Author Archives: Hlbrec

The Buckeye Jar

Main piece: KP: Our team does have this tradition where usually once a week we’ll have this giant glass container, very pretty, engraved, it says “Ohio State Rowing” or whatever, and Ohio State has the Buckeye nuts, we’re “The Buckeyes”, and everytime you want to congratulate a teammate, or point out how hard they’ve been working, you go up in front of the whole team, you take a buckeye, and put it in the glass jar. So in the beginning of the year we have no buckeyes, and then at the end of the year we have a whole jar of them, and that shows how far we’ve worked, all year, how much we’ve helped each other, how much we like each other and support each other. 

HB: So you just go and find a nut on the ground?

KP: So we have a couple buckeye trees by the boathouse, so we got buckeyes from there. I think we bought some of them, but most of them were collected by our former head coach because he was weird like that and he liked to do that. But yeah, so that’s kind of cute. 

HB: How do you announce it [that you’re putting the buckeye in]?

KP: So you go up in front of the whole team, and be like “This one’s for KP for working hard during lift” and then you drop it in. 

Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years. She seemed proud of this tradition, and has actively participated in it during her time at Ohio.

Context: I asked KP if her team has any “lucky” objects or superstitions they do/interact with before competitions. While this is not either of those things, she believes that this tradition is one of her team’s most important ones.  She believes that it fulfills its purpose of showing how much her team cares for each other.

Analysis: This ritual serves as team bonding. The folk object; the fancy glass jar engraved with “Ohio State Rowing” represents the team itself; the prestige of the institution. Over the course of the year, as team members laud the actions of others, it becomes full. The metaphor there is then an obvious one of togetherness. However, this jar is not (in the opinion of KP) seen as important as the buckeye nuts, which are either gathered by the person who wants to reward their teammate or collected from inside the boathouse. The buckeye nut (and therefore being a Buckeye, as a symbol of the school) in this context has positive connotations. It is accompanied by another team member acknowledging hard work or skill level, and encourages other members of the group to bond or work harder so that they too can be given this compliment. One then wants to and takes pride in being a Buckeye, or a member of OSU, as it is something that has been earned and a title given to them by other members of their group.

Pooh’s Sticks

Main piece: Pooh’s Sticks is something we always do, and my dad did it as a kid too, where you find a pond with a bridge over it, or a river – something that has moving water. Everybody finds a stick that they think is going to be the winning stick, you drop it off one side, run to the other, and whoever’s stick comes out first is the winner. 

I don’t know why we call it that. I think it comes from Winnie the Pooh, they do that.

Background: O is twenty years old, but has been playing Pooh’s Sticks since early childhood. While she grew up in Richardson, Texas, she was taught this game by her father, who grew up in Malmesbury, a town in Wiltshire, England. She and her brother, who is sixteen, continue to play Pooh’s Sticks with her parents. The game is not specific to a particular location; she says that they’ll play the game whenever “we come across a good bridge and river”. 

Context: I initially approached O to discuss folklore in the visual arts, as she is an illustrator. While we were discussing it, she asked if she could tell me about folklore from her childhood. I enthusiastically said yes, and she told me about Pooh’s Sticks. She finds the game quaint and charming, and got really excited when telling me about the races she’ll have with her parents and brother. It’s a game she still enjoys playing to this day.

Analysis: This folk game appeals as it costs nothing to play, can be played with any indeterminate number of players, and requires no skill set nor set age. Pooh’s Sticks was initially taught to O as a small child by her father, showing that it is a way to keep a kid entertained when there are no toys or other means of entertainment around. It also gives little kids equal opportunity to win the game, which is a rare occurrence for young children, and something O cited as a particularly exciting part of playing – that she could beat her mom or dad at something. M, O’s father, grew up in the rural village of Malmesbury, and O recalls him telling her about many games from his childhood, all stemming from the nature around them – he and his friends would play frisbee with a frozen cow patty, or throw sticky burs at people to tease them. It seems as if Pooh’s Sticks was another game that arose from this setting, although O (living in Texas) has played this game with her parents in multiple locations.  

The Victory Dance of the University of Texas Rowers

Main piece: When Texas [University of Texas] wins NCAA or they do well or something I think, they dance. They have this little, like, line dance kind of thing. They do this dance in their “unis”, so their rowing unisuits, they’re like leotards but for rowers, and then they have those on, plus these you know, standard cowboy boots. And they get these as part of the gear, so they get their rowing suits, their leggings, their shirts, and a pair of cowboy boots. So they’ll dance in those if they do well, onstage. And it’s kind of exciting, kind of entertaining, but sad if you’ve lost, which I guess is part of the fun. 

Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years. The Ohio State University rowers are currently ranked third in their region for rowing by the NCAA (though those rankings change frequently), but are Division 1. Texas, while not Ohio’s rival (which is Michigan), they are seen as “good” (according to KP), and a serious competitor. 

Context: A couple of months ago, I received a text from KP after a competition, who was upset that her team lost to Michigan. When I asked why, she explained that the loss is particularly “sad” when Michigan, Yale, or Texas wins; Texas because “they dance with their cowboy boots when they win. Which is kinda awesome but sad when they’re line dancing on a stage and you just have to look up at them in sadness.” When interviewing KP for the Archive about folklore in rowing (via Zoom, as she is still on campus in Ohio), I immediately asked her about this tradition. She had watched Texas do their victory dance at previous competitions. 

Analysis: Texas’s victory dance is a way to celebrate their (Texan) identity, distinguish themselves from other teams, bond with each other, and also glory in their victory in a semi-taunting way. The addition of cowboy boots to their uniform apparel, a stereotypical “cowboy” attire, is a way of representing the University of Texas and distinguishing them from the other teams, who are dressed in an otherwise similar way (it is important to note that while KP has only seen the Texas team perform this dance wearing cowboy boots, there have been videos posted online where they do the celebratory victory dance barefoot or wearing flip flops). While line dancing is not exclusive to Texas (and in fact its origins are believed to be from European folk dances), there is a connotation that line dancing today is accompanied by country/western music and performed by cowboys or ranch hands (i.e., working-class people). This is interesting because rowing itself has often been viewed as an elitist/classist niche sport, as it is an incredibly expensive endeavor in which to participate (in a later part of our discussion, KP refers to rowing as “classist” and “pretentious”). However, after further research, I discovered that the Texas team’s dance is often accompanied by the song “God Bless Texas”, so in this instance, the rowers choose to align their identity with state nationalism, and as an extension, their school (University of Texas is part of the State System, which is a governmental entity). Furthermore, the older rowers teach the incoming freshmen the dance. In a video I found online entitled “Texas Rowing Dance Tutorial”, the sophomore rowers were teaching the incoming athletes the dance. This practice would normally occur in person, but due to COVID, this rehearsal was done over Zoom, recorded, and posted to YouTube. The dance then also serves as a ritualistic bonding between members of the group and is perhaps even an incentive for them to practice harder in order to win so that they can then perform the dance in front of an audience. Finally, KP found the dance to be “sad if you’ve lost, but I guess that’s part of the fun”. Historically, victory dances have been used to both celebrate a victory and antagonize the losing participants. KP finding the dance sad, so much so that she believes that losing to Texas to be a particularly upsetting loss, shows that the victory dance is also used to make their fellow competitors feel lower, therefore elevating themselves. The dance is performed on a stage during the handing out of awards; all of the teams are required to stay there and watch. The practice of line dancing by the University of Texas rowing team therefore serves to show both state and team superiority over their competitors.

“Way Nuff”: Rowing Slang

Main piece: There are a lot of terms in rowing that are kind of – I wouldn’t say “outdated” but they are kind of outdated, and they don’t really make sense – um, especially in a modern context, and with the technology we’re using now. Because a lot of the terms we use come from shipping and sailing and stuff like that, which obviously isn’t very relevant now, but it’s kind of stuck around. So like, instead of saying “stop” when we want the rowers to stop rowing, we say “weigh enough” (how much you weigh and then enough), so people will say that like “way nuff” or “way off” and that just kind of like dialect and where you are in the country. Because what terms you use sometimes differs from what country you’re in and [in the United States] what part of the country you’re in. So for example, I say “way nuff” because I’m from the East Coast, but a lot of people from Ohio will say “way noff” like that’s enough. 

I think it’s cause it’s just pretentious. Cause rowings’ pretentious. It’s kind of like traditionally a rich white sport, rowing isn’t accessible to many people cause you need to be by water, you need to be able to afford boats which are tens of thousands of dollars, literally. And then oars are expensive. The coxswain technology, like speakers and microphones, those are also very expensive. So it’s very expensive to start rowing. And then there are membership fees and stuff. So the whole thing is very classist. So I think that’s why a lot of the language is still outdated. And there’s a part of “if you know, you know” so like rowers will be talking about these different terms and terminologies in stories and things and unless you’ve rowed you won’t know what they’re saying and it’s kind of like a club. 

Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years. KP is a Korean-American woman, who would not describe her financial situation as affluent. 

Context: When asking KP about different rowing traditions, she dropped multiple slang terms, such as “unis” and boating terms such as “port” and “starboard”. When she finished recounting the story, I asked her about different terms she uses as a coxswain. She then prefaced her explanation of “way nuff” with the clarification that these things are often outdated. I then asked her why she and other rowers would use outdated terminology. 

Analysis: KP seems to believe that using this kind of terminology is for the purposes of exclusion, to isolate non-rowers as a part of its classist history. Even as rowing as a sport has largely moved away from those origins (especially on the non-competitive collegiate level, where anyone can participate), she finds that in the competitive rowing world, those kinds of terms are still used. However, this slang, as she says with “it’s kind of like a club”, also serves to bond the rowers who are in the know closer together, as they are able to tell stories and use slang terms without taking the time to explain themselves. Additionally, these slang terms can also be taught to new rowers or those who are entering the sport, and serve to cement those who are members, as they are then able to use the terms. Or, as KP said, “if you know, you know”. 

A Broom and Salt as Housewarming Presents

Main piece: If you move into a new house, you have to take a broom and salt. The salt is so that there’s no tears or unhappiness in the house, and the broom is because you need a clean broom for your new house. My mother-in-law bought me a broom, and she said you don’t want to bring some old dirty broom into your house, and bring the dirt from the old house into the new house. You should have a new broom. 

Background: My informant is a fifty-three year old Jewish woman from Los Angeles, California. Her mother-in-law is a seventy-nine year old Jewish woman from Baltimore, Maryland. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meises” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fables”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions. 

Context: There was a discussion of house-warming parties and traditions. My informant, who never had a house-warming party when she moved into her first house with her husband, offered this tradition. While she and her husband had lived together before they were married, they moved cities and into their first house (previously they had lived in an apartment) a little over a year after their wedding. 

Analysis: Moving into a first home with one’s spouse has historically been a momentous and tense situation. In the past, moving into a first home with one’s new husband marks the first time the woman/bride has left her family’s house, and there is the expectation that she will be the one to clean/provide the upkeep on the home, doing most (if not all) of the cooking and cleaning. In Judaism, salt is historically used as a preservative for food, in cooking as a seasoning, and a way to help disinfect wounds, all jobs that would historically have been associated with the wife. The broom, too, would be used by her to help clean the house, and, especially had this been her first home, she may have shared a broom with her mother doing chores at her family home, but wouldn’t have brought that with her when she got married. Additionally, marriage (especially for brides) creates the opportunity for a clean slate, moving fully from the sphere of the family’s home into an adult life, and she wouldn’t use the broom in her father’s house that she would in her husband’s. Although my informant is the primary provider in her marriage, and she and her husband share household responsibilities, the tradition of a mother-in-law giving the new bride a broom and salt to help take care of her son still remained. Additionally, the mother-in-law in question did take care of the household in her own marriage. My informant, despite the misogynistic historical connotations provided with the gift of a new broom and salt, did not find the gift at all offensive, in fact she informed me that she still uses the broom to this day (twenty or so years after it was first given). Whether this is because there was a gap in the amount of time the gift was given (this was not a bridal present, but rather a house-warming one several months after her marriage), or because she understood that it was a tradition, it is unclear.