USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘kids’
Festival
general
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Stump Murderer

Folklore Piece

“So this is just an old ghost story from camp, in northern Wisconsin. But this guy who was an old janitor at the camp went out to the woods to start chopping trees to make room for this new court they wanted to build. So he started chopping down trees with an axe and he cut off his leg. So he only had one leg after that, and um, so he uh, filled that with a stump that he had found and used that as his leg. This scared the campers so much that the camp fired him and sent him away. But what ended up happening that next summer, a boy was taking a shower on his own at the shower house at night. And then he would hear footsteps and a log kind of dragging. The story is that each year he comes back once and takes one kid and buries them in the back.”

Background

“Yeah I like the story, It’s pretty morbid actually. I mean, like, here we have these pretty young campers, talking about someone chopping his leg off and stealing children, and yet, like, it’s totally OK, because it’s summer camp. How crazy is that, when you think about it, really? Like, ok, if I went up to some kid at a school, and I told the same story about a janitor working in the woodshop, like, I’d probably be arrested! It’s just funny to me. But, uh, yeah, I love telling this story”

Context:

“We’d usually do the whole campfire thing. You know, uh like we would get all the campers around at night and go around telling stories. We would tell this story one of, like, the first nights. It’s actually a pretty clever way to get them to, like, stick together”

 

Analysis: Upon first listen, I didn’t think much of this story. It seemed like a hodgepodge of a number of different classic folk-tales: the peg-legged pirate, the axe murderer, the former camper turned raging homicidal maniac, etc. However, I think there is something deeper to be found here. At the centerpiece of the story is this rivalry between the janitor and the camp. The camp’s work is what made him lose his leg, and yet the camp are the ones who banished him. Then, when he comes back, he takes retribution upon the camp in the form of taking kids that are alone. This serves two functions. First, it teaches the kids to respect the camp and its dangers, but more importantly, and implicitly, to never wander off alone. The informant mentioned later, once I prompted him with this question, that it is why they tell this story, for fun but also so that they don’t go wandering out at night alone.

As someone who did not grow up going to sleepaway camp, it was also intriguing to me that these nights of sharing scary stories around a campfire during summer camp actually happen. It sounds like a modern ritual to me if I’d ever heard one. The ambiance of the night time, the fire, and the stillness of the forest all provide the perfectly eerie ambiance for a scary ghost story, and now because of its association, one cannot come without the other.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Don’t Pout, There’s a Bird Coming!

Folk Piece

“Don’t pout or a bird will land on that lip!”

 

Background

“It’s kind of ridiculous. Like, of course a bird isn’t going to land on my lip. But, like, kids are also crazy and would probably believe everything. When I started hearing this phrase so much it bothered me, but now as I’m older, I can see why my grandma might’ve said it. She is such a sweet old lady. Like all the time, all the time, she would tell me all of these little sayings and stuff. But yeah, no, I’m pretty sure half of them were to just behave better and keep still.”

Context

Originally this was taught to me by my grandmother to stop me from pouting as a kid. Now I find myself teaching this to the kids I babysit.”

Analysis

This piece was definitely one of the more odd ones that I came across. Why is a bird landing on the lip? Is that a bad thing? What kind of bird could even land on a lip? I mean, in a sense, I get it. You don’t want some bird smacking you in the face. It just wasn’t as clear to me as many of the other proverbs and warnings and sayings that I had heard over the years.

So, I decided to do some research. It turns out, the more popular version of this phrase is “Don’t stick your lip out or a bird might poop on it!” This was much more clear to me; bird poop is something that’s much more familiar than a bird actually landing on me. It also could go hand in hand with a kid acting like they are ‘full of shit’ when they are pouting.

The participant’s grandmother was described to me as a very sweet, kind, old lady. The participant also comes from a somewhat religious family. This all said, it could be that the grandmother thought the original saying was too crude for her grandchildren, so she changed it a little bit. Clearly, though, if the informant can remember it after all of these years, it must have been pretty effective.

The variation of this piece of folklore is quite different, but it doesn’t change the true meaning of the proverbial phrase, much like most variations of proverbs. Still, you can tie back its origins to the more popular version – or perhaps the more popular version arose from this one. In any case, like many proverbs were designed to do, it will make kids behave.

Folk Beliefs
general

Don’t Swim After Eating

The belief:

“If go swimming after you eat, you’ll drown.”

 

The informant doesn’t remember where he heard this rumor, but he thinks it was probably from a friend’s mother during his childhood. He doesn’t think it’s true now, though. In my opinion, I think this is a popular statement told to children by their parents so that they let their food digest before they get back in the water to swim. Another popular belief is that you’ll get cramps if you swim right after eating, so maybe the parents who say this more extreme belief are just trying to protect their children from painful cramps.

Musical

Tuntun-Tuntun-Taara

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Billi ne chuhe ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Chawkidaar ne chor ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

 

Translation:

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock (Chorus)

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat killed the mouse

Hai!

(Chorus) x 2

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

The guard killed the thief

Hai!

(Chorus)

Analysis: For some reason, similar to many Western nursery rhymes and lullabies, this song is a particularly violent one. It talks about the elimination of a small threat (a mouse) and then of a much larger, much more serious threat (a thief). But this elimination takes place in a very definitive, violent manner–murder, essentially. Unlike Western lullabies, however (some that come to mind are Rockabye Baby, Rain Rain Go Away, Old Daddy Long Legs, and Sing a Song of Sixpence), the violence is not perpetrated on children or seemingly innocent bystanders, but on entities who do pose a real threat to the health and safety of the child and indeed the whole family and therefore could be said to “deserve what they got”. Mice spread disease and could ruin a family’s crop and thereby cause them to starve. Thieves also could cause financial ruin and would not hesitate to do away with any family member who discovered them robbing the house in the dead of night. In rural areas, or places that didn’t have a very trustworthy law enforcement and protection system, the idea that there were people (or animals) that would be able to protect a child from harm must have been very comforting.

Childhood
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

Urdu childhood rhyme

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both from Pakistan originally. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. He currently lives in Southern California in a joint family and has also visited Pakistan multiple times since he was very young. His extended family in Pakistan includes many young uncles and cousins who are closer to his age than his parents’. The informant recalls his older cousins would say to him, jokingly, when he was in trouble,

“___ ke bacche

daal daal kacche”

which literally means “___’s child, uncooked lentils”. He elaborates that this was meant as a warning, to scare him into an apology for some misbehavior, because it was always said a precursor to someone “tattling” on him to a parent.

Analysis: The informant explains that it is a saying that everyone, including himself now, says to children younger than oneself. He says that he has never thought about the meaning, and only remembered and said it regularly when teasing his younger cousins because it gave him a sense of authority over them (since only people older than you would say it to you, usually) and because it rhymed, so “it was easy to say and easy to remember”. He continues, “It was just, like a fun, teasing thing to say to the little kids, like you would joke with them but you wouldn’t actually get them into trouble.” From his own words, the informant seems to have recast the saying, not as the veiled threat his older relatives would use against him, but as something to relate to younger kids with.

From a more objective perspective, lentils are one of the staples in many Pakistani diets (i would venture to say, in many South Asian diets too). Uncooked lentils, however, are not very useful. So the rhyme could be commenting on the “bad boy”‘s or “bad girl”‘s lack of worth–no one wants you if you’re going to misbehave. Also, it could be a veiled warning that you’re about to be “cooked” or put “in hot water” or “raked over the coals”–that is, punished. The significance of not referring to the child by [his own name], but by “the child of [his own name]“, could be a reference to the fact that South Asian cultures are patriarchal and patrilineal, so knowing who the father is, is very important. Calling a child his/her own father may be a veiled way of saying they have no father and are therefore the object of shame.

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 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.

Childhood
Customs
Kinesthetic

Alley Murderer

Item:

Informant: “Mhmm the murderer would come back and  jump out and kill the girl if she walked down the alleyway.”

Me: “Wait didn’t the murder occur, like, several decades earlier?”

There is an alleyway that school kids, including the informant, passed by every day coming home from school. The alley was a very convenient shortcut to get home. However, it was told among the kids that years before, a girl walked down the alley and was then murdered. The murderer got away. Now, only boys walk down the alleyway, and all the girls avoid it. They say that if a girl walks down the alleyway, the murderer will jump out and kill her too. So, instead of taking the shortcut, girls would walk about an extra 5 minutes around the large block and meet up on the other side.

 

Context:

The informant recalls this being an occurrence common in early middle school. The murder apparently took place several decades beforehand and the criminal got away. The boys didn’t pay much attention to the story because it was assumed that only girls would be targeted. He said that as they got older, it was talked about less, but the girls still avoided the alley.

 

Analysis:

The concept of a specific place, especially a route, being associated with death or murder is really interesting in this context. Kids at any point in elementary through middle school are beginning to deal with the realities of both death and violent crime. By creating a story (or perhaps propagating a fact) around the alley, they’ve drawn a connection between murder and a specific location and scenario: the alley, a girl, an un-captured murderer. To a certain extent, it’s an example of boys and girls segregating at the early stages of puberty. Perhaps it’s a rare opportunity to have just the boys talking in one place and the girls talking in another for 5 minutes after a day of school. Even more so, it’s almost an empowering way for kids to deal with death. By the girls avoiding the alley, they are effectively cheating what they associate with being killed. And for the boys, it’s almost a courageous act because they are confident they won’t be the victims, so they take the convenient route. It’s also worth noting that for something that happens on a daily basis, 5 minutes extra on a walk is sort of inconvenient. The story was obviously taken seriously enough to convince girls they should take the long way home.

Digital
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Auntie Cockroach (kids)

When he was four or five, his grandmother and mother told him a story about “Auntie Cockroach”. This folktale is a very popular Persian fairy tale for kids and it was a popular bedtime story for Arya. Her mother and grandmother would always end their retelling by asking him to answer what the moral of the story was (being generous, helping people and welcoming guests into your home).
He told me the following rendition from what he remembers:
On a very rainy night, auntie Cockroach received many visitors from animals who needed shelter. There was the zebra, the horse, the cat ad the mouse. The zebra asked to come in because his roof was leaking; the horse came next and asked for some food since he had been traveling all night and hadn’t been able to stop anywhere. Then came the cat seeking the warmth of a fireplace and finally, the mouse whose mousehole had flooded with the rains. Auntie cockroach let all the animals in and tended to their needs; the next morning, all the animals left and were eternally thankful for Auntie Cockroach’s generosity.

What’s interesting about this story, is that Arya revealed that there is another version that goes by the same name: “Auntie Cockroach and Mr. Mouse” and is the adult (more elaborate) version of the kids’ one he’d heard growing up. This version can be found online as a PDF and is titled “Auntie Cockroach (Khale Suske) and Mr. Mouse”

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