Author Archives: ebone

“Natcho” Cheese

The informant heard this humorous story from his dad. It was his dad’s favorite joke. The story allows him to remember good times with his dad. He now tells it to his kids to get some laughs – and eye-rolls – out of them. He tells it to entertain and be funny when others are telling stories or jokes after dinner or while hanging out.

“All right this guy Shadrack was walking home one day and San Francisco headed home from his business and a couple blocks away he finds this big block of cheese rolling down this big San Francisco Hill and it almost knocks him right over! He says ‘holy cow I just got knocked over by a huge roll of cheese!’ So he picks up this big roll of cheese and it looks pretty delicious so he runs home with his cheese and he runs in the door and he slams the door behind him and locks it and his wife says ‘what’s going on with you?’ And he goes ‘well all the way home when I was running here with this cheese this Mexican was running after me saying, ‘hey! stop! that’s natcho cheese!””

This funny (and not PC) joke is a story that plays on racial stereotypes of Mexicans and White men. The Mexican’s accent is the premise of the joke but the cluelessness of the white man is what makes it funny. This culture enjoys humor by playing on stereotypes, a common joke category for older white males, such as the now 80 year old man whose joke this is. It is a mostly harmless joke, simply a misunderstanding, but it does perpetuate racial stereotypes and thus should perhaps not be told any more.

Mad Bess: A Ghost-Story

The informant heard this ghost legend in elementary school, particularly from the older middle schoolers and the old principal. It was a legend to give the campus character and teach the kids some history as well through talking about the mines and buildings around campus. It was an entertaining story from childhood intended to scare young kids as well. Now, the informant tells it to reminisce on childhood and to entertain friends, usually around a campfire or during other such story-telling times.

“The school I went to for elementary through middle school had a lot of old buildings that used to be people’s houses, like people used to live there because they’re super old old mining houses. There’re a little, like, I don’t know, like, kind of like victorian-ish era and from mining times. This family lived in the old lunchroom because the old buildings that the campus was made of were originally old mining homes. Her father worked in the mines that are located around campus and her mother was a stay-at-home mother, doing the cooking and cleaning. There was that collapse in the mine, that like 10 other ghost stories are about, that killed her father. Her mother was, like, older and got very sick and also died. So the young girl was left as an orphan and lived in the house still, but because she was so young couldn’t take care of herself and she just died a bit later because she couldn’t provide for herself but she still stayed in the house after all those years and now she haunts it and protects the house in a wrathful, mean way.”

Although this story teller did not really tell a story so much as a recount of the story, one can still get the general idea of what the story was supposed to be. The story was likely intended to entertain children as well as teach them about the history of the school campus. Being a mining town, the campus is surrounded by mine shafts (safely covered for the children) and all the school buildings are old houses from the mining days. Ghost stories are a good way to teach children about the place they inhabit as the legends reinforce that there were times before the kids got here. They will certainly remember history if it has an exciting story that goes with it. Thus, this culture values remembrance of place and times before. They value history, especially of the relevant place in which they reside. The culture values teaching children about said history, which is unsurprising considering that it is a school, and they realize that stories help knowledge stick. If nothing else, the culture values entertainment for children and thus created the story to do just that.

The Green Hand: A Family’s Traditional Ghost Story

The informant heard this ghost story from his grandfather. The narrative is told each time the family visits their grandparents on a ranch in Wyoming during campfire night. It is a story that caused sleepless night for the young grandchildren, but as they grew up they came to appreciate the humor and entertainment value of the story as well, such as the chosen name of “Beaver Dick” and the occasional history lesson the ever-changing story included. Now, the story is told to entertain family events and to reminisce on family get-togethers and childhood memories. The story generally brings about positive nostalgic feelings and familial memories.

Here is the story as told: “There was two beaver hunters named Beaver Dick and Buffalo Bill. They used to go out all the time together to go hunt beavers to sell their skins and they did it all the time until one night they are camping out and they had a little too much to drink and they got in a big fight and during that big fight Beaver Dick decided to pull out his giant machete that he uses to kill the beavers and he grabs Buffalo Bill by the arm and chops his arms off but not Buffalo Bill is super mad at him so he tries to kill him but in the process, Beaver Dick kills Buffalo Bill. But now Beaver Dick doesn’t know what to do with Buffalo Bill, so he throws his body into the river – yes that river right next to the house – but he forgets to throw his hand in the river too. That night, he sleeps, and the next morning he packs out and takes all their skins and goes to another place to hunt more beavers. He has a pretty good day that day and catches a lot of beavers. He decides to camp out by that lake, and has a good dinner and a nice fire and goes to bed. But then, all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, he wakes up and hears scratching on his tent door (makes scratching noises by dragging nails on the chair he sits on). He thinks it might just be an animal, like a small squirrel or something, so he goes back in his tent and goes back to bed. But he hears it again (makes scratching noises again) and decides to go out and check out whatever it is. So he goes out and lights a gas lamp or oil lamp and shines it around, but doesn’t see anything. He goes back to the tent and tries to go to bed, but he hears something in his tent. He thinks it’s a squirrel or something that got in his tent, so he turns over to try to catch it and throw it out of his tent. But there he sees a green, rotten hand! The Green Hand jumps on top of him! Ahhh! The hand strangles him! (Makes strangled screaming noises) and strangles him and strangles him and strangles him until he dies!”

Campfire stories are told to cultivate community through group entertainment, which happens in this family context as well. The grandchild says that he and his family now reminisce on these story-time fires as good memories, which demonstrates that the community was strengthened through the telling of this story. Why it was a ghost story and not some other story is likely due to entertainment value for the adults of telling scary stories and seeing the kids believe their fearsome legends. Fear brings people closer together as well, so that is a reason to (slightly) scare the children perhaps. This culture clearly values family bonding as they get together to tell stories around a fire each year, which is more often than most American extended families see each other. The culture also clearly finds a sort of fantasy and entertainment in the stories of the American Frontier as that is where the story is based: old beaver trappers in the newfound West.

Pre-Thanksgiving Festival/Tradition

“A tradition that my family had is called Pie Day, and it’s not 3-14 but instead the day before thanksgiving. It’s essentially a party where friends and family come together and make pies for thanksgiving, everyone is in the kitchen. Before we moved to Washington my grandma would always have pie day at her house and that is the one time of year that I would see the most extended of extended family. There are lots of wine snacks and cooking. In Washington it was much more my parents’ friends and a couple cousins and such, and the night ends with everyone gathering on the couch and sitting down for a show or movie.”

The informant performs this tradition every year the day before Thanksgiving, typically held at her parents house in Olympia, Washington, USA. Depending on the year, different people may arrive to participate in this tradition. The informant’s immediate family, her parents’ friend group, her dad’s work friends, herself and her siblings, who invite a couple of their friends, and then some extended family are all potential participants, depending who is in town. Every person who comes can bring a dish they would like to make for the next day, but most people just come to socialize and decompress before the busy Thanksgiving day. The informant is not sure when it started, but her family started preparing the pies for Thanksgiving in the days before and as the years went on, more and more people were invited to participate in preparing food prior to the actual holiday.

The tradition demonstrates a culture that values food and socialization, as nearly all cultures do. Cooking together is a common way to build bonds between people, especially family and close friends. It is a sort of unofficial folk festival for just the small group of people involved, taking place the day before a bigger holiday. This is relatively common as people prepare for holidays. There are group cooking days for food-centered holidays, group shopping excursions for the winter holidays that involve gift giving, and group decorating days before decoration-centered holidays like Dia de Los Muertos or Christmas. It is a way to mount the excitement for the holiday as well as extend the celebration.

New Years Rituals

“On New Year’s Eve as it gets closer to midnight we prepare our bodies by eating 12 green grapes, one for each month, eating spinach for good health and money, and eating lentils as well. We also tie a red string and yellow string around our wrists or ankles to symbolize love, protection, and health. We never take it off, we just wait for it to naturally break sometime over that year. We also peel cuties and save the skin to symbolize our first fruit of the year. Lastly, we walk around our neighborhood with empty suitcases to symbolize keeping us safe on our travels that we take throughout the year.”

The informant does this tradition on New Year’s eve/day once it hits midnight. Usually at her grandma’s house. In the tradition, everyone plays the same role and it includes “my mom, sister, grandma and I.” It’s a tradition that has been kept in the family that has been passed down for them to take part in. 

These rituals are homeopathic magic rituals, meaning when performed they bring magic to the people performing it. Eating spinach as a ritual brings magically good health and money. It is a symbolic magic, meaning that the performance mimics the desired result. Spinach is green and leafy, like money, and it is good for health. The first fruit of the year may be important for two reasons. One, that fruit symbolizes the ability to eat well. Secondly, fruit is often used as a term of success financially, for example “fruitful returns” on an investment. Both eating well and the word parallels symbolize financial stability and wealth. It is clear that this culture values wealth and food through these rituals, which primarily focus on money. The suitcase may also be related to money, as it could symbolize wealth enough to travel, in addition to the safety component. This is all done on New Years Eve because as the clock strikes midnight, there is a liminal “between” time in which magic is possible. It is important for many cultures to perform rituals during this liminal time to ensure magic for what they desire in the new year is spread into the universe. Liminal times are often seen as magical times, so it is an ideal time to wish or spread magic.