Author Archives: Sarah Krupczak

Witchduck Haunting: Virginia Beach

The informant (20) grew up in Virginia Beach, VA and moved to California when she was fifteen. Having spent most of her life in Virginia, she is familiar with many of the local legends, such as the Witchduck Haunting:

“The Witchduck Haunting is a legend about Virginia Beach. It starts with this farmer woman in the 1600s or 1700s, I think. There was a woman farming or working in the fields, and she was wearing men’s britches because she wasn’t going to farm in a dress, which would be awkward. The people were suspicious of her and accused her of being a witch. She was tried so they tied her thumbs to her big toes and threw her in the river. She freed herself and was found guilty because it was said that if you were innocent, you would have sunk. I was told she escaped and was never found, but other versions of the story say that she was caught and put in jail. I heard this story from older sister, who heard it from a bunch of her friends. Almost everyone in the neighborhood knew the story, so you could probably ask anyone and they could tell you some version of it. It’s a nice piece of history that’s specific to Virginia Beach. There’s even a Witchduck Road and Witch Duck Bay. Oh and supposedly, every year the woman comes back to haunt the scene of her trial and appears as a strange light floating above Witch Duck Bay.”

This is a really interesting story. It’s probably so well known within the community because it places Virginia Beach in the larger historical context. It relates the modern-day city to greater historical happenings during the 1700s. The legend also gives the people of Virginia Beach a unique past to look back on. It’s also interesting that the woman who was tried as a witch was dressing in men’s clothing. Perhaps her attempted drowning was also a type of punishment for going against social or gender norms and not abiding by what society expects of a woman.

 

Annotation:

A similar story appears on the Virginia Beach website.

“The Haunting of Witchduck Road.” VirginiaBeach.com. N.p., 4 June 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <http://www.virginiabeach.com/articles/haunting-witchduck-road>

Law & Order SVU Drinking Game

The informant (21) is a Junior at USC. She transferred to USC for her sophomore year, and before that, spent her freshman year at Bennington College in Vermont.

The informant is my roommate and she wanted to contribute a drinking game to my folklore collection. This game is known as the Law & Order: SVU Drinking Game:

“The rules are pretty straight forward. You take a drink when you hear the “dun dun” sound, when a weapon is drawn, someone hits on Mariska Hargitay’s character, when there’s a celebrity guest, or when Ice T says “that’s messed up.” Whenever B.D. Wong is on the screen, you drink half your beer and when Stabler worries about his daughter, you take five drinks. Sometimes people make up other rules, but those are my standard ones. I learned this drinking game in Vermont, when my roommates and I got really into the show and watched pretty much every episode. By best friend there had learned the game in high school from another friend of hers. It’s a fun game and I play it because it’s an excuse to watch more L&O SVU, which is the single greatest show of all time and there are a million episodes so you can change things up during different ones. Also, drinking is the single greatest thing ever and can be done a million times even if you know that the outcome will be the same each time.”

Having watched Law & Order SVU, I agree with much of what my informant says. The game is a great excuse to watch more episodes and there’s a lot of freedom with the rules so things won’t get boring from episode to episode. Depending on the specific rules, sometimes the game is designed to get a person to drink a lot in a short amount of time, or even to prolong it. Drinking games that involve TV are also a great bonding experience because everyone’s watching the show at the same time, looking for the same things, and no doubt, as episodes go on, the side-conversations get more and more hilarious.

“Pizzelle Cookies”: Traditional Italian Recipe

The informant was born in Pennsylvania but her parents immigrated to America from Italy. Despite living in America, my informant has very close ties to her Italian roots, and still cooks many traditional Italian dishes.

The informant has been making traditional Italian waffle cookies, or Pizzelles, for as long as I can remember. I asked her to teach me how to make them this month which removes them somewhat from their normal context. Usually, pizzelles are a holiday treat and my informant makes them only for Christmas. She learned to make these waffle cookies from her mother and they used a special waffle iron that her mother brought over from Italy. What’s really special about this tradition now is that my informant still uses that same waffle iron from Italy to bake these holiday treats. No one else in the family makes pizzelles, but my informant revealed that next Christmas, her daughter will have to take over because it’s getting too hard for her to make them (she’s 91 after all). This means that her daughter will become the active bearer of this tradition and the waffle iron from Italy will be passed into her possession. Eventually, it will make its way down through the family. Below, I have transcribed the interview with my informant that took place while we were cooking.

Me: So your mom taught you to make these?

Informant: Yes. We used to make them together was I was little. But when I got married and had kids, I took over the baking.

Me: And this is the same waffle iron she used to use? In Italy?

Informant: The very same.

Me: Why do you still make them? What’s so important about them?

Informant: It’s a Christmas tradition. It wouldn’t be Christmas without waffle cookies!

Me: But don’t you get tired?

Informant: Yes, it’s hard work making 96 dozen cookies one at a time. Eventually Terry (her daughter) will have to take over. Probably next year. She can have this waffle iron too.

Me: So is it just habit to make these Christmas cookies, or does it mean something more to you?

Informant: Well, the habit is the significant part. It’s a tradition that’s always been a part of my life. It’s always been a part of the rest of the family’s too. Isn’t that enough of a reason to keep making them?

Me: Yeah, but does it like help you feel more Italian or something?

Informant: You could say that. We’re keeping an Italian tradition alive by making cookies every year. It makes me remember my parents, my childhood, even my own kids’ childhood—how I would help my mother, and then later, when Terry would help me.

Me: So that’s why you go through all this trouble every year, making tons of these waffle cookies?

Informant: It’s not trouble…I like making the cookies, I’m just getting older is all. It makes me feel connected to the past, to my parents that died a long, long time ago. And because I know that Terry will keep making these cookies, I feel connected to a future I probably won’t get to experience.

I always understood this baking tradition as a way of connecting to the family’s Italian roots. My informant sees it that way too, but she also thinks of it in a way I never would have considered. She knows that the tradition will last into the future, carried on by her daughter, then probably her daughter’s daughter, and so on, which connects my informant not only to the past, but the present and future as well. Perhaps this is why the women in the family make these cookies: to connect to past, cultural roots but also to those of the future.

Recipe:

½ cup shortening

2/3 cup sugar

3 eggs

13/4 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. vanilla

Pinch of salt

Mix shortening, sugar, and eggs. Beat until blended and smooth. Add flour, baking powder, and vanilla a little at a time mixing well. The texture should be soft but should not run. The more flour, the thicker the pizzelle will be. Other flavors may be substituted for the vanilla such as: anise seed or oil, lemon juice or grated rind, cocoa, orange juice, chopped nuts (very fine).

Annotation:

A very similar recipe can be found in 1000 Italian Recipes by Michele Scicolone. Unlike my informant’s recipe, this one does not use shortening and adds butter to the cookie mix.

Scicolone, Michele. 1000 Italian Recipes. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons, 2004.

Vietnamese New Year Celebration

The informant is a 20 year old, Vietnamese American female. She is a junior at the University of Southern California, but was born in Boston, MA. Both her parents are Vietnamese and were born in Vietnam.

Over lunch, the informant told me about the Vietnamese New Year celebration that occurs at the time of the lunar New Year, the same as the Chinese New Year. The particular celebration that my informant is familiar with starts a week before the actual day of the New Year. This week is devoted to cleaning the entire house. Then, families make a tree with yellow leaves, a mai tree, and hang red envelopes from it, which contain money. When the New Year finally arrives, the envelopes are opened and the recipients get their money. Traditionally, married couples are the ones that give out the money, and little kids are the ones that receive it. Before a child gets his or her envelope however, he or she must say, “Happy New Year, may the New Year bless you” as a type of chant almost. The envelopes are red because it is the color of luck and is meant to promise a lucky year for the recipient.

While this is all my informant had to say about the celebration, I had a few more possible interpretations for elements of it. First of all, I’d never heard that cleaning the house was part of a New Year’s celebration. The informant mentioned that the Vietnamese traditions borrow a lot from Chinese traditions, so maybe the idea of cleaning a week before the celebration has to do with the fact that seven is a very important number in the Chinese belief system. After thinking about it some more, the only conclusion I could come to was that starting off the New Year with a clean house was to indicate a fresh start in life for the following year. Also, the importance of the mai tree in the celebration may similarly reference the idea of newness, or maybe even Spring, which will arrive shortly after the start of the New Year.

“Picking up the Bride”: Vietnamese Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 20 year old, Vietnamese American female. She is a junior at the University of Southern California, but was born in Boston, MA. Both her parents are Vietnamese and were born in Vietnam.

Over lunch, the informant told me about a Vietnamese wedding ceremony called “Picking up the Bride.” The groom and his groomsmen carry baskets filled with pastries, moon cakes, fruit, and teas, all wrapped in red cellophane to the bride’s family’s house. The men line up outside of the house while inside, the same number of women do the same, ready to receive the baskets. The ceremony stems from a Vietnamese folktale of two brothers. The older brother gets married and his younger brother gets upset. The younger brother goes off by himself and cries. He turns into a tall tree. The older brother goes looking for his younger sibling and leans up against the tall tree to rest. He cries too, and becomes the leaves of the tree. Finally the bride comes looking for her husband and brother-in-law. She finds the tree and turns into the seed of the tree’s fruit. Eventually, someone comes along and eats the fruit, spitting out red seeds.

The informant told me that in the ceremony, the items in the baskets are usually fruit from this tree, a small tree, and other ripe things to symbolize loyalty. The “Picking up the Bride” ceremony is meant to welcome the groom into the bride’s family and bless the union of the two people. Usually, after the baskets have been delivered, the bride’s father makes a speech, further welcoming the groom into his family. Traditionally, the groomsmen would go on foot to the bride’s house, so the ceremony had the added element of a journey. This also allowed for everyone to witness it, and turned the procession into a parade almost. It serves as a way to let people know that a wedding was taking place.

I agree with the informant’s interpretation, and while she didn’t specifically mention this, the ripe fruit brought over to the bride’s house in the baskets could also be a symbol of fertility, serving to bless the new couple with a fruitful union.