USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘children’
Game

Lemonade Iced Tea

Main piece:

“Lemonade. Iced Tea. Coca cola. Pepsi. turn around *everybody turns around* touch the ground *everyone touches the ground with their hands* kick your brother out of town *kick an imaginary brother with foot* freeze *everybody stays still*”

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

You sing it and then freeze. She sang it in elementary school for fun. It was informal and something for entertainment. Usually for songs like this, one person in the friend group would teach the others like, “My older sister taught me this.” and that kid would teach the others to sing together.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It would happen when she was in elementary school when she was gathered with some friends and they were bored. They would do it during recess or breaks.

Personal Analysis:

I think I grew up with a similar version without the “kick your brother out of town” part. It’s fun to document these children’s informal folklore. It’s not a story even, but all the kids know it by word of mouth. It’s strange how far word of mouth can go even in the current day. Because it’s short and easy to say, it is more likely to be circulated without confusion on the words. The tune is catchy too.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Changelings

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old student at USC. She is originally from Pennsylvania and came to LA to study screenwriting. As a writer, she makes it her business to be familiar with a variety of legendary creatures from different regions and cultures; she is ethnically Jewish.

Performance:

“This is one of my favorites. There was that Angelina Jolie movie about it, and everything, but that kind of sucked (laughter) so I first heard this from my grandmother sometime in high school, just kind of like, a scary story or something. But I’ve done more research and the basic story shows up across a bunch of different cultures and whatnot. So basically, we think of fairies as like, Tinkerbell, right? Well in most old cultures, fairies were not that fucking benign. Like, at all. Fairies were these sort of horrendous creatures that would sneak into your house and steal your babies and drive you crazy. Like, parents would hang iron over their baby’s crib to keep fairies from getting in and taking their kids. This whole legend grew up around that idea; when people were wondering if their kid was their kid or the fairy replacement, they’d call them ‘changelings.’ Basically, what a fairy leaves behind to mimic your child while the real thing lives on in the fairy realm. Some stories say that these changeling kids were kind of brutal, monstrous little things, and others just say they’re sort of…off, I guess? There’s a lot of variety, which makes it a cool story to build stories off of, if that makes sense. A lot of wiggle room.”

Thoughts:

This legend seems almost mythic, in the sense that it’s a story that was created as a means of explaining and understanding the world around us. As Kieryn mentioned, the changeling story appears in a variety of different traditions; it appears here: https://www.britannica.com/art/changeling-folklore and http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/scanchange.html and elsewhere across print and digital resources. Nowadays, you hear stories about a child one day “changing” and becoming “someone else;” all of a sudden, an otherwise sweet baby grows disobedient or angry or difficult. We would usually go straight to an autism diagnosis or some other psychological explanation, but this offers a more spiritual explanation. According to one of the articles above, there were myths about how to have your child returned from the fairy world, many of which included torture. This story in particular speaks to mankind’s understanding and treatment of mental illness and disability.

Legends

The Ghost Around the Bend

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one-year-old college student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is studying to be a nurse and has worked in the emergency room at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Performance:

“I heard this from my boyfriend at the time…I was seventeen and he was twenty-one. He was a volunteer fireman when he wasn’t doing construction. Cops and firemen know each other, like, pretty well in Essex County. Uh…I can’t remember if he said that he like heard this from someone or if he was there or what it was, but I remember the story wicked well…so I guess there’s this one road in Essex with a really sharp bend or curve in the road and people get in accidents there all the time…every time the police show up they just get really quiet when people tell them how it happened because they all have the same story about seeing a little kid chase a ball into the road and like flipping their cars trying to like, uh, get out of the way or something….anyway, I guess that some kid was hit by a car there in the 70’s or something. I guess it’s some, uh, like, big open secret, you know? Like all of the cops know about it but normal people don’t until they get in the very same accident.”

Thoughts:

This is a classic ghost story with a clear causal narrative. The child was hit by a car, and now car accidents that happen on that same road are attributed to the child’s death. The added details about it being an “open secret” amongst first responders adds a layer of legitimacy that may otherwise be missing; the police are meant to be inherently trustworthy, thus if they insist the story is true, we must also believe it.

Customs
Legends

Camp Basement

K is a freshman majoring in psychology who attended the same camp almost every summer before college. The campers were told this story in the basement where the events occurred at nighttime to explain why one wall is newer than the rest.

“The camp used to be a homestead, around 1812, and the family who lived there was part of the underground railroad. The escaped slaves were hidden in the basement of the house, and one night confederate soldiers showed up to confiscate the slaves and punish the family for helping. As soon as the father opened the door, he was shot in the face, and the soldiers continued to kill everyone else in the family. When they reached the basement, they decided not to kill the escaped slaves – a mother and child – but rather make them suffer. They barricaded the two in the basement behind a new wall. It’s said that at nighttime you can still hear the child scratching the wall.”

K’s story encompasses many ghost story motifs, such as the wrongful deaths of those involved and the liminal space of the basement. It is also a lesson to young campers, both not to go out at night and not to go in the basement, and helps them to feel more connected to camp through the knowledge of it’s history.

Legends

El Viejito

A legend heard by the informant in Guatemala, El Viejito is an old man that abducts children.


 

EO: “In Latin America, um, they tell stories to scare children into behaving. So there’s this old man, they call him “El Viejito”, and he just always stealing kids. So if you’re misbehaving, he’s going to come and get you…steal you forever.

El Veijito?

EO: El Viejito, “The Old Man”. My mother told me about it many times to keep me polite and well-behaved.


 

The informant also told of other legends that were used as precautionary tales in order to use fear to keep children behaving. Others include La Llorona and La Sihuanaba.

Although “El Viejito” is a legend of Latin America, it literally translates to “little old man”, so there is bound to be confusion between the folklore and basic application of language. For example, “El Viejito” is a nickname Latinos use for  Senator Bernie Sanders.

Childhood
folk simile
Folk speech
Foodways
general

Finishing your bowl of rice

The informant was asked about some sayings, proverbs, and customs in her family.

Informant: “A lot of families, to get us to finish all the rice on our bowl, they [parents] say that if you don’t finish the rice on your bowl, your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples and blemishes on their face, so every time, they always remind us of that story, like ‘you know how so and so has a lot of pimples? Their spouse must not finish their bowl, so you don’t want to do that. Mom and dad… they’ve been telling us this since we’re young so it’s expected that our bowls are clean. Otherwise the stories will be reminded every time there’s something in the bowl… what I’ve heard from my German friend, when you’re growing up, it’s either your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples, or there’s a lot of starving kids in Africa. But then I met a lot of international students while I was in college, and he actually says that his parents tell him because there’s a lot of starving kids in China. So there’s a lot of different countries there involved. ”

Collector: “Are Asians specifically more afraid of pimples than other people are?”

Informant: “I think that in Chinese culture we definitely do care about our appearance so having your spouse having pimples I guess it’s not really… it can be frowned upon in the community and since Asian cultures are very community centered, you want to look good so you don’t want… it’s always community centered so you need to care for your spouse’s pimples. You know, its not just about your pimples, it’s you know, you’re responsible for somebody else in the community”

A lot of people in the US probably recall being told by their parents when they were young to finish the food on their plate because there are starving kids in Africa who would be extremely appreciative of whatever food was on that plate. Thus, it’s quite interesting to observe an alternative version of essentially the same saying parents use to get their kids to finish their plate of food. There are likely many more variations of this well-known guilt strategy around the world.

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Cameroonian Views on Femininity

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.

“In my culture it is believed that a woman who has no children is considered wicked, a man, and worthless. If she is married and childless, she will be divorced and asked to return her dowry to her husband. From what we know today, infertility could be from the man. Yet, yet all the blame goes to the woman, but back then, it was only the woman. The belief is that the wickedness comes in because gods would not bless a bad person and children, children are the most cherished gift to a women. So she would be shown without a child and no man is supposed to love a woman who could produce no heir. Next to a woman without children is one who has only one child—especially if it is a girl child—or has all girls. Women are blamed for not being able to produce an heir since most believe that only the boys should inherit the family s fortune. The irony here, is that, these same people who prefer boys stand to benefit when a girl gets married through the bride price and dowry.”

 

Analysis: My informant learned these cultural beliefs from relatives and extended family while living in Cameroon. This piece of cultural knowledge gives a very clear picture of the gender lines and distinctions within Cameroonian culture. From even this small amount of verbal exchange the listener gets an immediate and clear understanding that Cameroon is a patriarchal country that places incredible pressure on the women to live up to the standards of men. It is also interesting to note that in many cases after having moved from Cameroon to America these beliefs do not hold as much weight. My informant’s daughter, who is a close friend of mine, acknowledges her cultural beliefs, but does not hold the belief that the importance of women should be placed underneath that of a man. This gives the impression that cultural folklore has a much stronger meaning when the folklore is being spread in an area where the majority of people hold those same beliefs.

Game
general

Buns Up Game

“So the Buns Up Game is a game that I played in middle school and they’re still playing it at my school. And so the object of the game is to never get your buns hit with the tennis ball, and so the game is played against a wall and someone throws the tennis ball at the wall and the other person has to catch it with one hand. And it can bounce once or not at all. If you miss it with one hand, then the person who threw it can then grab the ball and you have to run to the wall and touch the wall with your hands before the person grabs the ball and chucks it at your butt. And that’s why it’s called Buns Up.”

 

The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up that she has observed taking place among her students now. She learned this game, “in . . . Lubbock, Texas. I learned to play it outside because we had a lot of cement and a blank wall. Mostly the boys played it, but some of the girls that were more courageous would play it also. At my school right now there’s a blacktop and it’s mostly the first graders that are playing it, instead of like the middle schoolers that used to play it.”

 

When I asked her why thinks people play this game, she said, “Well, because it’s a skill to be able to catch, eye-hand coordination with one hand, the ball that’s about the size of a baseball or a tennis ball. Plus it’s fun to throw the ball at people if they, and it, well it makes people feel bad if they, I mean it makes people feel good if they have more skill than the other player. Plus it’s reflexes and yeah, you get to actually take mean action on people, I guess.” When I asked her what she thinks this game means, it became clear that the informant did not think much of this game. She said, “I think it means that it’s an easy game to play with a ball and a wall. Like, you don’t have . . . I mean, it takes very little equipment and only two people and, with a city, if you don’t have a field or grass it’s a game you can play in the street.”

 

I tend to agree with the informant that the main reason this game is played is that it requires little explanation and little equipment to play. It is easy to start and stop, can be played in many different locations, and is challenging enough to be entertaining. I there’s a little more to the meaning behind the game though, based solely on its name. Because this game is generally played by middle school kids, it seems like there is something to the fact that part of the game is throwing a ball at another person’s butt. At this age, this action might seem particularly taboo. It is also interesting, then, that Buns Up is somewhat gendered, with only a few girls taking part, and that my mother was one of these girls. This game provides an outlet for children to be silly and active, while subtly crossing established social boundaries.

general
Musical

The Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Song

My (hold note) mommy said if I’d be good she’d send me to the store,

she said she’d bake a chocolate cake if I would sweep the floor,

she said if I would make the bed and help her mind the phone,

she would send me out to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

And so I did

the things she said,

I even helped her make the bed.

Then I went out,

just me alone,

to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

Now (hold note) on my way a-comin’ home I stumbled on a stone,

and need I tell you that I dropped

my chocolate ice cream cone.

A little doggie came along and took a great big lick (slurping sound),

and then I hit that mean ole doggie with a little stick.

And he bit me

where I sat down

and he chased me all over town.

And now I’m lost,

can’t find my home,

it’s all because of a chocolate, chocolate, chocolate ice cream cone.

 

The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. The song is one that his mother used to sing to him and his siblings when they were little. The song was primarily sung right before bed, as well as occasionally on long road trips. The informant says his mother would sing it to the children almost every night, sometimes “perfunctorily,” sometimes smiling and adding “extra ‘chocolate, chocolate, chocolate’s’ on the end.” The informant sees it as a mix of a “bizarre lost kid fairy tale” and a “moral lesson for young kids growing up,” the lesson being, “don’t go out on your own or, you know, you might get lost and never find your way home again.”

 

This song was collected while I was home for Spring Break and performed in my living room. It was interesting to me because my father also used to sing it to me and my sister when we were children because, “when you’re a parent, you’re looking for, you know, the things to pass down and it was one of my favorite songs as a child.” The tune of the song makes it seem fun and harmless, but there is a dark undertone about the lyrics that I recognized, even when I was growing up. Looking at it now, I think it is less of a moral lesson, and more of a lesson to children about the random, horrible things that can happen to you when you are not expecting them. None of the events that take place are really the narrator’s fault (other than being chased by a dog after he hits it with a stick), and yet the narrator still ends up lost and alone. It is a dark reflection on everyday life hiding within a song for children, as is often the case with old songs and stories created for children.

Game
general

Road Sign Game

“So like if you’re driving in a car for like a long period of time, and you’re like with a friend or something, you’re not gonna do it by yourself, and you’re not the driver, you look out the window and you have to, in order of the alphabet, find a sign on the side of the road that starts with the, um, the first letter is in the alphabet, so like, say I was looking for an ‘A,’ if I found an Applebee’s I’d yell out ‘Applebee’s’ and then, like, the next sign you saw that started with a ‘B,’ like um, Ben and Jerry’s, or something, somebody would yell it out. So it wasn’t necessarily like a competitive game, it was just like the whole car was trying to get the alphabet, or the signs in order of the alphabet before they arrived at their destination. It was just a way to stay busy . . . It’s more challenging if it’s a shorter distance, obviously. But instead of sleeping in the car, that’s what we would do.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place late one night in my apartment’s living room when I began asking her about different games she knew. When I asked the informant where she learned this game, she said, “I think from like traveling to dance competitions a lot and, um, I mean I know we didn’t just make it up, but I think it kind of derived from the license plate game, where it’s like you look at a license place and you try to find the alphabet in each license plate almost. But we made it signs, probably a little easier.” She said it was her mother who would take her to dance competitions and would sometimes participate in the game.

 

When I asked her what she thought this meant, she said, “It was a good way to bond with my other teammates and my brothers and avoid fighting because it’s not competitive.”
This game was interesting because it was one that the informant assumed everyone knew about. It was so entrenched in her childhood experience that she could not imagine anyone else growing up and not playing it. While this game most likely did not originate with the informant’s family, it is probably prevalent in families and groups of people that spend a lot of time on the road. I agree with the informant that the primary purpose behind this game is to distract children (or anyone bored on a drive) and keep them from fighting with one another. It also helps them familiarize themselves with their surroundings, take an interest in the world for a specific purpose, and practice their reading skills. It is also interesting that this game is not competitive in the usual sense, i.e. the participants are not playing against each other. This helps teach the participants to complete a task quickly and work together.

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