Author Archives: Mary Atkins

Folk Game – American


This game is played with many people. A person starts the game by throwing a ball against a wall. Anyone playing grabs the ball and yells “spud.” As soon as the person says “spud,” everyone freezes where they are. The person with the ball throws it at someone and tries to hit anywhere one that person’s body except the head. If the ball hits the person, he or she is out. If the ball hits the head of the person, the person who threw the ball is out. If someone catches the ball before it hits the ground, the person who threw the ball is out. As soon as the ball leaves the thrower’s hands, everyone can move and try to get the ball and become the thrower.

I learned this game at the Gymnast Factory in Houston, Texas around the age of eight or nine.  We would play this game after gymnastics practice if we had any free time before practice was over.  The coaches would use it as a reward if we had had a good practice.  Many times, coaches would announce at the beginning of practice that if we obtained certain new gymnastics skills during practice, we would be allowed to play “Spud” at the end.  If we did a really good job, the coaches would have more than just the girls’ gymnastics team to play; they would also get the boys’ gymnastics team and also the trampoline team.

This game is played by mostly older children because it is too fast paced and dangerous for small children to play.  Many times adults will play this game too; coaches would often play “Spud” with us.

Often times we would gang up on a person and try to get them out.  Sometimes we would do this if we did not like the person, but most of the time we would gang up on a member of the opposite sex as a way of flirting.

I am not sure why the game is called “Spud.” Perhaps the game was first played using a potato instead of a ball.  I have not seen this game played anywhere except at the Gymnast Factory, but it is very similar to dodgeball and could be a variant of it.

Folk Narrative – American

Johnny Appleseed

“My grandpa used to tell me the story of Johnny Appleseed.  When he was a boy, Johnny had some kind of falling out with his parents and began to spend more time outdoors with nature.  Johnny started many nurseries throughout the Midwest by planting seeds he bought from cider mills in Pennsylvania. Johnny was very pious and became a missionary for the Church of the New Jerusalem.  Johnny traveled around the Midwestern U.S. and shared his religious beliefs and his Bible with any settlers who listened to him.”

My informant first heard the story of Johnny Appleseed from his grandfather when he was six.  On occasions when the family would get together, his grandfather would get all the children together after dinner and tell them legends and stories by the fire.  He shared the story of Johnny Appleseed many times as a way to stress the importance of religion in their lives.

My informant believes that most people have heard of Johnny Appleseed but may not know the religious side of his story.  Most people know that he traveled around Midwestern America planting apple trees, but they do not know that he also acted as a traveling missionary.

My informant believes that the story of Johnny Appleseed is true.  He says Johnny Appleseed has been linked to a John Chapman who was born in Massachusetts in the 1770s.

Remedy – Russian

Fever remedy

One remedy to cure a fever is to put chopped potatoes or chopped onions in the socks of the person who is ill.  To make one, put the chopped onion or potato in small pouch and place it in a sock on the sole of the foot.  Fit the sock on the foot, so that the pouch stays securely in place on the sole. Sleep overnight with the sock on the foot.

My informant learned this remedy from her mother when she was a toddler.  Her mother would always use this remedy whenever my informant had a fever.  The potatoes draw out toxins and are a good source of moist heat, while onions improve circulation and clears congestion with their smell.  My informant’s mother learned this remedy from her father.

My informant says she knows of many people who use this remedy, not just Russians.  She has African-American friends whose parents swear by this remedy as well as American friends who use this remedy also.

This remedy is usually passed down from parents to their children. However, my informant has heard people learn this remedy from nannies or housekeepers who took care of them as children.

My informant believes that this remedy helps and continues to use it today when she has a fever.

Remedy – Russian

When you have a bump on your head, put a penny on it and the bump will go away.

My informant grew up with this remedy in Kazakhstan, and her father used it on her since she was a toddler.  My informant’s father learned this remedy from his own father, a Russian doctor, who used this remedy on him when he was a child.  Although she grew up with this remedy in Russia, she does not typically use it in America unless she is around her father.  She says she has not bumped her head in years and no longer has much use for this remedy.

My informant says that this remedy is mainly used by Russian parents for their children because children are more likely to bump their heads than any other age group.  Children often play outside and are not as careful as those who are older.

My informant believes that this remedy works because the penny is cold, and putting something cold on an inflammation reduces the inflammation.  She thinks this remedy is better than putting ice on a bump because the penny sticks to the bump, so you can have your hands free.

My informant says that Russians use this remedy because of its natural healing.  Russians are more likely to use a natural remedy as opposed to a medical one.  Also, this remedy is used mainly by the Russian middle- or lower-class because they do not have the financial ability to afford more expensive medical treatments.

Joke – American

“What do you get when you breed an elephant and a rhino?”


My informant heard this joke from his counselor at Catalina Island Marine Institute when he was twelve.  He has been going to this camp every summer since he was eight, so he is very close with this campmates and his counselors.  At the end of the day, Grant’s group at camp would gather around inside whomever’s cabin was the biggest and share jokes or other funny things they knew.  On one of the days, my informant’s counselor shared this joke.

Grant believes this joke is funny because the answer to the question is a mix between the words “elephant” and “rhino,” and it is also a play on words on the phrase “hell if I know.”

This joke has no age restrictions.  It can be told by anyone to anyone, but it is probably funnier for pre-teens or early teenagers because of the use of the word “hell” which is considered a bad word to younger audiences.  Using the word “hell” in the joke makes it almost taboo for young teenagers.

I believe this joke is popular among teenagers and blue collar workers who are not well-educated and use slang.  The phrase “hell if I know” is commonly used among teenagers and blue collar workers or the lower class, which means this joke is probably more popular among these groups than it would be in the middle- or upper-class.