Tag Archives: children’s play

Secrets of the Lanyard

Main Piece:

Informant: I know how to start a lanyard– I was the girl everyone went to.

Collector (Me): Could you explain how to start a lanyard?

Informant: Okay. So it’s so simple you just get the two pieces of string and you lay them in like, a cross, like, so like the middles intersect, and then you more or less just do the normal lanyard pattern, like over the little cross where they intersect. And then when you pull it you’ve started the lanyard and you can just keep going. 

Collector: That’s so inspirational. 

Informant: (laughing) I was a hero at my summer camp.

Background: 

My informant is one of my friends, a sophomore at USC. She went to summer camps when she was a child, and a popular craft activity there would be making box stitch lanyards out of colorful plastic strings. Usually most girls at the camp would know how to weave the strings together into a lanyard, but the difficult part was knowing how to start it. Another girl would be the one to start it. My informant, however, did know how to begin a lanyard, and as a result she was the one that other girls went to when they needed help working on lanyards at summer camp, and in the eyes of her peers, was seen as higher status.

Context: 

This piece came up when my informant, another participant, and I were talking about the various activities we used to do during summer camps. We discussed jump rope games and songs, then moved onto crafts— specifically lanyards, and if anyone knew how they were started in the first place.

My thoughts: 

I liked this piece because it reminded me of my own memories of summer camp when I was a child and also struggled to start lanyards. I remember having to find someone who knew how to start them, but what struck me as I listened to my informant was that while I knew of people who could start lanyards, the instructions were always kept secret. In fact, the notion of secrets plays a significant role in children’s folklore. For children, who should be seen as their own cultural group (a repressed minority) when being studied, secrets are akin to obtaining status and power. Secrets solidify groups within the larger peer group of children, and withholding knowledge from others can elevate a child’s status in the hierarchy. This is seen through what my informant told me: by knowing how to start a lanyard, she was viewed with high esteem by the other girls at summer camp. She also mentioned the same status applied if you knew how to do a variation of the lanyard pattern, meaning that the skills of making lanyards were also valued in the peer group. 

Haunted Civil War House

“Okay, so when I was a kid growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, there was a house about a half-mile away from the house I grew up in and, uh, it’s a very old house – very well maintained, people do live there – but, uh, legend has it that it served as a hospital during the Civil War and, uh, obviously, injured soldiers would go there and, of course, some of the soldiers died. The legend is that, um, the house is haunted with the ghosts of the dead soldiers from the Civil War and this was well-known throughout my neighborhood among the children, and whenever we passed by the house, we’d always get a little nervous or scared or excited, and, um, we would also play in the front yard. The front yard was quite large – a few acres – and it had beautiful boxwood plants, all around the front yard and we would, uh, play hide-and-seek in the front yard, and it had a creek that ran through the front yard along with trees, and it was a lot of fun to play in the front yard. We also played in the backyard, which consisted of grass and, uh, thick woods. We played in the woods. We didn’t play in the grass area of the backyard, and there were times when I had met other adults my age who had grown up in the same city and, uh, for whatever reason, once in a while we would, uh, talk about that haunted house and the other people would remember that as well – that they had grown up believing it was a haunted house as well.”

The informant describes a childhood folk belief about a haunted neighborhood house. He heard about this folk belief from his peers. They would play in the yards of the haunted house. Though they believed in the spooky legend, it seems as though they played in the surrounding areas to taunt the “ghosts” residing in the house. The neighborhood children freely played outside in nature and allowed their imaginations to consider the possibility of the existence of Civil War soldiers’ ghosts. However, context is important. The children played near the well-maintained house presumably during the daytime. So, the idea of ghosts probably seemed less scary. In addition, the house was not considered taboo or forbidden. In bright daylight they were able to entertain the thought of ghosts and treat it as a subject that was not so serious. Had they met up at the woods around a dilapidated house at nighttime, maybe their attitudes toward the legend would have changed.

Through this pastime of playing in the woods, the children were able to share the story of a neighborhood house. The legend of the house and their playing near it affected the young children so much so that later, they were able to recall this story in their adulthood. This memorable pastime seems to be a defining, shared characteristic of their respective childhoods. Thus, the story holds significance in intertwining personal, regional, and national histories.