Author Archives: Abby Bridges

Put some “Backer” on it


The informant, JB, is my father who is 49 years old. My family lives in the same small town I grew up in, Huntsville, TN. I was under the impression that this home remedy was universal until I mentioned it to my college friends, and I was met with bizarre and confused faces. This remedy is not exclusive to my family and is widely known and used in my town.

Main Piece:

Interviewer- Hey dad when I was little, or even now, if one of us got stung by a wasper (wasp).

JB- (Laughs) Yeah, I know it sounds gross, but it works. When you’d get stung, I would get backer (tobacco) outta my lip and hold it on there until it was numb.

Interviewer- Ew, I can still picture it, but it did help. So how did you know to do that, like who taught you?

JB- I don’t remember ever specifically taught. My dad would do it to us as kids and like you said it works so.


To my surprise, the common fix-all that was chew tobacco was not universal, but actually a form of folk medicine. The origin is unclear, but when I searched it on the internet, quite a few websites cited nicotine as a home remedy for stings and noted it strong numbing power. Perhaps I am biased, but this folk medicine screams Southern roots. Chewing tobacco has always been a staple in every Southern man’s daily routine, along with the skoal ring marks in the back pockets of their Levi’s. So, it makes sense that a long time ago a kid was crying over a bee sting and a nearby dad or grandpa thought to apply some “backer” from his lip. This demonstrates the closeness of Southern families, and fathers in blue-collar culture, mine included. Not every type of dad would get the dip-spit out of his mouth and put it on his kid’s sting instead of grabbing something out of the cabinet. However, in the South, specifically blue-collar communities, there is powerful “do it yourself” mentality. This mixed with the extreme closeness and perhaps cultural tolerance for things perceived as “gross”, results in folk-medicine. It is much harder to imagine businessmen fathers having the same first instinct as my father, and all family men in my town.

Easter in Corfu


The informant, PL, is my boyfriend’s father who is 57 years old. He is from Greece and visits his home island, Corfu, often. He currently lives in the valley of Los Angeles and still holds his Greek heritage true to him. When I asked him if there were any Greek festivals or holiday traditions that were his favorite, he immediately named the Greek Easter tradition that is unique to the island of Corfu.

Main Piece:

Interviewer- So tell me about the Easter tradition of Corfu.

PL- Well, every year for Easter we would head down from the village to the main city center known as “Old town” (since the main is also called Corfu as well). At the edge of the city, where it meets the water, my family and I would set up and watch the yearly parade from Spianada Square. At the end of the parade, we would try to get in close to the building that faces the water to see the “finale” of the parade/celebration and watch the people from the apartment balconies toss hundreds of clay vases into the street. It was definitely a sight to see!

Interviewer- Do you know how this tradition started?

PL- I’m not sure why or how it started but it’s been going on for a very long time.

Interviewer- Do you know why they drop the pots or what it meant to represent?

PL- My mom always told me that the pots breaking was supposed to represent evil spirits and misfortune being destroyed and protection from them. The celebration represented Christ rising and new life and hope in general.


The Corfu festival for Easter is a unique example of regional folk tradition incorporated into a global holiday. Upon an internet search, I found that the informant’s interpretation of the tradition was the same as other Corfu citizens. It is also significant that the pots are almost always some shades of red, since the color is a function of symbolism in many cultures, including the Greek. For example, before Easter they dye boiled eggs red, like the blood of Christ. The pots being red also represents the blood of Christ and is likely why the tradition is viewed as a form of protection against evil.

The Parrots of San Fernando Valley


NL is my boyfriend who is twenty-four years old and grew up in the valley region of Los Angeles. NL tells me a story about the Valley that he says he has known forever and is known by most everyone who lives there.

Main Piece:

NL’s summary- There’s this weird, just kind of accepted, fact around the Valley about how we have random parrots flying around. People have seen them for a long time maybe starting in the 90s, not sure. No one seems to actually know how or why we have a bunch of parrots flying around, but there’s definitely a few different origin stories. The one I have heard the most is that they escaped after Busch Gardens closed down. Another popular story is that they escaped from a burning pet store or that people who had parrots just let them go because they didn’t want to take care of them anymore. Either way no one actually knows why we have a random parrot population in the Valley, but I’ve seen one on a power line before.


NL’s parrot story is an urban legend given that is began not long ago and there are claims of parrot sightings in present day. Like many legends, this one began as a way to explain the origin of a phenomenon that is seemingly unexplainable. No one could justify how a large parrot population just popped up in the Valley, so possible explanations are created and spread throughout the community to provide a sense of understanding. The fear of not-knowing within a community is very powerful and can resort to accepting unverifiable legends.

Don’t Clip Your Nails After Sundown


The informant, NM, is a Junior at USC and my roommate. She was born in New York, later her family moved around the Midwest, and now they reside in Texas. Her mom and dad were born and raised in India and incorporated their heritage into their lives in America. Natasha grew up surrounded by Indian culture and Hindi practices, so she was taught many superstitions and folk beliefs that she has held with her.

Main Piece:

NM-I have lots of superstitions!!

Interviewer- (laughs) Okay, well just pick your favorite.

NM- Okay well I don’t know if this is necessarily my favorite but it’s definitely the most bizarre. So, in India there is this superstition that if you clip your nails after the sun goes down you’ll have bad luck and misfortune brought into your home.

Interviewer-That’s so interesting and specific. Were you taught this as a child, and what was the reasoning or meaning behind it?

NM-Yes, it’s always just been unknown thing not to do that. I don’t know all the details behind it, but I know that it’s so that we don’t upset or disrespect one of the goddesses. She is supposed to come into your home at night and bless it.


The informant’s superstition is one that’s held sacred within the Hindu religion. The goddess that the belief references is, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune. It is understandable that unsanitary things like fingernail clippings would be considered disrespectful to her and result in misfortune. This folk-belief could also be a function of safety and overall cleanliness. The belief has been around for a very long time, way before electricity. Thus, doing things like trimming your nails with whatever sharp instrument you had, with minimal lighting, could have realistically resulted in injury. Additionally, the societal fear of misfortune being brought upon your home as a result of uncleanliness could act as a form of accountability. This emphasis on cleanliness is a common theme within the philosophies of Hinduism.

Don’t Answer to Your Name


The informant,KO, is a sophomore and one of my closest friends here at USC. We met in our freshman dorm and often exchanged cultural stories since we had very different backgrounds. He spent the beginning of his childhood in Nigeria, and at age 7 he and his family moved to Toronto, Canada.

Main Piece:

Interviewer- So I know we’ve talked about it a lot but tell me about a superstition from your childhood or even now that has stuck with you.

K.O.- There are so many, Nigeria is very superstitious but there’s one that always comes to mind. So y’a know how sometimes you just randomly hear your name? You’ll be walking or just chilling, and you look around because you hear your name but no one’s there. It happened to me a lot when I was young, and my parents used to tell me never to answer. They said it was a witch calling my name to lure me out. I don’t know if I necessarily believed it, but I definitely thought about it when I would randomly hear my name.

Interviewer- Did you ever answer just to see what would happen?

K.O.- (Laughs) Uh yeah, and then I would be terrified some witch was going to come after me!


This folk belief that KO shared with me is based upon an occurrence that has likely happened to everyone at least once, including me. This type of belief can be considered a sign superstition or sign magic because it is based on an unexplainable event in real life that is viewed as a sign or warning. These folk beliefs can reveal a lot about the culture and people who live by them as they share amongst their folk. KO’s superstition shows the significance that witches and curses have in Nigerian culture and a societal fear of bad magic. It is common within all types of folklore for children to be the target of evil spirits or witches, so it makes sense that KO’s father would have heavily emphasized the superstition when he was young.