Author Archives: Elizabeth Callahan

Jump Rope Dogsledding

My informant remembers playing this game during recess in elementary school. She and her friends were especially fond of it during second grade. The following is her account of it:

One kid is the “musher”, and he or she holds one handle of the jump rope in each hand. Two or three (depending on the length of the jump rope) other children are the “huskies” who stand in a line with the rope of the jump rope wrapped around them. The “musher” stands at the back of the line. The “musher” calls out: “Mush!” and the “huskies” begin to run. The children run around the playground like this, pretending to be a dogsledding team.

Sometimes there are “dogsled races” in which two or more “dogsledding teams” will race each-other on the playground. I was on a particular “dogsledding” team that only lost twice. It is a game played for pride, not actual prizes. Often the more dominant child will be the “musher”, and the more submissive children will be the “huskies”. Some children will take turns, rotating between who is the “musher” and who are the “huskies”, but usually a dominant “musher” will remain in that position for the majority of recess. Being the lead “husky” not the most desirable position, since the first child usually gets rope burns on their stomach from straining to run against the jump-rope. Some “mushers” will snap the rope to get the “huskies” to run faster.

I remember playing this game when I was in elementary school as well. I always liked to be the “musher” because I was a very bossy child. I remember that when my team would race against another, we would first have to designate where we were racing to, since there was no common racing path that we all used. This was a game often played in the spring, even though we mimicked a winter sport. This may have been due to the shortage of jump ropes in the winter, since they are usually a spring and summer toy. I believe this game is important because it allows the children to work on their team-working skills while using their imagination. While it was fun, it also brought about a lot of problems. Often the teachers would ban the game because kids would pull too hard on the ropes and hurt the other children. Some kids even began to whip one-another with a jump rope once after they lost a race.

Italian superstition of bread orientation

My informant comes from a very italian family. She informed be about the superstition of the orientation of bread on a table:

“Putting a loaf of bread top-crust facing down on the table is like making Christ lie face down. It brings bad luck.”

My informant first heard this from her grandmother in Italy. She said that it was an old italian superstition, yet she still never places bread crust down.

I had never heard of or noticed such behavior by her or any other Italians before. I suppose it is because I am so used to everyone placing bread crust-side up that I have never thought that it could be “bad luck” to do it differently. I believe this superstition to be important because it reflects on the respect that even modern-day Italians have for the beliefs of their ancestors. It also reveals how religious they are in its connection to Christianity through the mention of “Christ”.

The Legend of Tom Cook and the Devil

My informant shared with me the local legend of Tom Cook from Westborough, Massachusetts

“Back in about the 1700s there was a clever thief named Tom Cook. He was not the type of thief that you would think, a Robin Hood of the town I guess you could say. He would steal from the rich and give to the poor. So he was a good thief. Anyway, he was not a villain. When Tom was a baby, he was very near death, so his mother made a deal with the devil in order to spare his life. She promised the Devil that Tom would serve him, and cause mischief in a life of thievery. However, since Tom was a good thief who gave away all his loot to those less-fortunate than him, the Devil felt cheater. One morning, when Tom was getting dressed, he heard a knock at the door. He went and opened it to find the Devil himself standing there. The Devil said that he was here to claim Tom’s soul. Tom then asked the Devil if before he took him, if he could finish getting dressed. The Devil, seeing no harm in the request, agreed. However, this was a trick, and for the rest of his life Tom never finished getting dressed. He always had one shoe missing, or a belt buckle un-done, or sometimes one suspender un-clipper. Because the Devil had agreed to wait until he was finished dressing, the Devil could never claim his soul, and Tom died in his old age, with his shirt un-buttoned, and his soul rose up to heaven instead of down to the Devil.”

My informant told me that she had heard this story on a tour of her town that her class took when she was in third grade. She always remembers the story because she thought that Tom was an extremely clever person for being able to out-smart the devil. She informed me that the story was extra-special because the house that Tom lived in still stands today, and they saw it on their tour. That made the legend even more believable to her, seeing the door that the Devil himself walked up to. She doesn’t really ever tell the story of Tom Cook to many people, only unless they make a comment about how the old house should be torn down.

I am from this town of Westborough, MA, and I remember going on the town tour that my informant described. I agree that what made the legend believable was actually seeing Tom Cook’s house. I remember it being light blue, with broken windows and an overgrown lawn. The roof had been caving in and it looked like the scariest house I had ever seen. This image made the legend so real because such a house is hard to imagine could still exist. Sadly, the house was town down this year, and with it, what I believe to be a great deal of the believability of the Tom Cook legend.

The story of Tom Cook appears in authored literature in:

Allen, Kristina Nilson. On the Beaten Path: Westborough, Massachusetts. Westborough Civic Club and Westborough Historical Society, 1984.


My Brother and the Barefoot Race

My informant told me a very funny story about her younger brother:

“When my brother was in second or third grade his school class had to run the mile in gym class. Because he usually ran very fast, and wanted to remain the fastest kid in his grade, he was determined to finish first and beat his best friend. After the first half lap one of his sneakers came off, but he kept hobbling and running. Eventually the gym teacher yelled for him to stop and get his shoe on, but his friend was on his tail and he didn’t want to stop, so he took off the other shoe. He kept running and stayed in the lead, much to the teachers’ amusement, but now he knew that his socks were getting dirty, so as he ran he took off his socks, never losing the lead. The teachers were dumbfounded, but he won the race and remained the grade’s fastest runner.  I think the moral is that determination makes you do strange things.”

My informant told me that she tells this story very often. During the summer she is a counselor at a Track and Field summer camp, so she tells this story to the kids sometimes to get them excited for a race, or to make them laugh. Still to this day she laughs while she is telling it, while wearing a wide, proud grin as she finishes.

I think that this piece of folklore is quite funny, but also reveals how proud the informant is of her brother. Her smile as she tells it reveals how she enjoys telling the tale, and her willingness to provide a moral and make it a legitimate story with a purpose adds to this. The story itself is also very reflective of how determination can really pay off, even if it looks strange.

Uncle Colin and the Hurricane

My informant told me a story about his Uncle Colin and the story that his family tells about the 1954 hurricane that struck Cape Cod, MA:

“I have heard from a number of people that in the Cape Cod hurricane of 1954, the sea at Buzzards Bay rose as the Atlantic Ocean swelled. When it looked as if the rising inlet next to his house may rise further and wash his house away, my Uncle Colin went out to his fishing boat with a glass of milk and a baloney sandwich and said if it was going to get his house, he couldn’t stop it and he’d rather go down in his boat. So he rowed out to the boat in the storm and waited and ate. The water rose, but never reached the house and the boat never left the mooring.”

My informant said that each time he head the story it was slightly different, but the jist of it is the same. He particularly liked the story because he was named after this particular uncle, and therefore was proud of being associated with him. The story is also quite humorous, so he often re-tells it to family during gatherings and holidays.

From my point of view, this is a story about bravery. It shows the respect that a family has for its elders and their sometimes odd, but impressive actions. It also ties the family to the property in showing their devotion to it. Uncle Colin would not sit in his boat during a hurricane unless he deeply cared about the property he was willing to risk his life for. It can also be used to teach children the values of their family.