USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘teen’
Initiations
Legends

The Proctor House

Folklore Piece

“There’s this house in my hometown of Castro Valley, California called the Proctor House and it’s near Proctor Elementary School and it’s also near my house. It’s empty now, like no one lives in there, and it’s mostly populated by homeless people or drug addicts. But, basically like teenagers are dared to go in there and there’s this room that you go in and there are all these dolls lined up on the mantle. And the story goes that there was this couple that used to live there together and they um they’re foster parents, like they would bring in kids every so often, and one by one these foster kids would kinda just disappear from the foster system and no one knew why. And it was discovered that this couple had just kinda murdering their foster kids and they murdered like four kids. I heard this story when I was in the 7th grade from my friends when I went in the Proctor house. But I heard it throughout my teenage years. The dolls, like, had the spirits of the kids inside of them, or something.”

 

Background information

This story would mostly be performed by children around the playground or in social situations near his school and the house. As our informant mentioned, he learned this story first from his friends. He would later also tell me that all the parents knew about this story and wouldn’t let their kids go near the house. He said while this was probably because of the aforementioned homeless and drug addicted populations, many kids like the informant would interpret this as an affirmation of the mystic dangers of this house.

 

Personal Analysis

The dynamic between the children that recount this story and their parents are what I find to be most intriguing. The children believe the tall tale of the haunted house and the clichéd dolls-as-murdered-children horror story, most likely as its grandiose details are continuously reinforced in those kids’ social circles and media. The parents, however, know the house’s true nature, and that it is potentially very dangerous and filled with drug addicts and squatters. These harsh realities of life might be too much for a kid to hear, and so they simply say “Don’t go into the Proctor House.” Somewhat unintentionally, this furthers the legend of The Proctor House as being haunted. In my research, I couldn’t find any authored material on the Proctor House; this would suggest that this legend is relatively local and new. Perhaps the house became abandoned and overrun when the participant was young, spurring the rumors. When I asked the participant about the story’s origin, he said that he wasn’t sure.

Also interesting is the house’s role as a legend quest. When the kids are old enough to brave a trip into the Proctor House, it’s viewed as somewhat of a rite of passage, affirming their role as a “big kid”, or young adult. Ironically, though, it is their discovery of truth about the house, either firsthand or from their parents, and the loss of the childlike innocence about the house’s true state, that affirms their role as an adult.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Legends

Exploding Toilets and A Corpse — Senior Prank Legend

My informant goes to high school in Tustin, California, where he is currently a junior. A few months earlier, he had heard of a legend of a senior prank that had occurred perhaps ten or so years back, where they had flushed all the toilets at the school at the same exact time to see what would happen to the plumbing.

They had these stopwatches, right, and all these walkie talkies, and they pressed the stopwatches at the same time and flushed the toilets just as the timer went down to zero. They wanted to see if a pipe somewhere would explode I guess, but then, instead, two toilets just blew up. Uh, I think one was a female staff toilet, and the other was in one of the main guys’ bathrooms. The toilets just like, blew apart, all the porcelain and whatnot. Which was fine and all, except later when they were trying to clean up the exploded toilets, the fixer-upper guy found a hole in the wall of the bathroom and looked through it and there was uh, a dead body in there, like scrunched up and still fresh-looking, like a girl just crawled in there and curled into a ball and died or something. Anyway, he thought she was dead, but then he’s staring at her and he can’t move because he’s so freakin’ scared, and she turns her head towards him kind of, and she doesn’t have eyes, like they’re just sockets on her face, and in the sockets there’s one of those millipede things that comes crawling out. Anyway, the plumber guy told everyone but nobody really believed him because they checked later and it was gone, but still. And they fixed the toilets and stuff, but man. The guys’ bathroom is a freakin’ scary place.

No one knows where this legend originated from, although my informant said that his Latin teacher, who had worked at the school for two decades, does remember a senior prank where the seniors all flushed the toilets at once–though he does not remember anything happening as a consequence. “I’m pretty sure toilets don’t explode even if you flush a whole bunch of them at once,” My informant said, laughing, “but it makes sense that the stories spread because the bathrooms are freakin‘ disgusting here, like really bad. And it smells so much that we probably wouldn’t notice a corpse for a while.”

I feel like the legend is significant because it pits teenagers, most of whom think of themselves as invincible, against death, even if it is a very unrealistic and cinematic depiction of it. School is a place for boredom, for homework and tedious routine–to introduce a corpse into such a scene is jarring, and sets the entire nature of their everyday lives off-balance. That the legend became so widespread, however, is not surprising; people like a good scare, and school is a place of boring routine. Although my informant and his classmates probably thought this legend was very original, there are probably many, many legends of something similar to this in schools all across the world.

 

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Initiations
Life cycle

「青春」– Japanese Folk Speech

The Japanese word 青春 does not apply itself to an exact translation in English. The first letter of the word, 「青」literally means “green,” and in this word is used in the context of a green bud or fruit perhaps, just about to ripen. The second letter, 「春」literally means “spring,” or “blooming.” At first glance this may seem like a word meant to indicate a time in the harvest, but it is, in fact, actually a very colloquial word used to describe a romanticized vision of the teenage years of one’s life.

My informant was a teenager in the city of Naha, Okinawa, Japan, in the seventies. The word has been so long engrained in Japanese society that when I asked her about it, she looked perplexed, asking, “What do American people use to describe those feelings then?” Those feelings, as she described them to me: the first time she realized she had strong feelings for a boy, the first time a boy had asked her out, “that feeling you get when you finally get your first kiss,” the moment when she’d realized she wanted to touch the opposite sex, and not just to hit them, either.

“It’s not all this romantic for everybody. [Laughing] I mean, 青春 can be used to describe things like your first summer job, your first summer away from your parents at camp or something, but I keep coming back to this one time, after this guy I liked gave me my first kiss in front of my house, and he left, and I just sat there on the front steps of my house in the dark, just sat there thinking and thinking, that just happened, not wanting to go inside because that would kind of ruin the magic. That kind of… teenage frailty? And vulnerability, how important everything is when you’re that old–that’s what 青春 has always been for me.”

However, I found it interesting that most teenagers themselves do not use the word 青春 to describe their current state. The word is primarily used by older people who have advanced well beyond their teenage years, to look back on a time when everything was fresher, new, and exciting–in fact, it is a word that exists mostly for the purpose of invoking nostalgia. For instance, my informant remembers, when she had finally gone inside the house after sitting on the steps for a while, she had been caught by her mother in the kitchen. Her mother had said, smiling, “Anything happen then?” When my informant shook her head, she couldn’t help but stay grinning like maniac, and of course her mother knew, and said, “Kiss?” My informant nodded, and her mother sighed romantically, saying, 「ああ良いよね〜、青春」which translates to, “There’s nothing like 青春, is there?” Even in this case, it is the mother looking back on her teenage years, perhaps her first kiss, and feeling nostalgia for the time that has passed–sad, perhaps, that that time will never come back to her, but happy for her daughter, who has yet to experience so much. My informant would never have said, for example, “Oh, this is 青春,” for it is in itself a word tinged with nostalgia. Her mother saying “There’s nothing like 青春,” I thought, is the equivalent of an American mother saying, “Oh, I remember my first date,” except in Japan there is a word for it, and it comes pre-packaged with nostalgia.

When my informant asked me whether there was an equivalent word in English, I was surprised. “Puberty,” didn’t really do it–the connotations were too sexual and bodily in nature, and there was not as much of the vulnerability and freshness that colors 青春. A significant part of the meaning inherent in 青春 comes, I believe, from the fact that they do not reference the changing nature of the body; though, of course, it is apparent indirectly in the budding feelings between the opposite sexes, the word focuses more on the emotions and the intense, painful nature of love at that age. Sexual encounters in 青春 are thought of as always awkward, and always romantic, stemming from love and innocent desire more than anything else. Under the umbrella of the word 青春, everything becomes noticeably more innocent, more okay.

Perhaps this word works and is so widespread in Japan because of its extremely homogeneous society; 青春 as a word probably means very similar things to many people across the country, if only because the culture has been so standardized by television and by the homogeneity of the people themselves. There are countless movies, dramas, mangas, and animes devoted to the theme of 青春, and indeed novels concerning this period in life often make the top of the best-seller lists in Japan.

Unlike in America, teenagedom is something the Japanese look back to, then, with a certain fondness. Often, I hear people in America saying that they never want to go back to high school again, that they wouldn’t survive a single day in middle school now–in Japan, although of course some people must feel the same way, the general feeling is one of an almost maternal fondness. Remember this? Remember that? They say, as they watch a new generation of young adults going through the 青春 that they themselves had experienced perhaps long ago. “Lucky them,” my informant said. “If I could stay one age all my life, I think I’d just stay in that period of 青春, it must have been the most fun I ever had.”

 

 

Folk speech
general

Saying – Boston, Massachusetts

Saying: “Broke Her Leg”

Don told me he learned and understood the meaning of this saying when he was a young boy, when he was probably around ten years old. He learned the term in Boston, Massachusetts, but believes this term came from church mothers raised in southern states. He said the saying is used when a young girl becomes pregnant and is looked down upon by the women of the community. The pregnant girl would be “shipped off” away from her community, and the family members of the pregnant girl would tell the townspeople, “She broke her leg,” when they asked where the girl was. “She broke her leg” automatically implies that the unmarried girl became pregnant at a young age and was sent off to live somewhere else. Those who are not a part of the community would automatically assume that she broke her leg, but those who are aware of this term would know that the young girl is pregnant.

Don says that this saying tells a lot about how the acceptance of teen pregnancies has changed over the past 30-40 years. He said it was looked down upon to be a teen mother; society would not accept you, you were often shunned from the church, denied from jobs, and talked about at social events. However, he said nowadays you see Jamie Lynn Spears and films like Juno that are glorifying the practice of teen pregnancy. He stated there were less teen pregnancies when becoming pregnant at an early age was considered a social transgression.

I agree with Don’s interpretation of this saying and understand his logic behind the meaning. I believe that in the 21st century we have come to accept teen pregnancy as a norm. In some ways this can be a positive outlook because we are providing more resources of support to young pregnant teens. However, I do feel that our acceptance of teen pregnancy has given way to an increase in wedlock teen pregnancies because now society has accepted that teen pregnancy is inevitable and cannot completely be eliminated. Although this may be true, the problem lies is in the media and communities accepting teen pregnancy as a social norm. This certain belief may be fine if teen mothers could provide for their children, but in most cases teen mothers lack the responsibility and resources needed to take care of their babies. I can also see how this saying has the potential to become less used because of the shift of thinking that has caused American society to more so accept teenage pregnancy.

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