Tag Archives: Farm

A Proverb From the South/Midwest

“Better than a stick in the eye”

This is a proverb that the informants mother used to repeat to describe something that happened that is only marginally good, usually to put life in perspective. That circumstances aren’t ideal, but that they could be worse. It’s similar to the phrase “better than nothing”. Her mother grew up near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois in the 40s-50s.

“Better than a stick in the eye”  is a reflection of resilience, perspective, and a pragmatic approach to life’s challenges valued by the community from which it came. It highlights values of endurance, gratitude, and humor as essential tools for navigating life’s ups and downs, deeply rooted in the personal, cultural, and historical context of the time and place from which it originates. Considering the historical context of the 1940s-50s in areas near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois, this proverb reflects the economic and social challenges of the time. Post-World War II America was a period of significant adjustment, with rural communities often facing economic hardships and societal shifts. It could also predate this time and originate further back to times like the great depression with even worse economic devastation. The saying may sum up the ethos of a generation accustomed to hard work, modest living, and finding contentment in stability rather than excess.

Christmas Tradition on the Family Ranch


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform any holiday rituals, this is what they performed. Important context to know is that their childhood home is a small ranch that has horses and other animals. They have a tight, upper-middle class family structure.


PL: Okay, Christmas, Christmas with the horses. So Christmas, our family, we have stockings and stuff, which are separate from the gifts. It honestly–it’s a separate thing on its own. That we have aside from giving gifts to each other. We have stockings from “Santa,” quote unquote.

PL: But Santa will supposedly come in the night via either a parents or honestly, recently, Fiona did it once–my sister–and she was like, “Damn, that took the magic out of it” when mom was like, helping me put the stockings up.

PL: But we’ll do that. And we’ll also we also have stockings for all of our cats on the–on the fireplace, their red stockings, fuzzy polyester with like white around the brim. And we have stockings that say each of our names and each of our cat’s names.

PL: And we’ll have stockings for when a family is visiting. We’ll have stockings for all of them. And we’ll get little toys, candies, stupid things like socks, small little stocking stuffers. And the cats will get treats and toys. And it’ll always be very equal distributed–distribution of like who gets what, and also in the barn. Have little stockings for the horses but we don’t have actual stockings with their names printed out on them that we put up. Instead, every Christmas morning, we’ll wake up and we’ll go outside and there will be little plastic stocking containers full of horse treats. Which is it’s a bought thing. It’s a bought thing like you buy it. But it’s cute, and it’s Christmassy and it’s a little stocking with full of horse treats that are little brown pellets of grain and dried fruit or something.

PL: And they’re red around the edges and they’re clear plastic and they’re hanging on the horses’ stalls.

[After a pause]

PL: Um, I believe I think we did have a chicken stocking. Duck and Shakira are my chickens. Yeah, well, were. Shakira died in a heatwave. No, Duck still lives, and we have more chickens out. Anyway. Um, but we did have. We did have a stocking and it had a it had a fresh container of blueberries, because their favorite is blueberries.


The Christmas traditions of stocking stuffing and hiding presents under the tree in the middle of the night under the guise of it being Santa are quite common in the United States. This informant being from the Midwest, it’s no surprise that these traditions are at the front of their mind when they think of their Christmas traditions.

What is most interesting to me, however, is how their traditions loop in the animals on their ranch. Their cats have their own stockings with their individual names sewn to them, and their horses and chickens get to join in the celebration regardless of their knowledge of the intricacies of the human tradition. This points towards how the notion of “family” is not simply confined blood relatives even in traditional Western family structures. Thus, the animals are afforded their own place in the folk tradition, as they are part of the family.

Keep that line green!

“Keep that line green!”

Genre: agricultural jargan

Source: My father– was born in Bakersfield, California in 1959 to a family of farmers and currently works in finance. 

Explanation/analysis: My Dad remembers this saying as one of many from his teenage years working on his family’s farm. During watermelon season, he remembers his childhood friends (and summer coworkers, and eventually all trojan brothers) yelling to “keep the line green”, encouraging the workers to work as fast as possible loading the watermelons from the fields to the trailer. The line refers to the visual green blur the watermelons created when thrown fast enough. He elaborates that in the tough heat and conditions the workers would form a passing line for each row “with 100 melons, in perfect unison” being thrown from one person to the next until it reached the final strong man standing in the trailer being pulled by a tractor. My dad notes that sayings like this kept morale high and encouraging joking and keeping their minds off the heat. 

Cow Tipping

“Basically, you run up to the cow and tip it over” -informant

Cow tipping is a hobby usually found in rural areas where cows are common. The idea is to surprise the cow and push it over, because it looks funny.

The informant tried to go cow tipping with her friends on a weekend up in rural California. However, she found that it is harder than it sounds, because cows are easily frightened and will run away if you run up to them. Furthermore, cows sleep lying down, so you can’t surprise them when they’re asleep. The informant, although disappointed that she could not successfully cow-tip, still had fun with her friends in the adventure. She learned about cow-tipping from back home in Washington, because she lives near rural areas where the custom is more popular.

I have heard of cow-tipping before, because my father grew up on a farm and told me about the custom. However, he also warned me that it is very dangerous, because cows are heavy and might try to kick you. I believe that I’ve seen cow-tipping in literature before as well. I feel a little bad for the cows who are tipped, because it sounds painful and annoying to get stuck on your side like that. I don’t think I would ever actually attempt to go cow-tipping, although it is kind of funny when you talk about it. I think it reflects the need of rural youth to find creative ways to entertain themselves, because they don’t have access to many of the distractions that are available in a city or even a suburb. It would be exciting to get in a little trouble and do something mischievous like cow-tipping, which probably would annoy the dairy farmers. I doubt that adult would partake in this custom, as it seems more suited to the humor of children and older youth.

Hypnotizing Chickens

“You like grab a chicken, lay it on the ground, hold it, so the chicken lays with its head on the ground. Chickens don’t have binocular vision so they can only see with one eye at a time. So one eye is down and one eye is up. You hold the chicken calmly, not in a mean way, and it lays there calmly and you wave your hand down and over it… round and round, up and down, over the eye… it’s like snake charming. You release. And the chicken will just lie there for minutes. It’s totally mesmerized. Someone showed me how to do this on a farm in eastern Oregon. And then I showed my sons when we were children. We went to an apple farm and I captured a loose chicken. People just do it for fun.”


The more I asked the informant about this practice, the more insistent he was that it was magic, but then his wife jumped in and said that the practice was not magical and it just disorients the chicken. She said it must have to do with biology. The informant was still insistent that it was magic.

At first glance, this seems like just a fun activity or a way to pretend to have magical powers. On the other hand, it is easy to see how it could serve a practical purpose, or maybe once served a purpose in the past. After all, the “hypnosis” calms down the animals, which might help a farmer round up some loose chickens or calm down a bunch of chickens who are running around and giving him or her trouble.