USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Childhood’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Albanian Superstition

Informant: The informant is Mrika. She has lived in the Bronx, New York for her whole life. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. She is of Albanian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat across from each other at a table at a diner in Yonkers, New York during our spring breaks from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, it was kind of like a superstition. Most Albanian superstitions are about luck, and they think that when you have bad luck, you’re not going to get married. As a kid, whenever I would hit my head on someone else’s head, people said that I was giving someone bad luck. To remove that bad luck, I’d have to bump heads again with that person. Then, it would go away. My grandma taught me this.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important to me because as a kid, I knew that the whole thing was dumb, and I didn’t believe it, but it’s something you hold onto. Someone older than me taught that- my grandma. It would always remind me of her. It was something that seemed like a game.

Personal Thoughts: This piece reminds me of the connection folklore gives people to other people. This superstition connects Mrika with her grandmother and her siblings and cousins with whom she spent time growing up. This piece also has a bit of humor to it, which helped Mrike to create childhood memories.

Childhood
Game

Seven-Up Childhood Game

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was in elementary school, my music teacher taught me a game called seven-up. Basically, she would pick seven people to stand at the front of the room, and the rest of the class would sit at their desks with their heads down and their thumbs up. The seven chosen would then walk around the room, and each would tap one seated person’s thumb. They would put their thumbs down once they were tapped. Then, when the seven people were done, they would return to the front of the room, and the seven whose thumbs were tapped would stand at their desks. Each would then choose whomever they thought tapped them, and if they were right, they would switch places and roles with them. If they were wrong, they’d sit back down. At the end of the guessing, the people a the front would admit whose thumbs they tapped. Then the process would happen all over again.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s a childhood game. It’s important to me because of my memories tied to it. My friends and I got so excited to play this game, and it was always the biggest deal to figure out who tapped your thumb! Also, everyone from other schools played something similar to seven-up growing up, usually just with slightly different rules or a different name, but it’s something to reminisce on not only with my classmates but really anyone my age.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed hearing about this piece of folklore because I played the same game in elementary school and feel the same way about other people knowing a similar version. It’s very interesting to see how games in different schools compare and how they were a major part of our lives. We even go so far as to argue over which version is right.

Childhood
Game

“Red Light, Green Light” Childhood Game

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: Back in elementary school, my friends taught me a game called Red Light, Green Light. Essentially, one leader would stand facing the rest of the group of people, who would stand far away from him or her. Then, the leader would turn around and yell, “Red light, green light, 1, 2, 3!” While the leader said this phrase, the group would run toward him or her, but when the leader turned around, they would all have to freeze. If any of them moved while he leader was turned around, he or she would call them out and tell them to go back to the start line. Whoever reached the leader first while he or she was turned around saying the phrase would tap the leader and become the next leader. The game would continue with a new leader, and the old leader would join the group.

Interviewer: Why is this game important to you?

Informant: This game reminds me of my childhood and my days in elementary school. I remember thinking that it was so funny if someone tripped during the game or couldn’t stay frozen long enough, and I remember the suspense of trying to stay still in the group or waiting to be tapped on the shoulder as the leader. Also, this game reminds me of the end of the school year, which was the best time of year, because it started to get warm out, and we could play outside again. We would play during recess or, if we were lucky, our parents would let us stay and play after school. That was the best, especially if the Ice Cream Truck showed up.

Personal ThoughtsI played “Red Light, Green Light” when I was little as well. What I find interesting about this game, and other games that my friends and I played as children, is that it has to do with topics we would face as we got older. For example, this game is about red lights and green lights and stopping and going, so it pertains to driving. Children always long to grow up, and the games they play often highlight that.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Unitarian Universalist Church

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate has never had a set religious background, and was always in something of a melting pot of faiths when he went to churches like the one described here.

Dialogue: So, I don’t know exactly how Unitarianism, like, started, but… At some point it was just this sort of culmination of, like, various Christian sects, like Episcopalian or Protestant or whatever was around Massachusetts going on. Just a bunch of them sort of, like, coalesced into one group that’s like… “You know what, Trinity or Unity, doesn’t matter! We all have spirit!”

Analysis: The intereseting thing about this piece of folklore to me is how much is blended together in a church like this. It’s not only a mixing of various religious sects, either: at one point, my roommate sang a song he was taught as a kid, about the “Seven Guiding Principles of Kindness.” He remembers only these lines:

One, each person is important
Two, be kind in all you do

The song, interestingly enough, is set to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi” fromthe mucial The Sound of Music. So we have a mashup of popular culture, religion, and folk belief, all in this single church.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Fatherly Advice

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: A piece of advice in the form of a proverb my friend’s dad taught him to live by.

Phrase: The most important thing is to think. The second most important thing is let other people think.

Analysis: The piece is simple, really just some advice that’s important for parents to give to their kids. My friend specified this was something his father told him every time he “did something stupid,” but I appreciate that the proverb refers to the world beyond yourself and stresses the importance of respecting other peoples’ minds.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Dreaming of Buddha

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is the story of an accident that happened to my roommate’s mother when she was young.

Dialogue: Um… I don’t remember how old she was, probably between, you know, 10 and 13. Um, she was playing hide and seek, and was in a two-story house, um, and she really wanted to be tough to find, so she climbed up out on the balcony, on the railing I think, and held on to the opposite side of the railing. Um… After that she accidentally let go and fell two stories and… landed on the ground, uh…

What happened after that, when she was unconscious. She had this dream where… uh, it was completely dark. She was looking around, and she could see these demons coming up everywhere, um, including the Devil I think, and so, her reaction was like, “What do I do, there’s demons all around me, there’s total darkness?!?” And then this light appears. I think it’s supposed to be the Buddha, is what she said, and it says, “Hey, uh… Don’t go towards those demons! Come towards me, that’s what you should do, that’s gonna be good.” Uh, so she goes on, she, you know, runs past those demons, heads to the light, and when she comes to, um, her whole family is, like, around her cuz she fell two stories, and they say she is completely unharmed. She gets back up, like, good as new, and, um… ever since then she’s been quite a bit more religious.

Analysis: I debated whether or not this deserved a “miracle” tag based on the fact that a two-story fall resulted in absolutely no injuries. I’m impressed by the fact that a single dream brought about a life-long change, but I suppose it is because views on religion in America and views on religion in Vietnam are different. It would be interesting to hear the dream told from the mother herself, though, just to get as much detail as possible on what happened while she was unconscious.

Childhood
general

Hamburger/Hotdog Folding

My sister grew up in the United States, where most kids are introduced to arts and crafts at a very young age. As many know, there are two ways to fold a piece of paper: hamburger (narrow edge to narrow edge) or hotdog (wide edge to wide edge).

Allegra: “I was introduced to the folding pattern ‘hot dog versus hamburger style’ in first grade. We were fashioning tri-corner hats out of newspaper. The first step was to fold the newspaper down along a crease to maintain its width, rather than its length. This was referred to as “hamburger style.” If the first step had instead been to fold the newspaper vertically, longer than it was wide, the instruction would have been ‘hot dog style.'”

Me: Did you notice that other teachers referred to hamburger and hotdog folding in class?

Allegra: Oh totally. It was a commonly used instruction in art rooms and day care centers that I went to throughout my childhood. A teacher would say, ‘To make a paper fan, fold the materials hot dog style.’ or ‘To begin your fortune teller, fold the paper hamburger style.’

Analysis: If I could hazard a guess, I think the metaphor works because these sandwich fixings come out of the package with a natural crease. Buns fold along a perforation for easier separation. A hot dog bun opens but does not disintegrate, much like how many paper projects require the traces of former folds to last, so that they may be used later. Two American culinary staples, same dough, two different ways to enjoy them. Hot dogs and hamburgers are also quintessential components to the American child’s diet. Notoriously fussy eaters, the one or two lunch room items every kid likes are hot dogs and hamburgers. Its an easily relatable illustration for a strange new technique, like origami.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Jasy Jatere

My friend grew up in Paraguay and has a lot of myths and legends that stem from the Guarani tradition.

Friend: “The Jasy Jatere is the God of the siesta. I heard about him from my grandmother. Apparently he would steal kids who snuck off during the siesta, which is a nap most people take during the day. I think the story was told to keep kids from leaving their houses while their parents were sleeping. Like don’t go away or the Jasy Jatere will get you!”

Me: What did he look like?

Friend: “He was supposed to look like a kid. He has blonde hair and is pretty small-framed. But he’s actually a full-grown man. Kids are supposed to think he’s their friend, he plays with them and feeds them fruit and honey, and then, according to my grandmother, he imprisons the kids and pokes out their eyes so that they cannot see to find their way home.”

Me:Did it scare you into napping during the siesta?

Friend: “Yeah I was pretty freaked out by Jasy Jatere. I definitely thought he would come and get me if I wasn’t napping. He’s sort of like the boogeyman of Paraguay.”

Analysis:The Jasy Jatere being a “Paraguyayan Boogeyman” is interesting. In some ways, it is creepy that parents would try to scare their children into staying at home and trying to sleep. Most of the time, these fears dissolve without much consequence. A child grows up and learns not to fear the Jatere, or the Boogeyman. Another connection that could be made to the Jasy Jatere is Peter Pan. It is the same archetype: a boyish creature who seems to be immortal, coming when children are without their parents, to take them away to a far off place– usually never to return home. Many cultures have these types of stories, and I think they play into our fear (and curiosity) of being taken from a loving home  with one of our kind who has learned to survive without the support of parents. transcoder

Contagious
Customs

Carving Initials into Tree Trunks

My informant is a childhood friend, and during a visit home she brought up a grade-school memory of carving initials into tree trunks. I remember doing this with her when we were very young and so I asked her to elaborate on the memory from her point of view.

Me: ” What was it that you carved into the tree trunks and when did you do this?”

KC: “Well, when I was in grade school so like third, fourth or fifth grade I suppose, at recess sometimes the girls, in a group, would get together no more than like three girls I guess, and get either a sharp stick or pen or pencil and pick a tree on the playground. On the tree they would carve their initials and under that, carve a plus sign and under that, they would carve the initials of their crush, so a boy they liked. Sometimes if the girl was really crafty they would carve a heart around those initials. It would supposed to be like, you had a crush on them and you were proving that you liked them or something, or maybe it would make them like you back or maybe like in the future you would date or something. It was all very innocent like super girlie and cute.”

Me: “Who did you learn this from and when?”

KC: “You know, I have absolutely no idea. I just remember doing it, because all the other girls did it and you did it as a group. I don’t remember being taught by like older girls or anything, just doing it and then maybe teaching it to other girls my age and getting a group together. It was kinda like a game I guess, something to do at recess. But, I do remember you could get in trouble for it, like not in trouble for the liking boys thing, but for vandalizing the tree or something like that.”

Analysis:

This is a sort of childhood game or maybe even a version of contagious magic as the little girls wanted their crushes to be reciprocated in the future. This is perhaps an example of gender roles being explored at a young age, as this is young girls in a group exploring naively the future of dating.  Girls are defining themselves as feminine as they perform this ritual of carving initials as they known they are expected to “like” boys in a romantic way some time in the future. They are naive and unaware of what that truly means, but at this age is when they are introduced to the idea of romantic relationships. Thus, this is playing at “liking” boys in the way they encounter in real life. Boys are no longer “icky” at this age and they mix a lot more and as they encounter the world around them and view dating and romantic relationships this is their way of understand it. It may also be a childlike version of contagious magic as usually the girl wants the person whose initials she has just carved to reciprocate the crush.

Childhood
Musical

Dodo, L’Enfant Do

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old student at USC; she’s studying neuroscience with an eye towards medical school. Her father is Laotian and French and her mother is French.

Performance:

“Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bien vite

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bientôt

Une poule blanche

Est là dans la grange

Qui va faire un petit coco

Pour l’enfant qui va fair dodo

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bien vite

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bientôt

Tout le monde est sage

Dans le voisinage

Il est l’heure d’aller dormir

Le sommeil va bientôt venir.

My mom used to sing it to me. I think hers did too.”

ENGLISH: Sleep, baby, sleep/the baby falls asleep/sleep, baby, sleep/the baby will sleep soon; a white chicken/is in the barn/making a little egg/for the baby who goes to sleep; Sleep, baby, sleep/the baby falls asleep/sleep, baby, sleep/the baby will sleep soon; everyone is calm/all around/it’s time to sleep/sleep is coming soon.

Thoughts:

This is an adorable piece of folklore, and one that has understandably withstood the tests of time. The lyrics and tune are quite simple; simple enough that, years and years later, people can still remember the song as it was sung to them and pass it on to their children.

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