Informant RM has spent most of their lives in the small town of Fosters, Alabama. Fosters had a small population and just about everyone knew each other. Even before becoming an elderly member in their town, informant RM enjoyed getting a laugh out of others. I called RM on the phone to ask if they could recall any of the jokes they used to tell family members and friends. While this phone conversation did not well represent the natural context in which their jokes would normally be told, in remembering a couple of jokes they were still able to make themselves laugh.
“These two drunks went out – going home one night – one of ’em took a right and the other one took a left. This guy went walking down – went through a graveyard and fell in a grave *Karploonk noise*. It was raining that night, and the friend didn’t see him – he had fallen in earlier – when one went left and one went right – he fell in the grave! This guy said, “Help me I’m cold! Help me I’m cold!” And the friend looked down there and said, “of course you’re cold, you done kicked all the dirt off yourself!”
Just after finishing this joke RM laughed and quickly asked, “Do you get it?” almost checking to see if he had delivered the joke properly.
This joke is a kind of narrative that might twist listeners’ expectations which could have a comedic effect. Jokes can be useful in folklore studies because they can show what topics/narrative structures particular people find to be humorous and/or entertaining. In hearing RM recall and retell this particular joke, I am lead to believe that it gives insights into both their listener’s and their own life experiences. The “punchline” of this joke works when listeners can relate or understand the foolish things one might say when under the influence of alcohol. Had the detail of the two friends being drunk been omitted or censored then this joke would not have made any sense. Since this joke concerns alcohol and its effects, I think RM’s performance of this joke potentially speaks to the lived experiences of himself or others. Otherwise, the joke would not have been funny or remembered. Perhaps this joke might even convey a dated, light-spirited/playful view of drunkenness which has disallowed it to be told anymore now that drinking has become more of a serious concern.
Informant MW was a current undergraduate student at Auburn University at the time of this collection. The informant’s parents are both Auburn fans who participate in game-day events and they encouraged MW to do the same as they grew up. As an undergraduate student, MW has had the opportunity to continue participating in some of the same game-day events they did before attending Auburn.
Auburn football fans celebrate the game day in a multitude of ways, all of which contribute to the large game day culture which can be experienced both on and off campus. I asked MW if they could share some of the traditions/game day rituals they enjoy partaking in.
This particular tradition is beloved by many Auburn fans.
“When Auburn wins a football game, we all go roll Toomer’s Corner” “It’s usually for football games but sometimes we do it for other sports when it’s a big game.”
This game-day ritual overtly celebrates the victory of Auburn University’s sports team. While to outsiders it might just appear to be an enjoyable tradition, to insiders it has come to represent the passionate spirit and comradery of the university and its fans. In hearing about this ritual, I am inclined to believe that it expresses and reflects one of Auburn University’s most fundamental values: unity within community. By encouraging large groups to gather and roll specified trees on its campus, Auburn is permitting a temporary yet unavoidable change in its physical appearance. If only one or a few people were to participate in this ritual, it would not have much of an effect, but by encouraging mass participation in this ritual, Auburn is allowing a demonstration of the potential that students/fans have when they unite. Just as sports themselves are team efforts, this game-day ritual hinges on teamwork. While this tradition provides students and fans with an exciting activity, it is simultaneously functioning to represent and physicalize the shared value of unity.
Informant SG was a current undergraduate student at the Univerity of Southern California at the time of this collection. I met with SG on a Zoom call to exchange family folklore.
“My grandfather has like a gross limerick that he likes to say to shock and amuse. The context you’d say it in would be like as a non-sequitur specifically meant to disrupt the conversation.”
“Monkey and baboon sitting in the grass. The Monkey stuck a finger up the baboon’s ass. Said the baboon, Damn your soul! Get your finger out of my asshole!”
When speaking with SG, that their “grandfather is fun at parties.” The performance of this particular folk speech would likely result in immediate shock or laughter. As absurd as it might sound in context, I am inclined to think that this piece of folk speech speaks to the values of SG’s grandfather and anyone else who repeats it. In using a non-sequitur folk saying such as this, it can be assumed that the speaker sees value and maybe even finds joy in spontaneity and laughter more than in formal conversations. If the performance were to be delivered properly, it is possible that the speaker might actually be utilizing this folk speech to promote and accelerate their relationship with listeners. By establishing themselves as a light-hearted, spontaneous individual, this work to convince listeners to rely on them for a laugh or to keep conversations going/interesting.
While speaking with Informant RM on the phone, they recounted a local legend that spread across the town of Northport, Alabama. At the time when this legend grew in popularity, Northport was a small town and just about everyone was a farmer.
What RM remembers of the legend is as follows:
“Back in Northport, I can remember a panther used to come through there. They make circles when they travel during the years that range hundred of miles – they come by different places different years. It was always in the cold part of the season, I guess it would be in October or something, and that thing would always come by Northport. It was a black panther they used to call it – a mountain lion-looking thing. He used to come and every time he’d come around there’d be a bunch of chickens killed out in the country, dogs dead … trying to catch the panther. I can remember when I was living in Northport and then all of the sudden it stopped. I don’t know I guess he got killed or something happened to him but he used to come around like clockwork and that was fact because I have seen a part of him – I thought I saw it. Yeah, it was the weirdest blood-curdling yell *imitates panther sound* – you understand? Like I said, he came around for years, I guess he was making a trip coming by, he was on the move all the time and it wasn’t that populated back in the sixties. Like I said, he killed dogs in our area and I would hear howling at night and I would go back in the house because that sound will scare the crap out of you.”
After RM retold all that they could remember about the panther. I asked them if anyone ever saw the panther or killed anything that could’ve been the panther. While RM thought they remembered someone claiming to see it running off into the woods at night, they said that they heard it more than they saw it. They tried to explain and recall its distinct sound which they explained to be like a scream.
While this legend is no longer shared or believed by those who populate Newport, it has yet to be disproven or confirmed. This almost historic legend gives insights into the fears and concerns of those who once believe in it. As a farmer completely dependent on livestock and/or crops, it is likely that unexplained events such as these be rationalized by something in the natural surrounding environment. Since the land on which they lived was probably all Newport farmers knew, it would make sense that this panther creature was just a potentially exaggerated version of reality. Since nature probably presented most of the challenges Newport farmers faced during the time this legend thrived, I am inclined to think that this legend helps demonstrate the rationale used to explain mysterious phenomena.
I called informant RM on the phone to ask if they could remember and retell any of the campfire stories they used to tell. RM remembered this one in particular because they could almost guarantee to get a scare out of at least one of their listeners.
For context, this story was usually told to a group of younger (around 7-11 years old) kids at night time either around a campfire or right before bedtime. When RM would tell this story they were sure to speak slowly and softly creating sustained suspense while enticing listeners to lean in closer.
The story is as follows:
“There was a farmer that lived out in the sticks and his wife lost her arm while working. The family was very poor, but she always wanted a golden arm so one day they got her a golden arm. As time went on, she died and the family buried her. Her two sons were having money problems so they went and dug her up but the golden arm was not there – one of the other ones had stolen it earlier. She was laying there in the coffin and then she set up and said ‘Who’s got my golden arm? Who’s got my golden arm?'”
At this point, the story is over and RM (the storyteller) would abruptly jump up and grab the arm of one of the kids who was leaning in to listen and scream, “YOU GOT IT!” RM reccounts many times where both the grabbed and ungrabbed listeners would jump with fright at this moment.
As RM finished retelling this story to the best of their memory, they laughed as they thought back to all of the times they tricked listeners with the same story.
As a campfire story, the story of The Golden Arm would not appear to carry any kind of meaning or moral. Its primary function is to simply entertain and scare listeners making for a enjoyable and memorable experience. While on its surface, this story might not seem to have any other significance, I am inclined to think that the artful performance of this story actually speaks to the relationship that is shared between the teller and its listeners. Since this story requires patience from both the listener and the teller and (ideally) culminates in a jump scare, I believe that this story would only be shared with listeners who the teller feels comfortable scaring. If there were no relationship between these parties, the teller could end up scaring the listener for good and lose their trust. The Golden Arm only works when trust is shared between its teller and its listeners. If this assumption is true, then perhaps The Golden Arm and other similar campfire stories might actually reveal more about the listener/teller and the relationships between them than initially meets the eye.