USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘summer camp’
Earth cycle
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Little Sparrow

Little Sparrow

Informant: So there were these animals who were doing whatever they damn well pleased and God got mad at them and said “your not following out rules”, right? And they said “O.K well, we’re going to do what we want”.  Then God got mad at them and shut off the light on earth so that there was no more light on earth. He put a blanket over the sky to do this. So they’re like, “Oh My God, what do we do? Someone has to go and talk to God and tell him that we’re sorry”. They’re like “Well we can’t find God anywhere, it’s too dark”. They all kind of gave up except this one little sparrow said, “I’m not going to give up. I’m going to fly, fly, fly up there and try and see if I can reach God and talk to him”. So everyday he kept flying up there and he poked through just enough, his beak just poked through the blanket just enough, and then he came back down. He didn’t give up. For years and years he was going up there and he only got just far enough that his little beak poked through and he came back down and then the last time he came back down and he died. The little sparrow died . . .  because he was exhausted from trying. All the other animals were like, “ we feel so bad”. So God at one point said, “because of his sacrifice, I will give you light back, but it’s only going to be half the time as punishment and the other half of the time, you will have darkness under the blanket”. And that’s why we have stars. Those aren’t stars; those are the little beak marks poking though the darkness.

Interviewer’s notes:  

This is a creation myth that I found a bit unusual that it was being told at YMCA, a Christian organization’s, camp because they narrative deviates from that of the Bible. Though it is clear to see why the tale is included as the perseverance and God-obedience aspects of the story are in keeping with Christian ideas. The tale itself, however, seemed to be more congruent with Native American folk tales, but the informant had only ever heard it at camp and did not know the origin. Also, the informant’s role as a passive participant is evident through the colloquial language, non-fixed phrases, and uncertainty.

Legends
Narrative

The Doctor and the Architect

The Doctor and the Architect

Informant: Okay so there are two friends, best friends and one grows up to be an architect and one’s a doctor. Then they grow apart because the architect is jealous of the doctor’s success. So the doctor says to the architect that he wants a house and he say’s that he will pay for the supplies. He says he wants the greatest house in the greatest location. So the architect is like, “oh, well, this is my chance”. So they architect goes no to the best location for the “Great house”, and buys the cheapest wood for the “Great house” and buys the cheapest paint for the “great house”. Then he would charge the doctor for the price of the good stuff and keep the cash for himself. So at the point that the house was done, it was a good house, not a great house. So when it was done, the architect presented it to the doctor, but the doctor said, “this house is for you”.

Interviewer’s notes:

This tale is moralistic and fable-esque, in keeping with the Christian traditions of YMCA camp. It implies that a person should always put their best effort forward because one only gets what he gives. Since there is no overt reference to Christianity, this also could coincide with the idea of karma, which would connect the story across religions. The story is told at camp to indoctrinate the kids with a strong moral compass. The setting of camp, the tradition it has as being told orally, means that the tale has the advantage to be really resonate with the campers-which is evident in the young informant’s ability to recall the story. Also, this could be a bit of occupation folklore, playing off of the stereotypes of the respective careers and being inherently and being unsuccessful.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Boulder Woman (as told by an active barer)

Boulder Woman (as told by an active barer)

Informant: I learned it my first year, and then took it on as nature director at camp. Boulder woman is an exclusive legend of YMCA camp Ta Ta Pochon because it had happened up there. A friend of mine and I were taking a group of campers on a trail, a nature trail which crosses the stream about half a mile up from camp and that’s were Boulder Man, or Boulder Woman, actually lives, or lived. And back in the 60’s she was living up that area which we call Bible Point. We took the kids up there on our Wednesday hikes. I do like to do the hike at dusk because it is more fun. We got the whole area  . . . it’s dark, not too dark, enough where you’re hearing from all the animals and once and a while you hear (imitates wolf cry) “ooooooooh” or you hear some twigs breaking which I love the best. It really helps. Anyways . . . so my friends and I were going up that way to see what the trail was like and we someone running away from us, about a half a mile, and we found out that it was Boulder Woman

Interviewer: So Boulder Woman was a real person?

Informant: Boulder Woman. We saw her running.

Interviewer: And that’s where this story started?

Informant: I was told a previous story, but this is with my own eyes, what I saw. Somebody running up a half a mile, so we took off after her, just the two of us, no kids with us at the time, and we said “hey, what’s going on, this is camp and why are you here?” Face to face and umm, so she said well, “Her name was Boulder, and her family lived just above camp where two streams cross”. That’s true, there are two streams that cross at camp. So she went on to tell us that there was a flood in the 60’s, that wiped out her family’s place. Some people just call that [the chair] the chimney, but it actually is Boulder Woman’s throne. And so people will say that’s Boulder Man’s chair, just the chimney, no! Maryann and I know the truth of Boulder Woman.

So we were running along beside her, trying to catch up with her so she said, “okay, you got me”. We said, “we don’t want to hurt, you we just want to figure out what’s going on . . . if we could help you”.  So, she said, “No, I’ve been here since the 60’s and I lost my husband and son in the flood of 1960”. Which actually is true because a couple of buildings from camp were destroyed by a flood as well. You could just see parts of buildings hanging around. Everything she said was true, correct, so we kind of believed her. We started following her around, she told us the whole story where she lost her husband and her son and her whole house, she just wanted to stay up there, I mean where else did she have to go? So she didn’t want the kids to know that she was up there, she didn’t want them running up there. And so umm . . . what she would do, she didn’t care for littering, and we were thinking we don’t either. So what she wanted to do then was that she wanted to remind people not to throw their candy and junk and to take care of nature. So she would come out at night, when the kids were in their beds and after devotions, and so Boulder Woman would come by and throw stones or what we would call “boulders” at the cabins to make certain that they would know that she meant business so that they would know that you were not to throw candy wrappers and that you were to take better care of nature. So that was the main story of Boulder Women, but all the people have told it different ways, I don’t like to tell it really scary because then kids are scared out of their minds. Some other boy counselors decided that no, its really Boulder Man, it’s not Boulder Woman. And so they wanted to make sure that they showed us women that they did not know what we were talking about, but we said “Oh no. Ingrid and I have spoken to Boulder Woman” so . . . we know better. And so what did they do? They went and they took big huge boulders and they threw them at Cabin 8 and one went right through the roof.

Interviewer: What year was this?

Informant: that was in 1979. And another boulder went flying and knocked a 2-foot piece off of Cabin 8, which is probably still visible today. And so we had to stop telling Boulder Man because it was freaking kids out, it was really getting scary. But to this day, I know that there is a Boulder Woman and we don’t know if she is still there or what, but there are remnants of her plates and forks and stuff we have taken kids up there to see Boulder Woman, because that’s where she is, that’s where she lived and that’s what she did for a long time. I haven seen her for many years, but I do know her and I do believe that she was real, because I saw her.

Interviewer’s notes:

The length and detail of the tale are very indicative that the informant is anactive barer of the story. She takes the legend beyond camp lore by asserting that Boulder Woman is in fact true because she has “met” her, which leaves the authenticity entirely up to the audience to decide. This is further complicated by the fact that the informant claims the be the origin of the story. This creates a plausibility which keeps the story alive and well.

Additionally, with a female active barer, who also happens to be the nature director, the tale begins to reflect these aspects. The Boulder Figure now decidedly becomes a Boulder Woman and her presence becomes a cautionary one, warning the campers to respect nature.

Legends
Musical
Narrative

Kum Ba Yah

Kum Ba Yah

Informant: Okay, it needs to be dark, there needs to be a campfire, I got get myself in the mood here. Umm . . . okay . . .

In a deep, doth, darkest of Africa, there was a group of men who went into the mountain. They were thirsty, they were hungry, they needed to eat! They mined  for their families. They did everything they could, everything they could to find food and help their families! (pause)

They were in the mine, when a horrible, horrible, horrible, accident had happened. (pause)

The barrel of coal started from the top and started to head down deep and hit 12 men. That took all the shorings out and everyone of those men, were stuck in that deep mine.
Well you know how these men would be, they would be freaking out! Wouldn’t you? Right? Don’t you remember your great-grandma telling you this story, right? Of those men? Her brothers and sisters even! They did what ever they could to feed their families.

*A beat, informant becomes highly emotional *

(solemnly) Well it was a horrible, horrible, day. Back in 1886 in that mine and everything went wrong. Everything collapsed. (Raises voice) It was horrible! It was horrible! (pause)

And the men didn’t know what to do, they were out of their minds crying. They were frightened. They were crying . . . yet there was this one man who said, “no, we’re going to make it. We’re going to make it through this. We are not gonna perish today. We are gonna make it through”. (pause)

So this man he prayed. He prayed. “Come pray with me” he said. “Pray?” What are you talking about, we need to get out of here, we need tools, we need people to get us out!” said the others. “ Well” he said, “ we need to pray that we can get out of here”.

And the men started crying, (sobbing voice), “ what are we going to do, I don’t know what to do, how are we going to get out of here? We’re going to die in here!”. So the miner started singing, (in a singing voice) “Come by here, my lord, come by here. Kum Ba Yah, my lord, Kum Ba Yah”. He sang, he finally got the men to laugh. “ Please, laugh with me . . .laugh with me” he said. “Even if this may be our last day on earth, we can have a good laugh, we’re together, let’s hold hands. It’s pitch dark in here, there is nothing else that we can do”.

“okay”, the others said, “it’s worth a try”. They prayed, they laughed, they cried together because they were so frightened. Then the miner said, “I think were going to make it”. He started singing again (singing) “come by here my lord, come by here”. Louder! “Come by her my lord! Come by here!”. So all 12 men started to sing. Then something came over them and they started to laugh and they thought, “okay, this might work”.

Then they heard it. They heard it. (Takes keys and starts tapping it against table in a rhythmic tapping). “what’s that?” one man said. “It sounds like Billy-Bob, he’s on the top!”. “Billy-Bob we’re here, we’re down here Billy-Bob”, they all scream.

And so the men, started to all be so positive. They started to start clinking. “Grab the rocks, get your tools, pound! Pound! Pound into that rock! We’re going to make it! (rhythmic tapping). “can you here us up there? oh God! Can you hear us? Help get us out of here! (rhythmic tapping)

Ands all of a sudden there was this huge pound. Huge Pound! Huge Clink! (one final tap) and Billy-Bob broke through the rock. There was sunlight coming through, the men could breath. The lights came back on.

The roar could be heard all over town! “They’re alive, they’re alive! Sound the alarm, they’re alive”. And they were. Each man held his hand up and walked out of that mine and they were all saved that day. And that’s the story of Kum Ba Yah.

(singing) Kum Ba Yah my lord, Kum Ba yah.  (2 x) Oh Lord, Kum Ba Yah. And that’s why we sing Kum Ba Yah out at campfire, almost every night to close it. So we can think about how it is to be at camp. Looking at the last ember of the flame of the campfire and thinking about how grateful we are to be together.

Interviewer’s notes:

It is interesting to note the blatant religious motif such as the fact that there were 12 men, just like the 12 apostles. The story perfectly coincides with the Christian ideas of  YMCA camp by highlighting the rewarding aspects of having faith in God. As an oral story, the storyteller employs an interesting use of the rhetorical. This invites audience participation, which in turn enhances the memorability and thus the longevity of the story. Furthermore, the story has a direct connection to the song the campers sing each night at camp. This also ensures the resonance with the audience. Also repetition in the story, no only enables memorability, but is also in keeping with Olrik’s Epic Laws of Narrative.

Legends

Gerald McCraney

Gerald McCraney

Informant: Well, there is Gerald McCraney. That’s a true story, that’s pretty good.

Gerald McCraney. He was a boy scout from the 1990s. Gerald McCraney, boy scout from Barton Flats. You know at camp we have a lot of problem with bears. We’ve had them for 25 years, coming to camp, and scaring us. We were always told by the Forest Department to tell our kids how to prepare themselves for bears and what to do when you come across a bear.

Well, Gerald McCraney was getting himself ready, as the boy scouts do, for a trip up to Sangrigonia, the tallest mountain in Southern California. Well, Gerald McCraney didn’t listen to his scout leader and went ahead and shoved three candy bars, in the bottom of his bed roll, where nobody could see them. It wasn’t a good idea because at night time, at midnight, just about midnight, there was some snarling, “snuff, snuff, snuff” around the tents. A couple of coughs, “cough, cough, cough”. And they heard some bears walking around. They were in their tents and this one bear, early, early in the morning decided, “Hey! I want that good smell, and I want it in my stomach!”. So he decided to unzip the tent, with a claw of course. And he pulled Gerald McCraney out of his sleeping bag. He didn’t really mean to harm him, but he did grab him by the face and pulled him out. And then he proceeded to get the candy bars, which he loves, they were very good.

Well everybody woke up, scared the bear away and Gerald McCraney was laying there with blood all over his face, all the way down to his guts. They rushed the fire department up there, and the forestry department, and rushed him down to Redlands and  . . .  he was fine. . . after they put 52 stitches in his face.

His dad picked him up and he said, “Dad, I want to go back to camp. I love it so much”. And Dad said, “are you sure? Have you talked to your mother?”. And he did, and he lived to tell us all his story.

It’s a true story, it was all over the papers. We tell that story to our kids, every year, to remind them how true those stories can be and to remind them how safe we need to be with our candy and food and such at camp. It was a very true story that I will never forget

Interviewer’s notes:

Once again, we must take the informant’s position as an active barer and as Camp Nature Director into account when evaluating this story. Though this story is highly plausible, certain elements suggest that it has been altered to achieve a desired effect. There is the implication that one should respect nature evidenced by the consequences incurred on Gerald McCraney. This would be something a Nature Director should be very interested in emphasizing. If anything, this tale, taken in context, evidences how motivation of the storyteller can contribute to multiplicity and variation in folklore.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Legend of the Devil in the Rock: A Camp Story

Item:

“One night um our counselors (it was an overnight camp) took us out at like midnight or one o’clock um so really really late for like when you’re an eight year old you know. Um and they took us to um this giant area in the forest which was totally silent…um it was like a clearing within the forest, um and they told us this story about how um Good and Evil would battle each other, and Evil, which was represented by the devil, um was eventually beaten out by Good. And so anyways the Devil um was like on this rampage and he had just lost this giant battle with Good, um and the devil’s roaming and roaming and roaming around causing mayhem and chaos wherever he was and eventually he was locked up inside of a rock forever and um to this day they say that he is still inside of this rock. And of course as eight year olds sitting on the rock, it’s this giant giant boulder, um and they say that if you put your ear really close to the rock, you could still hear the devil inside.”

Context:

The informant heard this story while attending a camp in North Kingstown, Rhode Island when he was eight years old. He says that while at camp, the campers and counselors would always go on late-night hikes and hear stories “about life in general, things that happened in the vicinity of the camp, things that like were actually personal to us [the campers].”

Analysis:

This story clearly classifies as a legend in that it is a story that takes place in real life that may or may not be true. Although the factual basis of this story may seem incredulous at best, the kids, at some level, must have believed it, made evident by the informant’s claims that he and his fellow campers all believed that they could hear a noise coming from the rock. That the story told by the counselors deals with such big themes as good and evil and Satan make it seem to me that the camp was a religious camp.

Customs
Musical

Camp Song

“The final campfire, we would sing a song, well, it’s been a while so I forget how it goes, but so our camp was on one side of the lake and on the other side of the lake was a Jesus camp. Apparently that’s what it was called, I dunno, but that’s what we called it. We kind of liked to mess with them a little bit, I dunno if we thought that we were better or something, but it was just a fun thing to do for us during camp. And so what we were singing about was really, I mean it wasn’t malevolent at all it was just a fun camp song, but the last line of the song was “AND NOW HE’S DEAD”* and we would just scream it across the lake. And we had all this fire, so, it would look at all scary.”

*At this line, all of the campers would shake their arms up in the air.

This was a custom enacted by the children at my informant’s camp. It always occurred at the end of the summer, a last huzzah of sorts. The religious camp across the lake was different from the camp my informant attended; it’s possible that there was something of a rivalry, or perhaps they just didn’t get along, but the screamed last line was a definite intentional goading. More importantly, though, it’s a tradition at the camp that unites the campers against the ‘others’ across the lake, and most likely played into numerous jokes at the other camp’s expense. It would be done on the final night to re-cement this impression and the unity among the campers before they had to disperse, ending the period of the summer to start a new one.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Camp Hess Kramer Happy Birthday Song/Celebration

A Jewish summer sleep-away camp in Malibu, CA by the name of Camp Hess Kramer holds hundreds of Jewish kids ranging from eight to seventeen for most of the summer.  As the kids are away from home, often for the first time for extended periods of time, the camp makes an extended effort to make birthday celebrations for kids who have birthdays during a camp session especially special.

A birthday celebration at the Camp Hess Kramer is quite different from the average singing of happy birthday song for an individual.  Typically, two different counselors create a new inventive skit that integrates the camper with the birthday into it.  The skit takes place in the dining hall where all the campers have gathered for a meal — breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  While the skit takes place the camper is asked to come to the center of the room and must perform some activity involving the skit.  After the skit ends a unique version of happy birthday song is sang to the camper. The song goes as thus:

“Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you.  Skip around the room, skip around the room, we won’t shut up till you skip around the room. Skip around the room, skip around the room, we won’t shut up till you skip around the room.  Go the other way, go the other way; we won’t shut up till you go the other way.  Go the other way, go the other way; we won’t shut up till you go the other.  Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. Happy birthday to you”

This song is sung for each birthday camper and also a previous version had at the end a chant where all the campers say, “Lick the floor! Lick the floor! We won’t shut up till you lick the floor!”  This version in the past few years has been taken away because of sanitary issues — as one can imagine the floor of a dining hall at a sleep-away camp is far from clean. During this song the camper must follow the song and physically follow the song’s directions as “skipping around the room” and different things like that.

I found this story of the happy birthday song rather interesting because it is a variation of the tame, mundane “Happy Birthday Song” and shows kids ability to turn twists and ideas onto songs.  The “lick the floor chant” reveals younger kids interest and making others complete gross tasks similar to dares that people make each other do.  The celebration for the kid in front of the camp also occurs I think to make him feel more special.

Customs
Legends
Narrative

Camp Lore: Lemonade Tower

Informant: “Every year at camp Kinneret, the camp counselors bring all the campers up to the lemonade tower and give them lemonade from the mermaids who live in the tower.”

 

The informant is currently a freshman in high school and lives in Calabasas, a particularly wooded area for Southern California. The informant recollected this experience from when he was a younger child attending Camp Kinneret, a summer day camp for children aged 4 -14, during the summer. The informant was approximately five years of age when he learned of this legend from his camp counselor.

According to the informant, at some point every summer the camp counselors will take the children enrolled in the camp on a hike to a nearby water tower, give them lemonade, and tell them the story of the tower. The legend was that mermaids lived in the tower and had made the lemonade for the campers who visited them. The purpose of the legend, according to the informant, was that “kids get lemonade and it gets the kids to be excited to be at a camp where there are mermaids who can make lemonade.” When asked how the informant felt about the lore he said that as a child he did believe in the mermaids and that he “thought it was awesome that mermaids were giving me lemonade.”

In the camp, this legend is age graded because as those who attended the camp got older they no longer believed in the mermaids who lived in the tower, but the informant said the counselors would tell them “not to spoil the story for the younger kids.”

I agree with the informant that this legend is a great way to get campers excited to be at camp, especially because the legend is focused on younger members, around four to six, who might be afraid to be away at a camp.

Customs
Folk speech
Musical

Summer Camp Folksong: Mr. Johnny Verbeck

Informant: Once every week at camp cedars the dining hall would serve sausages for breakfast, little sausage patties, and uh there was a certain song that went along with the sausages about a man named Johnny Verbeck. Uh, it went a little something like:

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

Oh once there was a Dutchman, his name was Johnny Verbeck

He made the finest sausages and sauerkraut and speck.

Till one day he invented a sausage-making machine,

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen.

 

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

One day a boy came walkin’, a-walkin’ through the door.

He bought a pound of sausages, and laid them on the floor.

The boy began to whistle, a-whistle up a tune

And all the little sausages went dancin’ round the room!

 

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

One day the machine got busted, the darn thing wouldn’t go

So Johnny Verbeck he climbed inside to see what made it so.

His wife she had a nightmare, went walkin’ in her sleep.

She gave the crank a heck of a yank and Johnny Verbeck was meat!

 

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

The informant, a Caucasian male, was born in Spokane, Washington and then moved to Omaha. He is currently a student at USC and studies computer science.

The informant learned the song when he was about eleven years old “the first time we went to camp cedars so the very first summer,” and “sometime within the first week.” Camp Cedars is a Boy Scout summer camp. The informant attended the camp for about five or six years and was a counselor for one year.

When asked about the performance, the informant said “So um, everyone would know that it was time for the sausage song because before everyone even got their food, the staff members would be walking around with a sausage on their fork, like holding it in the air above their heads and during the song, at first the staff members would stand by their tables and just sing the song, but on the line ‘all the little sausages went dancing round the room’ they would do so, and just kind of skip around the room and circle all of the campers at their tables.”

The informant liked this tradition and song because it was “just something fun that would bring everyone together, and it helped build a community among the campers.”

In addition to being an entertaining song that everyone at the camp would sing, I feel it also serves other purposes. First, the song jokes about the contents of sausages. Sausages are not clearly related to whatever meat they originally came from, so they can incite parody about their contents, which in this case are cats, dogs, and even human. There is also a hint at the fear of being killed in a traumatic way such as being ground up into a meat sausage.

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