USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Childhood’
Game

Kitty Wants A Corner!

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

Julian, my younger brother, was showing me a game he used to play when he was little.

Julian: “This game is called, ‘Kitty Wants a Corner’. To play you have to get a bunch of people, it has to be like, ten, in order to be fun.”

“First you have to get in a circle, and one person gets to be in the middle. That person is The Kitty. What The Kitty wants, is to get back into the circle. In order to do that, The Kitty has to replace somebody. But they can’t just walk back in. As The Kitty, they have to go around the circle and tell people they want a space. They do it like this.”

Julian gets up and begins to mime a conversation.

“Kitty wants a corner!”, says The Kitty.

“Not here. Try my neighbor!”, says the Corner (anyone in the circle).

Julian: “The Kitty just has to keep doing this.”

“How does the Kitty get back into the circle?”, I ask.

Julian: “This is the fun part. The people in the circle, the people around the Kitty, they have to switch places with each other. That’s their job. If nobody moves for 10 seconds, then the Kitty wins. The Kitty also has to do his job too, if he stops asking for a space for more than three seconds, then the circle wins. It’s sort of like a balance.”

“Anyway, when the people in the circle switch places, they have to walk across the circle. When they do that, if the Kitty is fast enough, he can take one of their places. The person in the middle becomes the new Kitty.”

I ask Julian where he learned how to play this game.

Julian: “I played it in elementary school. It was really popular then.”

Summary:

My younger brother played a game called “Kitty Wants A Corner” when he was little. The game’s objective is to not get caught in the circle. If you do, you become “The Kitty”, and then you have to get out of the circle.

I remember playing a lot of games like this when I was younger. I’m not sure where “Kitty” originates from, but if Julian can still remember how to play it after so long, then it must be impacting.

 

general
Humor
Musical

Oh Alice

“One of the things I remember about growing up was that my mom would sing me funny songs and after she would sing them she would crack up. Even though my family experienced a lot of loss and pain, it was always great to hear my mom’s laugh. One of the songs she used to sing was about Alice. When she sang it she thought it was so funny, but it would scare me. I was a little girl and I thought I might go down the drain!”

The lyrics are as follow:

Alice, where are you going?

Upstairs to take a bath

Her shape is like a toothpick

Her head is like a tack

Oh my goodness, oh my soul there goes Alice down the hole!

Oh Alice, where are you going?

An audio recording of Gloriadele Guzman (the mother of the informant, referenced above) singing the song has been provided: Oh Alice

I collected this song from my mother. It was fun for me because I also remember my grandmother singing me this song when I was a little girl. I had always thought it was a song my grandmother had made up but I found some other versions of the song online. My grandmothers version is slightly different. Some of the other version include more details that has caused some people to infer that the song is actually about Alice in Wonderland.

For one of the other versions of this song please see: http://www.rahelmusic.net/lyrics-kidsongs.html

Humor
Musical

Mexican Boy Scouts song

My informant is my father, a 48 year old pediatric oncologist at Stanford University. He is bilingual, binational and bicultural, born to a white American father and a Mexican mother. He grew up in both countries but spent his formative adolescent years in Mexico City, where he joined the Mexican Boy Scouts or “los escouts” as he calls them. It was there that he learned this joke from a fellow Escout, who he is still good friends with today.

He performs this piece of folklore frequently, usually in the presence of children—before, when my sister and I were little, he would teach it to us when we were camping, and now, since we’re older, he usually does it around our younger cousins, especially around mealtimes.

Here is the song:

“Queremos comer!
Sangre coagulada
revuelta en ensalada
higado encebollado
de sapo reventado
y de postre!
Helado con caquita de venado!!”

Translation:

We want to eat!

Coagulated blood

Mixed up in a salad

Onion-fried liver

of a scrambled frog

and for dessert!

Ice cream with little deer poops!

This little song has gone from being a piece of his adolescence to being passed on to our generation, so it means a lot to him as both a part of his past, and a reminder of old friendships, as well as a part of his family life now. He uses it to bond now with his younger relatives over the humorous idea of such a disgusting meal, and to reconnect, I think, with his inner child.

Humor

Lowest Prices Joke – Son

My informant is my cousin, a 9 year old boy born and raised in Mexico City to a half-white, half-Mexican mother and a Mexican father. He has an impressive repertoire of jokes that he knows, and impresses and cracks up the family every time he tells them, usually over the traditional Mexican mid-afternoon meal, which is the heaviest meal of the day and is typically eaten with family or friends, the same way dinner is here. He is very popular in school, probably in part because of his sense of humor as well as his natural charm.

This joke was performed over “comida” as the mid-afternoon meal is called, during an hour-long family-wide exchange of jokes. He learned this joke at school.

“Una mamá vio a su hijo gateando por el supermercado y le preguntó: Que andas haciendo Lucas? Y el niño le responde: ando buscando los precios más bajos.”

Transliteration: “A mom saw her son crawling around the supermarket and asked him: What are you doing Lucas? And the boy responds: I’m looking for the lowest prices.”

I have another take on this joke from my informant’s father, who says he heard the joke in a more regionalist sense, where the mom was replaced by a person from his hometown of Hermosillo and the son was replaced by a person from the rival town of Nabojoa. I think it makes sense that the younger boy knew this version because of what it has to do with being young and misunderstanding things.

Humor

Donkey wordplay joke

My informant is my cousin, a 9 year old boy born and raised in Mexico City to a half-white, half-Mexican mother and a Mexican father. He has an impressive repertoire of jokes that he knows, and impresses and cracks up the family every time he tells them, usually over the traditional Mexican mid-afternoon meal, which is the heaviest meal of the day and is typically eaten with family or friends, the same way dinner is here. He is very popular in school, probably in part because of his sense of humor as well as his natural charm.

This joke was performed over “comida” as the mid-afternoon meal is called, during an hour-long family-wide exchange of jokes. He learned this joke at school.

“Como haces que un burro se haga burra? Lo metes en un cuarto oscuro para que se aburra.”

Transliteration: How do you make a [male] donkey into a [female] donkey? You put him in a dark room so that he gets bored.

The word for female donkey in Spanish is “burra,” while “se aburra” means “[he] gets bored”, so it’s a classic and funny example of wordplay common among children. In fact, most of his jokes are wordplay, which is classic among children, especially as they are gradually learning the nuances and double meanings of a language, and particularly interesting as he is semi-bilingual due to his mom teaching English to him in the home.

Childhood
Narrative

Overnight Resident in Campus Shack

Item:

“There was no way we were going to see what made the sound, we were way to scared.”

The informant went to an elementary school that had a wooden structure in the middle of the playground that held all of the playground equipment. The structure was a bit ominous looking, with a pointed roof and fencing over the windows when it was closed down. The kids would sign up for shift to man the shack, and it was their job to hand out things like balls or jump ropes when other kids would request them. At the end of the day, it was the child’s job to get everything back and put things where they should be. The shack was then closed by fences being pulled over the windows and the door being shut.

There was a rumor among the students that someone would break into the shack and live in it overnight. This was reinforced by their own reports of things being moved around by the next morning after closing it up. The person who supposedly lived in the shack was homeless and came and went when nobody was around. On one occasion, when the informant stayed late for daycare, he and his friends apparently heard a crash sound come from the shack, although they opted to not investigate.

 

Context:

According to the informant, the rumor of the man in the playground hut originated some time around when he was there, so it wasn’t terribly old. But it lasted through his entire time there and didn’t really lose believability among children, even into middle school. The instance of him hearing a noise come from it at night was, he admitted, likely just something falling over, but it was more than enough confirmation as a child for him.

 

Analysis:

The most interesting part of this story is the fact that the rumor didn’t fade as the children got older. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that the story itself isn’t so farfetched that middle schoolers would rule it out as impossible. Something like an axe murderer or magical being living in the shack would lose realism as children got older and rationalized things, but the possibility of someone sneaking onto campus and taking up temporary residence in an unlocked hut is there. It’s easy to say the stuff got moved around just naturally, or someone cleans up the shack at night from the school, but the fact that nothing in the story is “out of this world” makes it even more haunting to a certain extent.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Game
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary (or Candyman)

Information about my Informant

My informant grew up in Hacienda Heights where he went to high school, and received his bachelor’s degree from USC. He is a game designer and is currently working for a social mobile gaming company based in Westwood.

Transcript

“If you, like, look into a mirror, and you say…something three times, usually like ‘Bloody Mary’ or ‘Candyman.’ Those are like two. Um, you like summon them. And it’s very bad. Uh…”

Collector: “Why is it bad? Do they…”

“I don’t know. It’s one of those like you don’t wanna do it, and it’s kind of scary and then you never never do it, I guess? ‘Cause you’re too scared.”

Collector: “So you don’t know what happens when they appear?”

“No, like, there could be presents. I don’t know. They could hurt you horribly; I don’t know.”

Analysis

The Bloody Mary legend is famous among children of many cultures, although it is mostly associated with young prepubescent girls and not boys. The reason being, it is conjectured, is that the Bloody Mary legend in its traditional form is a representation of the onset of menstruation that is in the future for these girls (with the constant concept of blood and with the ritual being performed in front of a mirror that reflects the girls’ own images, meaning that when Bloody Mary does appear in the mirror, she is replacing the image of the girl herself). It is unusual then that in this version that my informant provided me with, it is not only a boy who learned about this but that his version included the possible substitute of a figure called the Candyman. I myself had heard of Bloody Mary but never this male figure. The ritual is very similar, with a candle being lit and the name of Candyman being chanted  a number of times while looking into a mirror. The classic version of Candyman though, as far as I can tell, before the movie called Candyman came out in 1992, was that the Candyman when summoned would either glare at the summoner through the mirror with  his glowing red eyes before vanishing or would kill the summoner with a rusted hook. There is also now a version, which I’m not sure existed before the movie came out, where the Candyman would romantically pursue a female summoner and kill her if she spurned him. It’s interesting that the classic versions of Candyman seems to involve more malevolence (staring, killing) than the classic versions of Bloody Mary (staring, scratching perhaps), but it’s difficult to tell as both figures have been prominently featured in mass media now and their portrayals there have filtered back into the folklore.

For more information about the Bloody Mary and Candyman legends, see:

Dundes, Alan. “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety.” Western Folklore 57.2/3 (1998): 119-135. JSTOR. Web. 1 May. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1500216>.

Tucker, Elizabeth. “Ghosts in Mirrors: Reflections of the Self.” The Journal of American Folklore, 118.468: 186-203. JSTOR. Web. 1 May. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4137701>.

Game
Humor
Kinesthetic

“This is Buggy”

Context: The informant is an 11-year-old resident of Southern California, of Indo-Pakistani descent. She lives with two older siblings, parents, and grandparents and attends a public middle school in the South Bay area. She has close friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and the following narrative sequence is one she learned from one of these friends while she was still in elementary school.

Transcript of video:

“This is Buggy!

Buggy says hi!

Buggy can fly!

Yay for Buggy!

Oops, Buggy died.”

Analysis: The informant says she learned it only a couple years ago and remembered it because she “thought it was cool” and “kind of funny”. The informant relates that she enjoys many types of art, including drawing and painting, and often is in charge of making signs for events among her friend group, like yard sales and party invitations. So the personal appeal to a young artist or craftsperson is obvious.

I think the general appeal here is similar: the fact that with a few simple drawings and letters, an entire story can be told with little effort. The idea that there are just enough fingers on a person’s hand to write “T-H-I-S” on the knuckles, and then fold different fingers to show different words, must be appealing to kids who are just starting to appreciate the difficulties of both language and tactile crafts such as beading, painting, or cursive handwriting. The simple story is also humorous and a common enough occurrence: trying to save a little bug only to find that you unfortunately don’t know your own strength; or simply the humor of seeing something that causes many small children, especially girls, some anxiety–“creepy crawlies”–being put out in such a messy and unceremonious manner helps them cope with those anxieties indirectly while not being called out as a “scaredy cat” or a “sissy”.

Folk speech
Humor
Musical
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“I Believe I Can Fly” Parody

The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. Although he graduated from a public high school, he attended a private Islamic elementary school until the third grade. He says there were Muslims of many backgrounds at the school, and one of his friends (who also happened to be of Pakistani descent) used to sing this as a joke during rehearsals for school programs. It is a partial parody of a once-popular song by the artist R. Kelly.

I believe i can die

I got shot by the FBI

My momma hit me with a chicken wing 

All the way to Burger King

 

Analysis: The informant (and, according to him, his other friends and classmates) always thought the song was funny, both because “the original song was about how, you know, you can do anything if you try hard and believe in yourself, and like… not letting your fears get in the way of…getting your dreams or whatever. And then it’s like, oh, I got shot by the FBI and my mom hates me…So, that was funny;” and also that the friend in question was also a bit of a troublemaker, so the just the fact of him singing the rather inappropriate song when he was supposed to be singing a school song, “made it even funnier” to the informant.

From a more objective point of view, the elementary school attended by the informant was located in South Los Angeles, which has a high population of African-American residents. It is quite possible that this parody was learned from neighbors or friends who were African-American, as it seems to give voice, through humor, to anxieties about dangers which are uniquely part of the reality of African-Americans in South LA–that is, being “shot by the FBI” or otherwise victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government. It’s also a very stark contrast between the original song’s message of hope and inspiration and this version’s obvious (justified) pessimism about American society. On the other hand, the second and third lines seem to include stereotypes about African Americans’ supposed fondness for fried chicken and fast-food and their strict parenting style.

An online search reveals that parodies of this song are common among African Americans from LA to Pittsburgh, revealing how far and wide the common anxieties of this minority group spreads.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Playground Lingo

Context: The informant is a 23-year-old white female from Florida who grew up with her parents and two older siblings. When the informant was in grade school, a common accusation between kids swinging on adjacent swings, when someone got too close to them, was, “You’re in my shower!”

Analysis: The informant says she remembers the phrase because “I thought it was a weird thing to say, i was like, okay, whatever you say…” This indicates that it was not a widespread saying but perhaps unique to a small area of schools or perhaps even just the one school that the informant attended.

It can be assumed that when someone had possession of a swing, they would be unwilling to give it up or to experience interference from other swingers. The connotation of a shower being a very individual, private space, therefore, transferred onto the swinger’s small area of free movement and they would understandably be indignant of someone invading their “private,” designated area.

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