Author Archives: Patrick Bjornstad

The Devil’s Kettle

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you tell the story of the Devil’s Kettle?”

Informant: “So the Brule River in Cook County, Minnesota has an interesting attribute. Above the upper falls, there is a large hole into which about a third of the river empties, and it has always been known as the Devil’s Kettle… and the folklore has it that umm… nobody knows where the water that goes into the Kettle actually comes out. There are rumors that it goes to China, that it goes to Hell, hence the name Devil’s Kettle, or that it empties somewhere else downriver, or out into the lake itself, the great lake known as Gitche Gumme, otherwise known as Lake Superior. Over the many years there have been people who said they would try and dam the Kettle so they could go down and check it out, rappel down with mountain climbing gear… umm, there have been reports of people throwing die and things like that to see where the die would come out, if they would come out at all. I don’t actually know if any of them are true or if any of those things have ever happened. I’ve been hiking the Brule River trail since I was a small child, so fifty some years, and the Kettle was always that legend and always that mystery and out end objective of the hikes was always to get to the Kettle, to see what water was going in, to see what sticks and other debris were going in, those kinds of things. Um, I’m not aware of any legends of people falling into the Devil’s Kettle but it wouldn’t surprise me. I know it’s been the… uh, been a part of a couple of novels along the way, that use the Kettle as part of their plot.”

Background:

The informant’s family owns a cabin nearby the Brule River in Minnesota that is used for vacation, so the informant has been immersed in this legend since childhood. When asked what theories he believes about where the water goes, the informant instead noted that he prefers it remains a mystery as that is what makes the location itself special.

Context:

This conversation was recorded in the living room of the informant’s home, but the legend in question addresses a location in northern Minnesota.

Thoughts:

This is a great example of a geographical legend. I have visited the Kettle many times, and have often dreamed of being able to swim into the hole to discover myself where the water might lead. This legend has become a defining factor of the local towns, and it would be very interesting to interview local residents in Minnesota and compare their contributions to the theories mentioned above.

ZAIDS

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you explain the concept of ZAIDS?”

Informant: “Oh god. Yeah… I guess I can. Basically in high school there was this fake disease called ZAIDS. Obviously it came from AIDS, but we put a Z in front of it to make it different. We had this one friend who we said got it originally, we made him patient zero. So when he finally kissed another girl we all made the joke that she had ZAIDS too. Soon enough the entire grade was tracking the spread of ZAIDS from him and that girl, and people were drawing out diagrams to figure out who exactly had the ‘disease’. At the very end of our senior year, at a point where most of the class had ZAIDS, we decided the only way to break the curse was for our friend who was patient zero to kiss that same girl again. I guess it was a funny way of ‘breaking’ the curse.”

Background:

The informant participated in this game in high school. Obviously he recognizes this ‘disease’ is fake but still thought it was a good excuse to give friends a hard time if they had ZAIDS. Before the ‘breaking of the curse’ described above, the informant was even a carrier of ZAIDS according to his classmates.

Context:

Because I went to the same high school as the informant, I was familiar with the story. This conversation was recorded while we were reminiscing about high school experiences after I realized the folkloric connections this game had.

Thoughts:

This game is clearly a more mature version of cooties, the game played by elementary school boys and girls. Instead of simple physical contact spreading the disease, however, in this version a kiss is required to transfer ZAIDS from one person to another. I think the significance of this game is simply an evolution of the significance of cooties. The game cooties allows kids to grapple with the ‘taboo’ topic of contact with the opposite gender. In this case, the ‘taboo’ topic is romantic involvement with the other gender, which is a natural progression of cooties. The game was most prevalent during early high school, like 9th grade, and faded from view as the class became older and the topics of romantic involvement became less taboo. The final moment of ‘breaking the curse’ during the senior year almost represents the class recognizing the absurdity of such a game or concept and shutting it down for good in a poetic way.

Miss Susie Song

Piece:

Interviewer: “Do you mind if we go back to that song we were talking about earlier?”

Informant: “Sure.. I will do my best to remember all the lyrics, but I don’t know the name of the song if there is one.”

Interviewer: “Cool, go ahead when you are ready.”

Informant: “Miss Susie had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell / Miss Susie went to heaven, the steamboat went to / hello operator, please give me number nine / and if you disconnect me, I’ll cut off your / behind the fridgerator, there was a shard of glass / Miss Susie sat upon it, and cut her big fat / ask me no more questions, I’ll tell you no more lies / the boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their / flies are in the field, the bees are in the park / Miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the / dark, dark, dark, dark / dark is like a movie, a movie’s like a show / a show is like a video and that’s not all I know / I know your ma, I know your pa, and your sister with a forty acre bra!”

Background:

The informant learned this song from young friends during elementary school. It was a common tune that kids liked to sing during recess.

Context:

The informant sung me the song during a phone conversation about childhood songs and stories.

Thoughts:

The purpose of this song is clear: kids use it as an excuse to utilize taboo words without technically saying anything wrong (e.g. instead of stopping at ‘big fat ass,’ the next line is used to change ‘ass’ to ‘ask’ so as to disguise the usage of the disallowed word). This way, kids are able to use words they traditionally would not be allowed to without fear of getting in trouble for misbehaving. This is a classic example of children’s folklore being used to toy with the idea of authority. Through folklore, children are constantly pressing the boundaries of what is acceptable.

Straight Pocket Bet

Piece:

Informant: “My grandfather loved the Reds, the Cincinnati Reds, but he didn’t hear well, so he had this radio that he would put up on a ledge at his house, it was just about your height. So he would go stand by that, with his good… with his better ear up against the radio and listen to a ball game from start to finish. And we would see them every Sunday, this was part of our routine, and he would always want to make a bet… I think I did this with you guys too… so we would negotiate a bet about the Reds or something and we would finally shake hands and he would say straight pocket bet. ‘Well, what’s that mean grandpa?’ I would say. And he always responded: ‘no matter what happens we each keep our money in our pocket.’”

Background:

The informant learned the expression “straight pocket bet” from his grandfather and their tradition of listening to Cincinnati Reds games together. To the two it was a way of instilling friendly competition without the actual need for financial stakes, and it allowed them to bond over sports, which has always been an interest for the family.

Context:

This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting at my home in San Diego, CA.

Thoughts:

My initial reaction to this was that it provided an easy platform over which to debate sports topics, or anything that might be negotiated with a bet for that matter. However, another interesting potential use of this could be to deceive someone who has no knowledge of this expression into making such a bet, and only letting them know what it means in the case of a loss (although this might be potentially dangerous if used in the wrong situation).

College/Education Proverb

Piece:

Informant: “I went to college to get a diploma, it would have been just as easy to get an education.”

Background:

The informant learned this saying from his grandfather upon graduating from high school in Ohio. He found it highly impactful, not only in the context of college, but as a general life lesson as well, and took care to heed this advice going forwards.

Context:

This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting that took place at my home in San Diego, CA.

Thoughts:

Although on the surface this saying may seem very specific, I think the lessons it implies can be applied to all walks of life. It stresses the importance of finding value in all aspects of an experience, as opposed to seeing something simply as a means to an end. It is certainly an expression I will remember and perhaps help spread in the future.