Author Archives: Sarah Tillery

Chow Calls

Informant, was a Naval Officer for much of his life (though not any longer), and had gone to the Naval Academy. Though not open to telling me many stories about the Naval Academy Rituals as he thought they were too inappropriate to tell a young lady, he offered to explain a few.

Informant: And then uh. Then there were things called Chow Calls. So at the beginning of every meal, at the end of each hall way there’s a Pleeb and ten minutes before each of the meals, they get out and they go: [fake shouting] SIR, YOU NOW HAVE TEN MINUTES BEFORE NOON MEAL FORMATION, THE MENU FOR NOON MEAL IS, and they go down whatever that menu might be, and [sniff] then they go, [slightly quieter fake shouting] THE OFFICERS OF THE DAY ARE, THE OFFICER OF THE DAY IS, BOOM BOOM BOOM, and they list who the Officers of the Day are, [fake shouting, still slightly quieter] THE UNIFORM FOR NOON MEAL FORMATION IS, AND THE LOCATION FOR [stumble a little here] it so that they everybody knows where it is, and if you get something wrong or you stumble over it, you’ve got upperclassmen come shout at you: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS WRONG, and then you might have to [pause] give that Chow Call, from the Rig, then it’s really hard. [Demonstrates and makes silly noises. Laughter.]

When asked about why these traditions are done:

Informant: Um. One it keeps the guy’s minds off of the fact that they might be homesick.

Author: Mmhmm.

Informant: It does, you know, they have to start working together as a group. Not so much shouting but just um [Pause] that you can get in and push and go beyond your limits, you know? But yeah, everybody does it.


My Informant discussed with me a quintessential dish in his Scottish/Greek home. It was important to him, as it was a childhood favorite, and a frequent dish had in his household growing up, despite its main significance to Easter.

Informant: Spanakopita is basically the quintessential Greek dish. It’s simple, but difficult to make. Uh, you have to buy Filo Dough in tiny paper thin sheets, and paint each sheet with butter and paint them down and knead them down–this takes about an hour or an hour and a half to make this–this uh. Boat, I guess, for the insides. One of the first things my parents got me to eat that had vegetables in it, actually. Cheese, goat cheese, and spinach, I think, maybe some salt and pepper, but I think that’s. That’s it. It’s a food that can be made for special occasions, but we have it once every couple of weeks, really. Usually an Easter Dish, and you hide the coin in it. And if you bite into the coin it brings you luck.

He described it further as a dish for de-stressing at his household, accompanied with gin and tonics (only tonic for him when he was a child and to this day, due to his dislike for gin), and so it has a special comfort food like quality to him and his family. He did not remember if he had ever bitten into the golden coin, but he remembers once in his youth that a girl he liked bit into the coin, and he hoped that meant she would say yes to him if he asked her out, and unfortunately she said no. He went on to say that for Easter it has a bit of a bittersweet memory now because of this youthful heartbreak.

Hick’s Road Ghosts

The Informant and I were driving while she told me these stories about her home town, San Francisco, and her family’s cultural history as being Norwegian American, so there was not much that I could observe of her actions, as she was at the wheel and I was behind her in the back seat. But she was very passionate about these stories, and eager to share her history as both a San Francisco Native and her family’s Norwegian background. This particular story was a ghost story about a road called Hick’s Road, nearby where she lived at the Base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was a fun story for her to tell, as she remembered her friend trying to find these ghosts, and so had good memories of her friend’s account of his encounter with the ghost, though she herself has not encountered the ghosts. What was especially fun about the story was that it has to do with driving, and so being in a car at the time made myself, and the Other Party, very scared upon the Informant telling of it.

Informant: Okay so there’s an–I live right at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, so we have a lot of very desolated, dark areas um around the valley, aaaaand, we have this one road, called Hick’s Road, that goes right up to the summit. And it’s known for being very dark, very few streetlights and very few people. So someone, I’m not sure when, created the myth that there was a herd of cannablistic albinos

[Everyone Laughs]

Informant: Living in a CULT on Hick’s Road.

[Diverting Conversation Ensues]

Informant: ….Anyway, so there’s a lot of Ghost Stories about Hick’s Road, but that was number one. And it’s said that when you pass where it’s rumored to be, the…

Author: Right, uh-huh.

Informant: I dunno what you call it, the commune, I guess. Your car will stall, even if it’s an automatic. And it will start rolling down the hill.

Author: OH NO!

Informant: If you BREAK, you can put the parking break on and it will stop, and you get out of the car, you look at the back, of your uh, car, and it will have hand prints on the back.

Author and Other Party: NO. NO NO NO.

Informant and Other Party: [Laughs]

Author: That is too scary, I am never doing that!

Informant: My friend did it for senior year, she was doing a whole uh project on, you know, myths and urban legends in our area, and there was like two. There was the Winchester Mystery House and the Hick’s Road Albino Commune.

[Laughter all around]

The stories we tell about abandoned places are always fairly out of this world. I know in my own home town, we had an abandoned neighborhood that was said to be the home of militant incestuous Mormons who didn’t speak to anyone or leave their commune, despite no one actually living there. It is interesting who a community will choose to otherize by placing them in the frightening area of town. For my home town in Arizona, it was poor Mormons (of whom there is a decent population in Arizona), and for San Francisco, it was Albino people. I do not know the statistics of Albino residents in the area, but it seemed from my Informant’s story that someone long ago invented this story, and then it was told as folklore from then on. It is likely not based on any prejudice towards Albino people, rather that was simply the most outrageous thing the person so long ago could think of.

Santa Lucia Day

The Informant and I were driving while she told me these stories about her home town, San Francisco, and her family’s cultural history as being Norwegian American, so there was not much that I could observe of her actions, as she was at the wheel and I was behind her in the back seat. But she was very passionate about both stories, and eager to share her history as both a San Francisco Native and her family’s Norwegian background. This particular story, about the Santa Lucia Day festivities, was important to her because of her own memories of partaking in it, and how her family came together to help her prepare the meal that she was supposed to prepare on her own. She did not really like the festival part apart from cooking with her family, as she herself was not a good cook, and did not like being the center of attention.

Informant: I mean, we have. We all celebrate Santa Lucia Day.

Author: Tell me about that!

Informant: Santa Lucia Day is celebrated in a lot of European countries, and in Norway. Um. It’s to celebrate, you know, a Daughter’s Love for her Parents. So. Traditionally, the youngest daughter would get up really, really early in the morning before dawn, and make a big breakfast for her family, primarily her parents. Then traditionally, serve her parents breakfast in a white dress and a red sash, that’s how it is in our family, I don’t know if that’s how it is for everyone else. It’s been handed down from… [Trails off]

Author: And did you do this?

Informant: Um. I did it a couple times. But. Then they realized that I am not a good cook, so.

Author and Other Party: [Laughs]

Informant: They didn’t let me. And my sister would help me. My older sister and my twin brother would help.

Author: That’s nice!

Informant: The other thing was that traditionally it would be done with um. A Wreath of Candles. Around your head. But then they realized that’s a fire hazard so most of the people just use lights.

Author: Awesome!

Informant: Because.

Other Party: Oh wait, I’ve heard of that festival. It’s um.

Informant: Yeah! It’s very, very celebrated.

Other Party: Yeah, Arthur the Aardvark talks about that.

Author: Oh yeah! I remember that. [Laughs]

Other Party: In “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.”

Informant: Yeah, it’s always celebrated on December 14th.

The “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” song about Santa Lucia can be found here and the original CD can be found here.


How Do You Get an Elephant in the Refrigerator?

Informant is a University student from Canada, studying in the United States. When asked about what she remembered from camp, she was most excited to offer riddles, and had many to share. When asked why she was so excited, she said that it was because they were so prevalent in her childhood. These riddles were everywhere for her, and so it brings back more nostalgia than jokes or games for her.

And then the last one that I can think of is. How do you get an elephant in the refrigerator?

How do you get an elephant in the refrigerator?

You close the door.


Well, okay, how do you get a giraffe in the refrigerator? [Pauses, gestures to me.] Can you like. Answer the question?

You uh. You open the door and put the giraffe in the refrigerator and close the door.

Ah. You open the door, take the elephant out, put the giraffe in and then close the door.

[Big laughs.]

This one was another favorite of the Informant, who really played up the delivery of this one. When asked why, she emphasized again that riddles were an important part of her childhood, and this one usually also got a big laugh. Alternatively, she also had a friend who was not very good at riddles, and so to tease her, the Informant would tell her riddles, and this one frustrated her friend the most due to its hidden simplicity.