my arms and through it in the toilet so maybe I did it before the baby grew too big.

Instructor: Was it a scary experience?

Daisy: Yeah I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis:

I found Baby Blue to be very interesting, becuase it reminded me a lot of games I played as a child. However, this had a different, darker twist on it. The idea is that the woman has most likely killed her child, at least thats what some of the children thought. However, a google search found that many of these stories are rooted in a much more srious topic. Some theorize that Baby Blue is actually about a botched abortion, or a mother who drowned her child due to severe postpartum depression. Although none of the children were aware of these deeper meaning, both the instructors of the class and the teacher were taken aback by the stories coming from these young kids. I likened this to played “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom as a kid, but upon further examination, i’ve realized that it most likely has a lot more to do with the political climate surrounding abortion and news cases that these kids have been raised around.

Customs

Pick-Up Beer for Truckers

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his grandmother and his own personal family history when he told me about this custom. I live this custom because I was told it so far removed from the source culture. Modern day truckers may not know what this is, but some people who have never driven a truck in their life think of it as a ‘trucker’ thing. I think it could also be related to hobo culture which is also dying out.

 

Piece:

“There was a guy who used to live in St. Augustine, he was a drug trafficker and he had like connections to the mob, he was a scary dude. He ran a liquor store. He ran the St. Augustine liquor store, and he had um, ah I just forgotten the name of it. He would sell liquor and he had a cooler right by the door that was free beers for people going their way through you could take a beer. And there was a specific name for it, like a pick-up beer or something. Cause it was connected to truckin’ like truckers would go through there and like pick up a six-pack to make it through their thing. This was the old days, apparently this was pretty common on the roadside stops.”  

 

Legends

Hatchman Campfire Story

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his family and his upbringing in Texas when he told me this story. Scouting groups are full of folklore and this is a pretty common story I’ve heard from others.

 

Piece:

“My dad did it, cause he was the cub scout leader for my cub scout troop. So when we’d go on camping trips he would always tell stories. He was great at telling like Native American stories. The best one is Hatchetman. Hatchetman was a thing he’d brought up every year and told the story every year, it was alway, it was a scary story. It was about a scouting troop that went to camp at a camp much like this one. And they would be doing thing and it would be, and this mysterious man in a rain jacket with the hood commed up [pronounced like come-’d, I think he means came as in his hood was pulled up] with only one hand, his other hand was a hatchet. [The next part, Jackson cresendoes his voice to a climax] He’d slowly sneak through as they were in the middle of a campfire all telling stories with each other he’d sneak up behind them and stab ‘em with the hatchet. It was always, when we were little it was always a joke, but then my last year there to uh become a boy scout, he was leaving as cub master, it was the big last campout. He told Hatchetman story and he had his friend, who was one of the dads, dress up as Hatchetman as he was telling the story. He was like “as they sat around the campfire, all telling a story, their eyes fixed up front, Hatchetman was creeping up behind” and like the guy was creaching up behind with the hatchet and he scared all of us so much. One of the kids pooped his pants.”

 

Proverbs

KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his family when he told me this proverb. I like this idea of the proverb being an engineering saying, an occupational proverb.

 

Piece:

“When my dad was teaching me, um, woodworking and we were getting into making. And that was the start of me getting into engineering there was an axiom that’s like everywhere in engineer but he specifically drilled it into me so I always think about him that is KISS which is Keep It Simple Stupid”

 

Folk speech

EmPHAsis on the wrong syLAble

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his family when he told me this proverb. I’ve heard this dite a lot and wanted to collect it. It’s not too interesting.s

 

Piece:

“My dad would always say “put the EmPHAsis on the wrong syLAble” whenever he messed up saying something or I messed up saying something, so that just ran into me.

 

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