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.

Legend – Russian

“Ilya Muromets is a huge legend in Russia. When he was young, he was sick and was unable to walk until his 30s, when he two pilgrims healed him. Then, a dying knight gave him super-human strength, and he traveled to free the city of Kiev and to serve Prince Vladimir.  He killed the monster Nightingale the Robber, a Russian mythological creature, who murdered travelers with his whistle in the Bryansk forest.  In Kiev, Ilya was made chief bogatyr (knight) by Prince Vladimir, and he defended Rus many enemies.  It is said that Ilya had a very bad temper and once went on a rampage and destroyed all the church steeples in Kiev after Prince Vladimir didn’t to invite him to a party.”

My informant learned of this legend in school around the age of nine.  They were reading epic poems in her class, and several of the poems told of Ilya Muromets, the Russian hero.  When one of her classmates asked if Ilya Muromets was real, the teacher said that no one knows for sure, but it is said that he is buried in Kiev Pecherski Monastery.  Throughout school, my informant heard stories Ilya Muromets several different times in poems that they were required to read for class.

My informant says that most Russians know the legend of Ilya Muromets and that he is very similar to the English legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  However, Ilya Muromets is known for fighting Nightingale the Robber, a mythical creature while King Arthur mostly fought human people.  Ilya Muromets is very widespread in Russia and can be found in art, movies, cartoons, and statues.

Joke – German

An Ostfriesen works at a gas station. A German stranger tanks up and asks for directions to the biggest town in the area, Emden. The Ostfriesen scratches his head, says no and the stranger, disappointed, starts driving away. But the stranger glances back in his rearview mirror a few moments later and notices that the Ostfriesen has started talking to another Ostfriesen in a very animated tone and then suddenly the first Ostfriesen begins waving the stranger back to the gas station. Relieved, the stranger backs up slowly and rolls down his window. The first Ostfriesen tells him, “This is my buddy Karsten.” The stranger smiles in expectation. Then the Ostfriesen says, “He doesn’t know the way to Emden, either.”

My informant heard this joke at a party in Germany from a friend of his.  This joke makes fun of Ostfriesen, inhabitants of the island to the north of Germany.  The joke-teller had had a few glasses of champagne before he began to tell Ostfriesen jokes.

My informant says these jokes are often told in bars and at parties by German people who have often times been drinking alcohol.

My informant says East Frisia is not very industrial and is looked down on by Germans.  He says the Ostfriesen are considered country bumpkins who have no culture.  This joke makes fun of a nationality of people.  The Germans believe that the Ostfriesen are uncivilized because the island is mostly based on agriculture rather than technology.  Ostfriesen jokes are very popular in Germany.

This joke is funny because it upholds the stereotype the Germans have for the Ostfriesen people.  Ostfriesen jokes are identical to racist jokes which also use stereotypes as a mode of humor.  Since these jokes are politically incorrect, the repression of Ostfriesen jokes makes them funnier because they are taboo.

Myth – Armenian

“The Al is a mythological spirit in Armenia.  People say that the Al attacks pregnant women and steals her baby and liver.  God created the Al as Adam’s first companion and made him out of fire.  When God made Eve, it angered the Al which is why it only attacks women.  The Al cannot be touched by iron, so pregnant mothers are supposed to put an iron object next to their beds before they sleep.”

My informant first learned of this Armenian spirit from her grandmother when she was four.  When my informant’s mother was pregnant with her little brother, her grandmother told her to get a butter knife from the kitchen and place it on her mother’s nightstand.  When my informant asked why, her grandmother told her of the Al.  She described the Al as part-human and part-animal, with fiery eyes, large tusks, and long hair and nails.  My informant’s grandmother said that her mother should stay out of the corners of the room because the Al likes damp, dark places.

My informant says most Armenians are aware of the Al, but it is mostly women who fear it.  It is not unusual to see pregnant women with a knife or sword next to their bed to protect them from the Al.

My informant does not believe in the Al and does not plan on placing iron objects next to her bed when she becomes pregnant.  However, she predicts that her grandmother will insist that she at least keep a butter knife next to her bed, and she says she will oblige her.

Nursery Rhyme – American

“Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your


My informant learned this nursery rhyme in preschool in Midland, Texas around the age of four or five.  His teacher would sing this song every day when it was time for the children to clean up their toys and games and get ready for lunch time.  He and his classmates would sing along and begin to pick up their toys and put them away in the proper places.  After everyone put away their toys and the room was clean, his teacher would say, “Give yourselves a round of applause,” and the whole class would clap for themselves.

My informant believes this nursery rhyme motivates children to clean up because they sing while they put their toys away.  It is very hard to get children to clean up anything and put away their toys, and singing a song makes them enjoy it because they forget they are doing a chore.  Also, having the children clap for themselves after all the toys have been put away rewards them for cleaning up and encourages them to continue doing it.

My informant thinks this song is used primarily by parents, babysitters or pre-school teachers because they deal with young children every day.  Children are the ones who mainly sing this song, although often times it is at the prompting of an adult.

Nursery Rhyme – Armenian

???? ???? ?????
?????, ?????:
????????? ????? ?????? ?????
????????? ????? ?????? ?? ?????
????????? ????? ?? ?????, ?? ??? ??,
???? ???????:
??????? ????? ??????? ??,
??????? ??,
?????? ??????,
????? ??????,
??????? ??????…

???? ???? ????????? ???? ??????
??????? ??? ???? ????????
???-???? ????,
??????? ???????,
??????? ????? ??? ?? ?????

Thumb said: “Coming, coming they are coming,”

Forefinger said: “Who is coming?”

Middle finger said: “Wolves are coming.”

Ring finger said: “Let’s run away, hurry, hurry.”

Little finger said: “I’m so small,

I’m so tiny,

I’ve got no feet,

Nor have I wings,

How can I walk or run away!”

And so Thumb said: “We won’t run away,

We won’t retreat from wolves in dismay,

We will stand shoulder to shoulder,

We’ll become one fist

And get the power!”

My informant learned this nursery rhyme from her mother around the age of three.  She and her mother would sing this song sometimes before bedtime or if she could not sleep.  My informant’s mother learned this from her mother who is full-blooded Armenian and passed it down to my informant.

This nursery rhyme is also a finger game. Whenever a finger talks you move it like it is speaking and then put it down.  By the end of the song, all the fingers are down and a fist is made.

My informant says this nursery rhyme is mainly sung by children since it is also a finger game.  She says many children sing this in groups together at school or even when playing together.

My informant plans to teach this game to her children because it was a part of her Armenian childhood that she remembers.