Southern Family Right of Passage

Alden: There was a right of passage in my family growing up where we would uhh… it was called ‘seein’ the stars’ and everyone who was ten years old, well we would all go out and uhhh… first, we are in a family of ten brothers and sisters and their kids or whatever. So we would gather around and grab a big rain coat and you would look through the sleeve of the rain coat up at the sky and all our older family members would say how you could see the stars so much better. Then they would pour a bucket of water down there. And uhh, that’s kind of when you became a man! And uhh, yeah, so this was only to the men in the family… and umm, that was the big event, ‘seein’ the stars’!

Isabel: Where does this take place?

Alden: Always at my grandparent’s ranch near Austin. We always do it when the family is all together.

Isabel: What do you think the purpose of this right of passage is within your family?

Alden: Uhhh… well, my family is very southern, very Texan. I think this tradition kind of coincides with that. And as antiquated as this may sound, there is definitely a strong value placed on being a real man. So I guess, uhh, I think this little trick is a fun spirited way to welcome the little guys into our ‘manly’ bunch (LAUGH). It’s an initiation of sorts.

Isabel: Why don’t you think the girls are included besides the aspect of becoming a man?

Alden: Well, it’s kind of like southern chivalry, which is also still very apparent in my family and just around us in Texas. You wouldn’t want to disturb a lady by pouring a bucket of cold water on them.

The Wallace family custom for the male members exposes the family’s strong sense of tradition along with the importance placed on becoming a man. Additionally the ritual coincides with the southern stereotype of men as masculine figures within the family – physically tough (able to handle the surprise of a bucket of cold water in his face) yet respectful of woman in not subjecting the female family members to such a process. It is significant that these gender boundaries have maintained today as society has begun to blur gender expectations. This further highlights the strong sense of tradition within the Wallace family. In addition, the context in which this folklore is performed signifies the value placed on family. The right of passage only occurs when the whole family is together and has been practiced for generations. It then, is not just about the boy getting “initiated”, but is also a significant gathering for the men performing the trick. It is a way in which the Wallace family men come together, intermixing the generations through their celebration of each boy’s transition to manhood. Consequently, this act becomes a form of identity for the Wallace family boys. After the ritual they can call themselves a “Wallace man”, embracing their adolescent development with this identity.