Tag Archives: Childhood

Elementary School Riddles

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

NK: I remember there used to be a lot of riddles from when I was a kid, like you describe a situation, what it looks like after something happened, and you have to guess what happened. There’s only one I remember, where you go into an empty room. It’s 4 walls blocked off and the only way in or out is like teleportation, and there’s a guy hanging in the middle of the room, like dead, and there’s a puddle of water below him on the floor, so what happened?

SW: Um..I’m not sure. What’s the answer?

NK: So, he stood on a block of ice with the rope around his neck, so as it melted he was hanged and he died. 

SW: Oh. Very dark.

NK: Yeah, I feel like I remember most of those were pretty messed up.

Thoughts: 

It was interesting to hear about these riddles that kids would tell, because as NK was describing them, I realized I remembered hearing similar riddles when I was in elementary schools. I think kids liked to one-up each other and prove how clever they were by stumping the other kids, or solving their riddles. I didn’t realize how dark these riddles were until now looking back and I wonder how we were so casual about topics like suicide at 8 or 9 years old.

Bloody Mary

Informant: “So you go into the bathroom, turn off all the lights, look into the mirror and say, “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” three times and by the third time, you turn on the light and there will be like a scratch on your face…and you’re haunted.”

Collector: “Cool. Is it only in the bathroom?”

Informant: “It needs, uh…. I’m pretty sure. I mean all I ever heard was the bathroom one, like going into the bathroom and it needs to be pitch black.” 

Background: The informant is my twenty-two year old sister. She learned this piece from friends while attending Catholic elementary school in San Diego, CA. She is an avid metal and alternative music fan with a love of body modifications including tattoos and piercings as well as horror films. 

Context: The piece was collected during a casual at-home interview. I asked the informant to share this piece because I have multiple childhood memories of her performing the ritual.

Analysis: This game/ritual is fairly common among young women and was very popular at our Catholic elementary school among both genders. While many folklore scholars have posited that this game is entrenched with female puberty and menstruation, I believe this piece was also integrated with our conceptions of the “Virgin Mary” as a human and yet divinely endowed, liminal character. Other variations and meta folklore suggest multiple different interpretations as to who “Bloody Mary” refers to. To both me and my sister in Catholic school, the only Mary we could conceive of was the Virgin Mary and the story became a sinister way to expose the contrast between the benevolence and kindness expressed within Catholicism with the strict, harsh realities of the institution we were a part of. My sister later added that the game never worked for her because she never completed it in total darkness, suggesting that although the ritual may not manifest in a supernatural encounter for everyone that participates, people still believe. 

“Shame Shame Shame” Hand-clap Game

Main Piece:

“Shame Shame Shame,

I don’t want to go to Mexico no more more more,

There’s a big fat policeman at the door door door,

He grabbed me by the collar,

Made me pay a dollar,

I don’t want to go to Mexico no more more more,

Shame!”

Background:

This piece was recited to me by my informant in reference to their childhood and elementary school memories. The informant is now a junior in high-school but for their K-8 education, she attended a Spanish immersion public school with a large Mexican population. Kansas City, where the informant lives, has a substantial Spanish-speaking population.

Context:

This piece was shared with me several times throughout my life but was recently brought up by her when asking about memories from her childhood. The exact conversation was conducted via cellphone

Thoughts:

This piece is very interesting to me, mostly because it seems to be another version of a pretty recognizable childhood game. My informant told me that she learned this hand-clap game from friends while attending a Spanish immersion school. However, as she grew up, she learned that this is just a variant of a more traditionally accepted version of the game. Mostly, the policeman in this version is usually replaced with a bully. In my opinion, this is a reflection of the fear of authority and programs like ICE, for Spanish-speaking immigrants. The school my informant attended had a substantial population of Spanish-speaking students who were first generation United States citizens, if that. As such, when assimilating into United States culture, they adopted childhood games like hand-clap. However, they changed it to replace the classic bully figure with that of police, maybe because they would realistically have grown up being told that they were to be wary of police officers, as it could mean deportation or harsh punishments on account of their status as first generation immigrants. It also seems to place Mexico as an bad place, which further reflects the goal of moving forward and becoming part of the culture there. In this respect, the game is almost pushing one to abandon their original culture in order to adapt, as many of these students were the children of Mexican immigrants who were attempting to make ends meet in a new culture. 

The Boy Who Cried Wolf- Children Story

Main piece: 

“There was a boy who was a shepherd. The boy would get very bored watching the sheep all day, so he decided to yell out that there was a wolf amongst the sheep one day. All the villagers came in a hurry to find out that there was no wolf. The next day the shepherd boy did it again. And the villagers came running, only to find that once again there was no wolf. On the third day, the shepherd boy was watching the sheep, and a wolf came. The boy yelled out to the villagers, ‘there is a wolf! Help! there is a wolf!’ but this time no one believed him, and the wolf ate all of his sheep.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 21-year-old female. I asked her to narrate to me a commonly known story she is familiar with. The informant narrated to me the story of the “Boy Who Cried, Wolf.” She claims this was a bedtime story told to her when she was a child. My informant believes the message of this story is that “if you lie people will catch on to it and then they will not believe anything you say ever, even if it is true.”

I agree with my informant’s interpretation of the story. The story of The Boy Who Cried wolf is often used to teach children about the dangers of lying. The story follows the plot of a boy playing around with the kindness of the village and the sense of community that made them reach out to help when the boy was in danger. Because of this when the boy was actually in danger, the villagers no longer believed him and did not come out to help. I think this story also emphasizes the fragility of community awareness and support. Most communities are known for caring for one another and wanting to help other members of that community, however, this bond takes work on both sides. Each member of the community must participate in making it strong. By tricking the village, the boy broke this bond and therefore he was excluded from the community. I think many times people take these communities for granted and do not put in what they are getting from it. This story does not just warn about the dangers of lying, but also about preserving the trust within a community.

I think the use of three is also important to note as it is a prominent number in storytelling. The boy cries out to the villagers three times. Having a trio creates a pattern making the story more memorable and emphasizes an idea. 

The Ghost of Andy’s Market Hill

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells the story of a ghost from a market in her hometown of Apple Valley, Minnesota. She learned this story in middle school via work of mouth, and stated that everyone in her town knew about it because they had all been to the market before. In this transcription of her folklore, where she is identified as P.

 

Text:

P: Okay, so in my town of Apple Valley, Minnesota, there used to be this gas station that everyone called Andy’s Market, but in high school it turned into a Super America… it’s like a chain gas station in Minnesota… but when I was younger it was like a local gas station and then the little, uh, convenience store by it was called Andy’s Market. Right next to Andy’s Market, there was this huge hill. My town is extremely flat, so this was, like, the place that a lot of kids went to go sledding in winter time. But also on this hill were archery… targets?… Basically places to practices archery, where there were targets.

 

So, this was a story that I heard in middle school. Anyways, the story goes that one day, a little girl was sledding on the hill and someone was practicing archery at the same time. And just as [laughs], just as she slid down the hill, an arrow… Someone was pulling the arrow back… I don’t even know the proper terminology, and the arrow goes through her eyes. So anyways, she died, and the story goes that she haunts Andy’s Market Hill. So people say that the only kids sledding on the hill can hear her and see her, but she floats around with an arrow through her head and calls out for her mom… That’s my folklore! [laughs]

 

Thoughts:

I found it strange that among all the follow up questions I asked her, not a single one of her responses mentioned anything about people ghost-hunting for the girl, or people suddenly avoiding Andy’s Market Hill in attempt to stay away from this haunted area. In my conversation with the informant afterwards, I asked her what this story meant to her. She told me that the story stood out to her personally because it “just seems too perfect… like, just as she was sledding down a hill, at that exact moment she gets hit by an arrow.” But aside from being skeptical of just how realistic this story was, she told me that she believes people like it because Andy’s Market Hill is something that everyone in her town drives past or walks past everyday, so they feel personally connected to the story. She admitted that her feelings on the story may seem morbid to many people because, personally, it makes her happy that there’s a story that ties everyone together: “It makes our town seem smaller and more interconnected, which I love.”

So perhaps one function of ghost stories that we don’t consider is it’s power to connect people and solely to connect people. Ghost stories often are used to remind us of our past wrongdoings, perhaps to teach us a lesson, or even serve as warning, often deterring us from going to the “haunted” location. Yet, in this case, Andy’s Market Hill does none of these things. It seems to simply be a story that is passed on among young kids as chatter; it’s something that they can all relate to and understand. It’s a story that’s all inclusive, and inclusivity is vital for a young child to feel. Andy’s Market Hill is an example of how ghost stories can be used to help kids fit in with the crowd and make them a part of an “in-group” that is often not easy for younger kids to find.

 

Childhood Hand Clapping Games (Down by the Banks)

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College. In this account, she describes a childhood rhyme/game that she commonly played with her friends when she was younger. The way this game is played is for children to sit in a circle with their hands lying open on each others, open palm with the next person’s right hand on top of your left. When the rhyme begins, the first child takes their right hands and crosses it across their body to hit the right hand of the next kid, and the child’s hand who is hit last by the time the rhyme ends is “out.” This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening, and is actually a continuation of a conversation that we had a few days prior to this one. The initial conversation involved a three more people, in which we all shared our various versions of the rhyme with each other, surprised at how there are different versions. However, for this specific conversation, the one where I focus on only my informant’s version of the rhyme, she and I were alone in a private space. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Ok, so,  I was talking with some friends recently and we all remembered like a certain, like, childhood rhyme or game that we used to play, like in elementary school or whatever. And it involved some hand clapping, I will say that, but something we realized is that, like, regionally, the rhyme seems to vary. So like, my friends from the midwest had like a different rendition of it, but like it was only changed by like maybe a few words. So here it as, as I know it:

 

Down by the river by the hanky panky,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky.

A E I O U bamboo,

Sugar is sweet and so are you,

So bing bing bong you are out.

 

K: In what context would you sing this song?

 

E: Um, I mean it’s definitely of more of like a play time, recess time thing. Like I don’t think it’d be, uh, how shall I say, acceptable to do this in class.

 

K: How did you learn or hear about this little rhyme?

 

E: Oh, probably like kids who are cooler than me on the playground. I mean, I’m just being honest.

 

K: So definitely not formally taught.

 

E: Oh, certainly not. Like my teachers never like taught me.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that this folklore was especially interesting because it ties to my personal experience with this childhood rhyme. I personally did not consider this childhood rhyme folklore until this conversation because I remember being a kid and doing this in music class, where I was formally taught by an institution of how to play this game. I was surprised when I learned that this is normally something that is passed down or performed by other children rather than something that is taught by a music teacher. Furthermore, I was excited by the fact that my version of the rhyme was different:

 

Down by the banks of the hankity pankies,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to bankies.

With an Eeps, Ips, Ohps, Ops,

He’s got the lily with the big ‘ker-plop’!

 

For another example of  “Down by the Banks,” please refer to this source:

“Down by the Banks of the Hanky Panky.” King County Library System, The Kingsgate Library, kcls.org/content/down-by-the-banks-of-the-hanky-panky/.

For more examples of children’s hand clapping games, please refer to this source:

Sutton-Smith, Brian, et al., editors. Children’s Folklore: A Source Book. University Press of Colorado, 1999. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nskz.

Bellarmine College Preparatory Seal

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains the legend of the reason why his school puts ropes around his school seal at the center of his high school campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: I attended Bellarmine College Preparatory for 4 years as part of my 12 years of Catholic education, which in retrospect, I would not do.  [laughs] So Bellarmine is an all boys school, a little bit of toxic masculinity there… One of the most prideful traditions was… our symbol was the “B” for “Bellarmine,” and so we had in the main quad, uh, imprinted on the quad was maybe a 6×6 rounded print of our logo on the quad.

What the school told everyone–and what we told ourselves–to fit into the standard was that no one could step on the “B,” so everyone walked around it. No one could step on the “B” because it was too disrespectful. Um, and so we do things like try to jump over it, you know like if you’re really risky like I did freshman year, but then one day near the middle of my freshman year, we showed up to school and Bellarmine literally put up ropes around the B. 

No one knows why the B was suddenly roped, but I guess someone must have stepped on it or maybe graffitied it or maybe defaced it? But there’s been stories, my favorite being that, our rival, St. Francis… one of their fine gentlemen defecated on the B. [laughs]

So now our tradition is enshrined, now instead of like a, uh, proverbial “hey don’t step on the B,” now it’s “hm, why does this area look like a crime scene?” It’s because it was a crime scene, probably because that man defecated on our prideful school symbol.

 

Thoughts:

The way Bellarmine treats its school seal is an oikotype of how many schools choose to treat their own school seals. Schools seals are usually incredibly sacred, and touching it (especially before you graduate) can bring you bad luck or be seen as a sign of disrespect towards your school. To maintain school pride, many schools protect this sacred symbol of their school, especially from rivaling schools, who also follow the tradition of trying to deface their rival school’s seals. USC’s rival with UCLA also reflects this type of folklore: during the week of the rivalry football game, USC duct tapes and guards Tommy Trojan 24/7 to ensure that UCLA is unsuccessful in painting Tommy Trojan blue and gold. Similarly, UCLA builds a cage around their school’s bear statue to protect it from USC’s attempts to paint it red and gold.

Presents in Shoes During Christmas

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College.This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening. The informant and I were alone in a private space, and, out of her collection of folklore, this is one that she chose to share with me. In this account, she is describing a tradition that she experienced when she celebrated Christmas in Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Um, ok, so, the folklore that I am talking about is, ummm, connected to most of my extended family. Um, most of my extended family on the one side of my family still lives in Guadalajara, which is a state in Mexico. And although I don’t go down as much as I used to, one time when I was about eight years old we were there around Christmas and one sort of tradition that they have in Mexico that is pretty common is that instead of using stocking—the way that a lot of, um, American households use to hold presents—they instead use shoes. So if you, um, put your shoes or your boots in front of the fireplace, then the next morning that’s kind-of where your Christmas gifts and presents will be.

K: When exactly, like, did this happen?… Like what year?

E: Ummm, I think the year… Ok, so I was in 4th grade, which means I was ten, which means it was ten years ago, which means it was 2009. Actually I think it was 2008, let’s do 2008.

K: Have you like heard of this tradition outside of your family?

E: Yes, because it’s like pretty commonly done… I think it’s not only in Mexico, though, like I’m pretty sure people do it in Europe, too? I just don’t know that it’s like… Or I haven’t heard about it as widely like in the U.S.

K: Um, can you just set up the context of when this would happen? I know you said it was during Christmas, but can you be more specific?

E: Um, ok, so kind of like the idea is that… like… on any Christmas morning, instead of like kind of the more conventional U.S. version of kind of waking up to like stockings with presents in them, it’s like boots or shoes with like smaller presents in them. But it’s kind of like akin either way.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that the concept of putting Christmas presents in shoes was quite intriguing, and I wondered if there was a legend, myth, or tale that created this tradition of putting presents in shoes. Though my informant never mentioned a reason why this became a tradition in her family, she did mention that she knew that it was not just something that occurred in Mexico, but in Europe, as well. I did some investigating and found that in the days leading up to December 6, which is St. Nicholas’s feast day,  children in Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot out in front of the fireplace at night to find them filled with presents the next morning. Some differences between this tradition and my informant’s experience is that my informant put her shoes out on Christmas Eve day rather than in the many days leading up to Christmas, and also the mere fact that she celebrated this in Mexico rather than in a European country. Perhaps the reason there is such deviation between the way it is traditionally celebrated from the way my informant celebrates it is because Mexico is so far from the origin of the tradition,  which allowed for the tradition to take its own form and adjust to its new culture (as folklore should).

 

The Seven Fishes – Telugu Bedtime Story

“Once upon a time, there was a king who had seven sons. One day, the seven princes went out hunting; each of the princes caught one fish and laid them out on the ground to dry. However, all but one fish dried. The king as the fish:

‘Fish, why did you not dry?’

The fish said to the king: ‘King, there is hay on the ground so I could not dry.

The king asked the grass: ‘Hay, why are you still on the ground?’

The grass replied: ‘The cow did not eat me.’

The king asked the cow: ‘Cow, why did you not eat the hay?’

The cow replied: ‘The farmer did not feed me the hay.’

The king asked the farmer: ‘Farmer, why did you not feed the cow hay?’

The farmer replied: ‘My mother did not feed me today.’

The king asked the farmer’s mother: ‘Mother, why did you not feed your son the farmer?

The mother replied: ‘The little baby was crying, so I didn’t feed the farmer.’

The  king asked the little baby: ‘Why were you crying?’

The baby replied: ‘The ant bit me.’

The king asked the ant: ‘Ant, why did you bite the baby?

The ant replied: ‘If the baby stick her finger in my home, will I not bite her?’

Context: This tale is a classic Telugu bedtime story for children that I have heard many times growing up. The informant, GH, re-told me a bedtime story on a stressful night, which was a story that she herself had heard when she was a child. GH always remembers her mother and her own childhood whenever she tells the story to my sister and I, and feels more connected with her family by passing down this family story to the next generation. GH thinks that bedtime stories are an important part of childhood–not only to help the parents put their rowdy kids to sleep–but also to develop the children’s understanding of their culture and cultivate interest in reading. She believes that bedtime stories are very important in producing a love for stories, story-telling, and reading in children, which is crucial in a child’s development. Along with this, GH believes that bedtime stories are important for creating a bond between parents and their child.

Analysis: This story has the components of common bedtime stories, such as various animals, kings, and princes. Along with this, it reflects the agrarian society present in much of Andhra Pradesh, the Indian state in which most Telugu people live. The moral of the story also reflects the idea that even a small being, in this case an ant, is capable of creating a big change. In India, most of society is either working class or in poverty, so the moral is representative of the power of the “little man”. The story explains how even the small players can create a chain effect that impacts many different people. Many Indian folktales usually involve how some sort of smart, small animal–such as a crow–vanquishing a large, dumb animal such as a lion. The smart small animals uses their intelligence to outsmart a brawny animal that is trying to overpower them. While the story of seven fishes does not necessarily follow a small animal vanquishing a larger animal, but the ant’s anger towards having his home destroyed leads to a pretty large effect that impacts many members of the society, even going all the way up to the princes of the land.

Along with this, many Indian stories will show that kings that communicate with their subjects and the people in their kingdom will be the most successful and noble rulers. While the role and personality of the king is not explicitly described in this particular story, the king was able to find out the reason why his son’s fish had not dried because he had a good relationship with his subjects–and interestingly, the animals–of his kingdom. If he did not have this relationship, he would not have been able to find the cause of his problem and probably would have had to use a fear factor to get the answers that he wanted. This is an important commentary on the societal hierarchy that is present in India. In Indian society, when the ruler or monarch of a specific region is disrespectful of the common folk, regardless of caste or religion, then it it will be difficult to have a good rapport with them.

There are also particular folklore techniques used in this story that enable those performing it to remember it with ease. Even as a child, I was able to know the story and know exactly what would happen next because of the format and progression of the story. The repetition of the flow, along with cause-and-effect style allow the story to be easily recalled and performed–especially over the various children’s sleepless nights. For bedtime stories especially, the performer of the story needs to be able to recall properly; if the story-teller beings to forget what happens, then the audience will get confused or upset that the story is not being told “correctly.”

This story has significance for GH and myself as this story has been passed down the generations of our family. The story is also one that is specific to the region from which GH is from, so knowing this story is a way to define the region from which the individual is. I had heard this story on many nights before bed, so know whenever my family or I hear the story, we immediately feel calm–or even sleepy–even if it is the middle of the day.

Chinese Restaurant Clapping Game

“So we had a clapping game that my friends and I used to do that involved this one song that I always thought was a little bit weird:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant, to buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread.

They asked me what my name was, and this is what I said, said, said:

‘My name is….choo choo Charlie, I can do karate, punch ’em in the stomach,

Oops, I’m sorry! Please don’t tell my mommy!

Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Freeze!'”

Context: The informant, ER, is an Asian-American student. She really enjoyed playing games with her friends when she was growing up in California; some of these included clapping games like this, along with making lip-sync dance videos. ER is a very popular girl, and wanted to fit in with the other girls, which includes participating in this game. ER explains that she uncomfortable with singing along with this song. Being an Asian-American, she felt that this song was quite racist and drew from various stereotypes in order create a catchy song to sing along to.

Analysis: This song follows other types of children’s songs that are common and widespread. It has catchy, simple rhythm with equally catchy lyrics. In this case, it involves repetition of certain lyrics that are necessary for clapping games. Towards the end of song, the lyrics become a bit nonsensical, and do not really provide any real connection with the original theme of the song. Even the first line of the song make no real sense since no one would normally go to a Chinese restaurant to purchase a loaf of bread. However, rational lyrics are not the main purpose of children songs, but rather about parodying other songs, or making fun of strict components of society.

However, probably the more telling part of this song is the slight racial insensitiveness of the lyrics. In this case, the lyrics are playing on stereotypes of Chinese people, and also equating them with other Asians, including Japanese people and Indian people. For many children, it is common for them to not be able to differentiate between different groups of East Asians, or can tend to be more racially insensitive. Due to this, it means that when these children come up with these rhymes and games, they will be less inhibited by potentially insensitive lyrics when trying to find rhyming words and catchy lyrics.

For ER, calling out her friends because of a racist song had too many consequences. From the social side, ER did not want to say that she did not want to participate in the game, which would create a rift between herself and her friends due to a mere song. Children’s social structures and relationships tend to be very fragile and complex, and due to this, telling your friends that you do not want to participate in a favorite game would be seen as an insult. Due to this fear, many kids will not tell their friends about something that bothers them personally in order to maintain their friendships and keep their social standing.