USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘grade school’
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 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.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

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.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Folktale: The Golem

 

The Golem

She heard this story from friends at the Jewish school. She went to school in Los Angeles. She explains that her family is Spanish and the story of the Golem is an Eastern European story so she didn’t grow up with it like her classmates did. She states that she heard from her friends who were Ashkenazi. The basic story goes like this:

The story takes in a town in Prague. A rabbi created a Frankenstein-like monster called a Golem to protect the Jewish village. The Golem was a giant creature with the word Emet, which is Hebrew for truth, written on its head. This word brings the creature to life. He was created to ward of attackers but it eventually runs amuck and starts attacking people. It couldn’t be stopped until the rabbi who created it erases the first letter of Emet from its head. Emet without the first letter, spells met which means death. This doesn’t kill the golem it just shuts it off like a robot. To revive the Golem all one has to do is fill in the first letter.

The informant mentions that she heard slightly different versions of the story. In some versions the person who brings the golem to life is a rabbi, sometimes it’s a mad scientist, other times it is just some guy. The nature of the golem itself varies in some versions it is aggressive in others its docile like a baby.

The informant doesn’t think the story itself is very important but the ideas related to it are important. She says that the story is related the history of antisemitism and it stems from the idea of having a magical protector.

I’ve heard of the story of the Golem of Prague before but in the version I read the Golem only goes berserk because the Golem had the ability to turn invisible and there were more explicit mentions of magic. In the version I heard the Golem was made from the clay of the banks of the river and the ceremony that brought it life mentioned the use of Kabbalah mysticism. In the version the informant told me she makes numerous references to Frankenstein and mad scientists. It seems like the scientific bent of contemporary society got fused with this older primarily magical society. The story is the same but the motifs are slightly different.

Childhood
Game

Wallball variant – Butts Up

My informant used to play a variant of Wallball at his Bay Area elementary school called “Butts Up.”  Like with regular Wallball, the game was played against the wall of a building or room, with one ball and many participants.  Players had to throw the ball against the wall without the ball first bouncing off the ground.  If the ball touches a player and then touches the floor, that player must run to the wall before the next time someone performs a successful wall bounce (player -> wall without touching floor).  If a player makes it to the wall in time, he or she is safe and may resume play.  If the ball makes it there first, that player receives a point.  Additionally, a player may attempt to perform a fast catch, whereby the player catchs the ball immediately after it has bounced off the wall, before it touches the floor again.  If the player successfully performs a fast catch, then the player who threw the ball gets a point.

My informant’s version of the game uses letters instead of points.  Each point spells out the word B-U-T-T-S and when a player has gotten all 5 letters, they must stand against the wall with their butt in the air while every other player gets a chance to peg them in the ass with balls.  Additionally, instead of a rubber playground ball, Butts Up was played exclusively with a tennis ball, and players were allowed to catch the ball in between throws, instead of just fast catches.  Also after a player has been ass-pegged for spelling BUTTS, instead of being out, the player simply returns to the game with a clean slate, albeit a sore ass.  Another one of my informants also said that some kids from his elementary school, back in New York, played this version of Wallball, and even called it by the same name of “Butts Up.”  According to him, this version of the game was reserved for the hardest of hardcore children.

Childhood
Game

Wallball

One of the games my informant used to play back in elementary school was a game called Wallball.  According to him, Wallball is played against the wall of a building or structure with a playground ball or tennis ball.  The object of the game was to hit the ball with your hand and have it hit the wall without first touching the ground.  If the ball hits the ground first instead, you must run to the wall before someone else is able to successfully hit the ball at the wall, or else you are “out.”  However, my informant says that usually a player could receive 3 or 5 outs before actually being forced out of the game.  Games were played with a large number of students.  There were a few additional rules in his version of Wallball.  Players were not allowed to bobble the ball, any player bobbling the ball was forced to drop it and run for the wall just as if they had failed to make a proper hit.  If a player was able to catch another player’s ball after it had hit the wall but before touching the ground, the player who hit the ball received an out.  A player was also allowed to peg another player with the ball, thus forcing both players to run for the wall.  This was only to be performed if teachers were not watching because teachers would usually stop the game if they saw this.  Players were also forbidden from having “Tea parties” which is where a player hits the ball back to his or herself 3 or more times in a row.  Also at any time, one player could challenge another player by throwing over his or her shoulder.  Both players then had to run to the wall before someone else hit it there.  Perhaps this challenge rule was instigated to replace pegging in the presence of teachers, but never left the game even when teachers weren’t present.  This version of Wallball is very similar to the version of Wallball that I played in elementary school, except without the challenge rule.

Childhood
Holidays

Valentines Day

While she was at school, my informant partook in a Valentine’s Day activity wherein each child in the class makes Valentine’s cards for everyone, and then makes a box and decorates the box.  Children then go around and put their cards in everyone else’s box.  She said that she was not very good at arts and crafts as a young child and so she thought her box was terrible and plain compared to everyone else’s.  According to my informant, the other children’s boxes had dancers and straws and ballerinas and other fancy figures on the side of the box, and she felt very embarrassed about the state of her box.  Later in life, she said she realized that the other children had fancy boxes because their parent’s helped to make them.

When I was in elementary school, we too participated in the ritual of exchanging Valentine’s day cards.  We made our own box, but we usually just went out and bought a set of Valentine’s day cards at the store, which came in packs of 16 or 20.  Also it was tradition to tape a small portion of candy onto your Valentine’s cards.  Cards were given to every student regardless of the gender of the giver or the recipient.  For us, Valentine’s day was less about the making of boxes and more about getting free candy.

Childhood
Game

Wallball variant – Ledgeball

My informant played a game similar to what is now known today as Wallball.  His version of the game was called Ledgeball due to the ledge against which it was played.  Ledgeball does not have the same free-for-all nature that Wallball does, and is played for points instead of for staying power.  However, it still involves throwing a ball against a flat surface and catching it.

According to my informant, the game was played by a group of throwers and one or two defenders.  Throwers would take turns throwing the ball against the ledge and trying to get it to land inside a marked area.  The defenders would attempt to catch the ball before it hit the ground.  If it hit the ground the throwers got a point.  If the defenders caught it or if it landed outside the marked area, then the defenders got a point.  One of the strategies that throwers could use was aiming very low on the ledge, so that the ball would only go a little bit before hitting the ground.  Another strategy was to throw it so that it would bounce over the heads of the defenders.   People who frequently defended would get really fast and develop good reflexes.  Ledgeball was played with either a tennis ball or a rubber playground ball, with tennis balls being preferred.

While this is markedly different from the Wallball that I played in my youth, this has many of the same traits.  Players throw a ball against a wall, other players attempt to catch it.  And most importantly it is played with either a tennis ball or a playground ball, both of which are still used in Wallball today.  Granted, this version of Wallball was played back in the 30’s so it will understandably be very different from what we know today, although it could be an ancestor or cousin of modern Wallball.

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