Monday, December 10, 2001

Types of Folklore I Collected


TYPES OF MATERIALS COLLECTED
for Alan Dundes' Folklore class


1.Proverbs

Work every day—Portuguese

Mouth/Rome—Portuguese

Shopping—Portuguese

Water/stone—Portuguese

Mouth shut—Portuguese

Commom/uncommon—Irish

Actions/words—American

Parsley/devil—Irish

babysitters/child—Russian

avanti/—Provencal



2. Place Name, Italy


3/. Song, Josephus

Dandle Rhyme, Albanian



4. Superstitions

step/graves

stumble/graves

walking/graves

shiver/graves

take my place in a grave

bird/house/death

stairs

dropped knife

extra plate

itchy palms

burning ears

shithooks



5 Folk Narrative

Rhiannon’s birds

Halloween

calendar custom

St. Joseph

Ding Dong Daddy

6 Folk Speech

8-ball

clean-up man

George (3)

I dunno

seat/feet

tea/pee

Foodways

Toofta

Irish bread

Friday, December 7, 2001

Folklore: Shivers = grave; Steal a seat = death


Genre: superstition, Irish and Irish-Scots
Neil O’Neill, male, 47
English-speaking Irish-Scots American
Lecturer, UC Berkeley
Dec 7, 2001
Collected in Oakland, CA (residence)

"Someone is walking on my/your grave."

and

“would you take my grave as quickly?" 


Neil O’Neil said, “My mother told me that when you got the shivers it meant that someone was walking on your grave.” His mother Beatrice lives in Scotland (b.1926), but is of Scots-Irish descent. 

Neil said, “I was probably about ten or eleven, it was 1962-63, somebody came in from the rain with wet clothes on, and they took them off to dry and they put on a sweater, and sat down by the fire and then, started shivering. That’s when my mother said it. She said her mother told her that when she was a kid in Johnstone [Scotland], and that it was an Irish saying.

Neil also said that if someone steals your seat in your absence, the reply would be: “would you take my grave as quickly?" 

Neil said, “I heard that at work, at CIBA Geigy, in Pasley, Scotland, in 1971. Jemima Watson, a co-worker, left her stool in the lab, I borrowed it, and she came back in and said to me, ‘Would you take my grave as quick?’ 

I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and she said, ‘You stole my chair!’ She was being light-hearted about it but I gave her back her chair. I thought it was an instance of black Scottish humor.”

Neil elucidated, “It’s about confusion, it’s about death. You’re stealing their chair, you’re taking their seat. It’s an extreme comparison. You won’t ever take their chair again. Think about the symbology of a seat, it’s one’s home, one’s life, one’s castle, and can represent position in society. You can compare it to Rosa Parks on the bus. It’s a subversion of someone else’s property. It’s a breach of social propriety, and it highlights a collision of ownership. Who owns what. That’s a direct relationship to the power relations between people in a given society.” 

What's interesting to me is that shivering is a sign of a future foreboding—that may or may not happen, God forbid. Shiver, and you might die, and cause your own death. 

And the stealing of one's seat also portends a future death. (And an implied curse). How many of us have reserved our seat position when we run to the loo, or called dibs on a free seat, or yell "I'm riding shotgun!" It's about hierarchy and pecking order as well.


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Tuesday, December 4, 2001

Folklore: Death Customs

Genre: Folk Narrative/ Belief, Celtic  (myself)
Rhiannon’s Birds whose enchanted song could
“wake the dead and make the living forget everything.”

The Christmas of 1956, I was five, my Irish-born grandmother, Jennie Walsh Reilly (b. 1893), broke with tradition and dragged home a bare madrone tree from up the hill instead of an evergreen Christmas tree, and decorated it with stuffed birds. The previous New Year’s Eve, my grandfather died, we left 131 Third Ave., San Francisco, and moved to the summer home in Forest Knolls, Marin Co., Ca.,

When we moved, it broke up our large three-generation family. Grandma said that my parents were divorcing, and I knew both my uncle Myles and my grandpa were dead of cancer.

I remember my grandpa standing at the front door, suitcase in hand, saying goodbye. I wanted to know where he was going. Uncle Myles went away and never returned. I was not ready for the answer of “heaven,” so I asked where else it was beside in the painted dome of the Star of the Sea church on Geary St. where I was baptized. He pointed up to the clouds in the blue sky and said something about angels. I was relieved when he didn’t ask me along with him.

Our first Christmas on our own, I wasn’t ready to let go of the idea of a real evergreen Christmas tree, so I trudged up the ridge in the rain and dragged home my own tree—a Douglas fir, more sprout than tree. We made another cross for the base and the two trees stood tied side by side, my tree was too weak to hold ornaments or lights, and the one angel we had placed on the tip, kept doing swan-dives off the top.

But the red-skinned madrone tree, with its lights, silver glass balls and songbirds, was strong enough to hold up the Christmas angel. So I climbed up the ladder and placed her at the crown of Grandma’s skeletal madrone tree. Her madrone tree was beautiful, with its bare branches, but it just didn’t feel right.

I remember she told me the reason why she used the stuffed birds on the tree, with a Welsh story of the queen-goddess Rhiannon’s Birds, and how their enchanted song could “wake the dead and make the living forget everything.” She said we were building a new life, starting with the bones of the tree. And the red-skinned madrone, peeling from the heat of the fireplace, showed us the heartwood under it—green with the promise of life to come in spring.

I believe my grandmother, out of grief, was acting unconsciously, and was unaware of the metaphoric significance of her actions in choosing the birds, but I was so upset, she had to come up with something to appease me. She believed that wild birds entering the house were a sure sing of death, but since death had already visited the house, perhaps it was projected inversion of sorts.

I was fiercely attached to tradition, even at five, I knew there were patterns for everything, and I must’ve thought bad things happened (death) because we’d broken a taboo of sorts and were being punished. Ann Ross in “Pagan Celtic Britain” (Academy Chicago Publishers, 1967), writes: “The birds of Rhiannon are associated with...the blissful Otherworld...where there is no death...or decay.” (p 288).



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes



Folklore: Foodways, saying, a food thief/ house sprite

Genre: Folk Saying/Foodways, Norwegian  (myself)
December 4, 2001
“Toofta took it”

Our next-door neighbor Agnes, in Forest Knolls, West Marin Co., Ca, was Norwegian-American and in the mid-1950s, when I was a young child, I learned many Norwegian customs from her. Agnes Haugen Vincilione, in her late 40s, was married to a sea captain, Lucien Vincilione, who was away at sea most of the year, and so to occupy herself, she took solace in the afternoon with bourbon on the rocks.

Whenever her drink got low, which it invariably did, she always blamed a Norwegian troll called Toofta, for stealing, or finishing her drink. Of course, this was an excuse to crack open the bourbon jug that was kept under the sink, to pour herself another drink, to raise her glass to Toofta and say, “Skol pifiskin,” (a salutation that means cheers/ health & fish!). Apparently Toofta had a powerful thirst. Since I was only five at the time, I thought Toofta was real, and though I tried to keep my eyes open for this thieving drink-napper, I never spotted him.

Agnes had an elder sister, Borg Haugen, who lived in San Jose; she visited every weekend and she too blamed Toofta for stealing things, not only drinks but food as well—especially Norwegian cookies. I knew Toofta had a sweet tooth and liked his bourbon, but not lutefisk (jellied fish). I imagined he looked like a leprechaun but stockier, because he was a troll; he dressed in Norwegian clothes.

Borg “adopted” me and I remember visiting the family home in Seattle. Borg and Agnes had two sisters, and a brother, Einer; it was a Norwegian-speaking household—their parents and uncle Otto didn’t speak any English. Janet and her retarded sister, Sally lived at the family summer home on Vashon Island, and Einer, in Seattle. They too blamed Toofta for missing things.

Though I was skeptical, Toofta stood a good chance of being more real than Santa Claus—whom I knew was a fraud, because a Santa was on every street corner in the City ringing bells at the same time. (Besides, he couldn’t fit down the stovepipe).

Toofta was especially busy during the holidays when there was baking to be done. We made krumkaker, a thin, rolled conical waffle with scrolled designs embedded in the wafer, which he seemed especially fond of; wreath-shaped spritz, and cardamom-flavored fatiman twists—which I hated the flavor of. As far as I was concerned, Toofta could have them all. Naturally, with his sweet tooth, Toofta took my first tooth, but he didn’t leave me a kroner.

When I was 9, Borg gave me a krumkaker iron she brought back from Norway, and 30 Christmaswa later, I’m still making krumkakers for my aunts & cousins. Since my family is Irish-American, it’s odd that we’ve picked up a Norwegian custom and adopted it as a family tradition A cousin insists that eating krumkaker is an integral part of her Christmas experience.



When I first collected this story in 2001, there was no information on Toofta. But in October, 2015, when I was writing about Marconi Oranges, I stumbled upon some bits that might be related to Toofta.

Toofta is an invisible wight (similar to our leipreachán), who has a fondness for screwdrivers and eggnog—is not in the internet, he's unlisted. Perhaps that's a good thing. He's a thief with a fondness for booze. Perhaps he's a Nisse, a Vittra (but they're plural social beings) or a singular entity, Tomte
"Other names are tuftekalltomtegubbe or haugebonde, all names connecting the being to the origins of the farm (the building ground), or a burial mound." 
Tomt means house, or farm loft.

What excites me is finding the word: tufte-kall. Toofta, is that you? He was associated with Christmas.... And perhaps Toofta was the Haugan's own personal wight. Haugkall means mound man... Think Harry Potter's house-elf, Dobbin.





KRUMKAKER RECIPE
(conical wafers that look like ice cream cones)

Melt 2 cubes (1 cup) sweet butter, cool

beat 4 eggs well with

1 cup sugar (vanilla sugar is best,

otherwise add 2 teaspoons vanilla; the alcohol will evaporate off. Don’t use water-based vanilla.)

Add egg/sugar mix to cooled butter

(watch out, because Toofta often sticks his fingers in the batter),

add 1 cup to 1 and 1/4 cups sifted flour, depending on the quality and moisture of the flour. Batter will be thick. You may thin with half and half cream, if necessary, but the addition of water-based liquid will adversely affect the outcome: the liquid turns to steam, and spoils the baking of the cookie, and the cookie won’t roll, nor will it stiffen up.)

Makes 12 to 15 cookies.

Heat krumkaker iron (it’s like a round waffle griddle) on a stove burner and grease the insides. Put 1 heaping teaspoon batter in the center of the sizzling iron (when a drop of water skittles across its inside surface, it’s ready) close iron with batter inside, in about 30 seconds turn iron over so the other sideof the cookie will brown too.

The first krumkaker will usually burn, but it’s for Toofta who doesn’t seem to mind burnt cookies. Throw the first krumkaker away. (Broken krumkaker are for Toofta too, or he breaks them, but they’re fine for us to eat them). When both sides of the krumkaker are browned (about a minute), remove it from the iron, and roll hot wafer around conical wooden rod to make into a cornucopia. Let cookie cool. The sugar will cool and the cookie will harden. (The cookies can also be rolled around a wooden spoon handle for flute shapes.)

Stack cookies in airtight containers, and on Christmas Eve., they can be hung on the tree as decorations but they get soft quickly. Cookies can also be dipped in chocolate or filled with strawberries and/or cherries and topped with whipped cream, or ice cream.

Krumkaker (which means crumbly cakes) are probably an ancestor of the rolled ice cream cone, but they are much more delicate. Unlike most cookies, they’re not baked, but fried on top of the stove. In olden times, they would’ve been made over a wood-burning stove, the griddle, or iron, and its stand, fit nicely over the round burner hole, when the stove lid is removed.

A stand isn’t necessary, but when you’re making dozens of krumkaker, it makes for an easier job as the iron is heavy (about 5 -8 lbs., and your wrist (and legs) get fatigued. The krumkaker irons come with many traditional patterns etched on their insides. I’ve included a rubbing of one design and a drawing of the krumkaker iron and wooded cone on the next page.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Folklore: Irish Soda Bread Recipe

IRISH SODA BREAD

Nollaig na nBan

JENNIE WALSH REILLY, 1893-1987, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, Ireland
(as taught to her granddaughter, Maureen Hurley, 1952— in Forest Knolls)

PRE ASSEMBLY:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Melt 2/3 cup of shortening (butter/margarine; or Saffola oil mix—melt butter, pour into measuring cup, add enough oil to make 2/3 cup). Let it cool to room temperature.

Grease up two bread pans (Grandma saved butter wrappers to grease pans; or use oil).

More traditional: use heavy round cast iron frying pans (like a griddle) or a Dutch oven for a thicker crust. (If you’re camping or cooking over a hearth fire, then a Dutch oven with lid is necessary. Preheat lid in the peat fire.) Coat greased pans with flour. Knock extra flour into large mixing bowl. Set aside.

DRY INGREDIENTS:

In a large mixing bowl, take 5 and a half cups to 6 cups flour (part of the mixture can be made up of 1 to 2 cups of whole wheat and/or coarsely ground oatmeal flour* can be substituted. Use a coffee grinder to grind the oats—or you can just add large handfuls of quick cooking oats. Don’t use old fashioned steel cut oats, they won’t soften up enough—you’ll break your teeth. Total flour should be about 6 cups).

1 level teaspoon baking soda, or bicarbonate of soda (use box edge or knife to level it). If you don’t have baking powder, add a pinch of cream of tartar to baking soda and increase baking soda by 1/2.

3-4 level teaspoon baking powder (depends upon strength/brand of baking powder / sourness of buttermilk).

2 tablespoons sugar (Great-Aunt Kitty used more sugar; veritable wars were fought over correct family recipes).

1 teaspoon salt

OPTIONAL:

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (Grandma used the hollow of her hand to measure).

1/4 to 1/2 cup currants or raisins (with raisins, it’s often called Irish freckle bread, or spotted dog).

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly until raisins are coated with flour.

WET INGREDIENTS:

In a small mixing bowl, beat 2 extra-large fresh eggs, mix together with

2/3 cup of shortening (butter or margarine or oil) and

2 cups fresh buttermilk (use greased shortening cup & buttermilk won’t stick!or just use a 1/2 quart). Mix well. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can sour 2 cups of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Add sour cream or yogurt to thicken it.

ASSEMBLY:

Make a well in dry flour mix, pour in buttermilk/egg mix. Mix dough quickly using a spatula to fold ingredients. You want them mixed, but barely moistened. Don’t stir it too hard or gluten will develop and your bread will be tough. Mixture should be lumpy, on the dry side, not soupy. Add more flour if necessary.

Divide dough into two portions and put into two greased, floured pans. If you’re using cast iron pans, cut a large X in middle to divide loaf into four quarters, or farls “to let the fairies out.” This X is often called St. Brighid’s Cross. Brighid was the pagan goddess of the hearth, cattle, and abundance who was later made into a Catholic saint as she was a central mythological figure. Paint top of bread with butter (optional).

Scones can also be made from Irish bread mix. Fashion a round loaf and cut into 6 or 8 farls (St. Catherine’s wheel) and baked in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes. The main thing to remember, that for a tender, crunchy soda bread, is to barely mix the ingredients and handle dough as little as possible.

Soda reacts immediately to wet ingredients. So don’t blather on, you need to get the dough into the hot oven as soon as possible! Bake bread on top shelf of oven at 450° for 15 minutes; lower heat to 350° to 375° for 45 minutes to an hour. When knife (or broom straw—use the clean, top portion of the straw, not the part that sweeps the floor!) comes out clean and bread is golden, the bread is ready. Remove bread from pans or the crust will soften. Bottom of bread should sound hollow like a drum when struck. Cut bread into generous portions and serve piping hot with Irish butter and marmalade or homemade blackberry jam for afternoon tea.



*HISTORY:

With the introduction of chemical leavening—baking soda—in the early 19th century, the housewife’s chore of baking the daily barmbrack bread with yeast was reduced from an overnight chore to that of a couple of hours. It was a smash success story. The use of oats in leavened bread (yeasted bread was introduced by the Normans) dates back to the days when wheat flour was a highly taxed luxury item shipped off to Elizabethan England. All that was left for the Irish peasantry to eat was oats and potatoes, which the landed English aristocracy didn’t fancy.

However, the Celts (and the Irish) have traditionally baked flat, unleavened oatmeal cakes on iron griddles for over 2000 years. In the Táin Bó Cualinge, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, the mythological superhero, Cuchulainn ground his oats in a traditional stone quern, baked the cakes on an iron griddle, and took the toasted oatcakes to battle.

So you could say that the basis for Irish bread has its roots in Irish antiquity. The Irish preferred to bake rounded breads on hot griddles over peat coals. Sometimes potatoes (introduced from Latin America by Sir Walter Raleigh, AKA Reilly in the 16th century), were slipped into the coals to bake in their jackets. A grand meal could be had of potatoes, great gobs of Irish butter and sea salt, a farl Irish bread—all washed down with kettles of sweetened black tea with cream, hot off the hob.


(This was an an addendum page of a foodways custom I had collected.)

UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes


Folklore: Foodways/ How to make Irish Soda Bread

Genre: Folk saying/narrative/ Foodways, Irish Maureen Hurley
English-speaking Irish-American
December, 4, 2001


“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” “two people, three opinions,”
or how to make Irish soda bread without WW III erupting.


The tradition of making Irish soda bread in my family for guests has its roots in Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, southern Ireland, where my ancestors made it in over a turf fire in a Dutch oven. According to my grandmother, Jennie Walsh Reilly (b. 1893), who raised me in San Francisco, and later in Forest Knolls, Ca. (in the ‘50s), serving Irish soda bread and piping hot tea to guests was an absolute must, no matter what.

Because there is a correct procedure in which to make it, there was always plenty of contention among my grandmother’s sisters, Peig and Ceit, as to the proper sugar/ fat/ leavening ratio. My grandmother would frequently retort, “too many cooks spoil the broth,” or more rarely, “two people, three opinions.” 

The purists wouldn’t use baking powder, only soda (I remember when my grandmother began to use baking powder, a big concession), some were guilty of over sugaring the dough. Another (God forbid!) used Crisco (taboo) instead of butter. 

How three sisters, who got this recipe from their mother—and who quickly followed each other to the United States, each bringing the next sibling out the following year in the “teens”—could have developed such radical variations in making soda bread, is baffling. Whenever one visited the other, either arguments erupted whenever soda bread was served, or snide remarks about its lack of merit, were muttered under breath. I suspect that the brouhaha had something to do with maintaining tradition and issues of proper Celtic hospitality customs. 

I tend to think my grandmother’s recipe is the correct one as she was the eldest daughter, and so learned it first. Her eldest daughter, my aunt Jane (73), has also changed the recipe; she insists it’s the correct one, that mine is wrong (but I have it in my grandmother’s spidery handwriting.) But arguments still flare up whenever the recipe’s mentioned. Jane uses too much baking powder and too much sugar. 

I bet some of the disagreement had to do with the fact that baking powder is a New World invention, and that using baking soda would be more authentic. (But according to food historians, baking soda wasn’t used in cooking until a couple hundred years ago. My grandmother said they substituted wood ash if they didn’t have baking soda). 

My grandmother said caraway was a necessary ingredient—something to do with ancestors and the returning of the sun. For that reason, it’s also called Irish freckle bread. There were always plenty of people wanting my grandmother’s recipe for Irish bread. Whenever there’s a party or a Celtic event at UCB, I’m pressed upon to bring my soda bread. 

When we went through my father’s things after he died 7 years ago, we found my grandmother’s handwritten recipe, she had given him during a rare visit, some 30 years before, carefully tucked away beneath the car visor flap. What was odd, was that the recipe, which was used (it had fat stains), was obviously transferred to his new car and we know he was on at least his third or fourth car. Why he carried the recipe there, we haven’t a clue.





THE CORRECT WAY TO MAKE JENNY WALSH REILLY’S IRISH SODA BREAD



An hour and a half before guests arrive, measure
2 and 1/2 cups unbleached white bread flour
(you may also substitute a little stone-ground whole wheat flour
and/or a 1/2 cup of oat flour for extra nuttiness; but grind it in a coffee grinder first.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it isn’t damp)
1 scant tablespoon sugar

Mix dry ingredients together.
add 1/2 cup raisins, or currants, but coat them well with flour so they won’t sink to the bottom
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)


Preheat oven to 400° and grease a small 6˝ to 8˝ round cast-iron skillet with butter, douse it liberally with flour so the bread won’t stick.

In another bowl, mix together:
1/3 cup melted butter, or oil (but dough will be wetter, add more flour)
1 beaten extra large egg
1 cup good quality fresh tart buttermilk; don’t use the synthetic stuff

Pour wet ingredients into flour mixture. Work very quickly as the soda reacts with the buttermilk to create the gas which gives this bread its loft. Fold ingredients gently with a spatula or spoon until just barely moistened. Mixture should be very stiff and dry. Don’t develop gluten by overstirring, otherwise it will be tough. 

Flip dough into skillet so that it’s nicely heaped up. Don’t pat it smooth. It should look like a craggy mountain. With a greased knife, cut the sign of the cross for the Savior or St. Brighid (four farls) on it, and immediately place it on the top shelf of the 400° oven. Bake 15 minutes at 400°; reduce head to 350°; bake for 45 minutes, or until done when an inserted knife (or clean broom straw) comes out clean. (Option: drizzle top of bread with melted butter and sprinkle surface with rolled oats before baking.) Makes one loaf.

 Recipe may be successfully doubled, but use slightly less less baking powder or it will taste metallic. (This is also true of your buttermilk isn’t up to snuff; the tarter, the better.)

Invert the loaf onto breadboard, let it rest a few minutes before serving. Bring to the table wrapped in a clean tea towel and serve farls slathered with generous portions of butter and jam, and gallons of piping hot tea with cream and sugar. (A drop or two of whiskey for the tea is optional).





See Irish Soda Bread Recipe too. UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Sunday, December 2, 2001

Interpretation of Fairy tales, von Franz


Maureen Hurley Dec. 2, 2001
Anthro. 160A  Prof. Dundes

INTERPRETATION OF FAIRY TALES
Marie Louise von Franz
© 1970, Spring Publications, Dallas, TX

In selecting a text to read for a book report for this Folklore class, I read several books, including Henry Glassie’s “Irish Folk History,” and Vance Randolph’s “Pissing in the Snow,” both great collections of folk narrative, but I chose Dr. Marie Louise von Franz’s Interpretation of Fairy Tales because it represented an old albatross around my neck—a text I had tried to read when it was first released, but I failed—miserably.

Why I am discussing my relationship to the book is that I have folklore attached to it, and I wished to explore why the information in this classic text eluded me. I wish to slay an albatross. I will begin with a discussion about my previous relationship to the text and apply what I have learned in hindsight.

In the 1970s, I was a visual artist, interested in imagery and the subconscious. What was popular at the time was Jungian dream imagery. When I was in my 20s, I passively read the text, I hadn’t yet learned to actively engage in dialogue with the author—to look for and to challenge basic—if not hidden—assumptions. Call it subtext. Someone once said: “Your college education is a success if you graduate with shit detectors intact.” 

My former employer, Jungian enthusiast and occultist, Alice Kent (Kentfield, Marin), was an acquaintance of von Franz’s, and she often cited Jung’s ideas on dreams and personality structures. Some of it made sense, but I didn’t seem to have the cultural map to comprehend it. 

I dearly loved fairy tales (and folksongs) and wanted to know more about them. Von Franz’ text merely reinforced my feelings of inadequacy: I didn’t GET it. (It would be another 10 years before I was diagnosed with dyslexia; but by then, ever the auto-didact, I’d pulled myself up by my bootstraps and had become a literate omnivore). 

This was during the seminal era of what was later to be dubbed, “The New Age.” I was dissatisfied with the popular culture gurus: Joseph Campbell, Robert Graves, Fritz Perls—I felt cheated but I didn’t know why. And there’s the rub. And now, revisiting von Franz’s book some 30 years, later, I find myself better able to argue with many of von Franz’s basic tenants: especially Jung’s theory of collective unconscious, and on women’s roles.

Dr. von Franz, a student of Jung’s, delivered a series of lectures at the Carl Jung Institute in 1963. The bulk of Interpretation of Fairy Tales was transcribed from seminar notes; the book is divided into six sections including theories of fairy tales, myths and archetypes, psychological interpretation, and three case interpretations of a fairy tale, “The Three Feathers.” In 1970, Von Franz added an essay on shadow, animus and anima, and a bibliography, plus a spurious transcript of an interview.

It is difficult to determine who Dr. von Franz’ s audience is: whether her primary impetus is to defend a much maligned Jung, to offer analytical tools to Jungian psychologists, or to interpret fairy tales themselves as folklore. Who is her audience? Popular culture (the lay student), or psychologists? 

I found that as a folklore student, though there were ideas that enraged me, I couldn’t dismiss her work out of hand. There is material that is of use to the folklore student interested in collecting European fairy tales—specifically on the Germanic marchen.

In Interpretation of Fairy Tales, Dr. Von Franz begins with the impulses of how/why a fairy tale originates, and its function. Hero as abstract stereotype, tale teaches a moral lesson. 

What I found useful is her deconstruction of fairy tales into discrete units with diagrams. And her exploration of fairy tale tropes; for example: weak king, three sons, no rightful heir apparent. Which prince is best suited? Three tasks. Denial of task by elder sons, but youngest/dumbest wins kingdom, girl, etc. Uses of magic feather, ball, sphere to lead youngest son to the underworld. Missing functions and the seeking of balance between primal powers—whether it be fertility, masculinity/femininity, etc.

Dr. von Franz discusses how, when she doesn’t understand a fairy tale, she uses myth as parallels “because the greater closeness to consciousness of the myth material” gives her an idea about the meaning. (p. 18). 

She strongly advocates using as many variants of a fairly tale as possible, to understand their meaning, and in her bibliography, she lists Sith Thompson’s Tale Type indexes (but dislikes the cryptic annotation). She writes that myth is rooted in cultural context, and how it is “integrated into the body of conscious knowledge of that nation.” (p. 19).

I was fascinated with her discussions of various motifs. But when she tracks motifs from different cultures, and symbolically grafts them onto a tale from another culture—it is interesting but I would be wary of her synopses because, as she rightly points out, symbolism is a highly idiosyncratic classification system that varies from person to person and culture to culture. 

This stance is ironic in that she (rightly) lambastes the likes of Robert Graves and Joseph Campbell for being generalists. (The “everything is related to everything” theory.) With that in mind, unfortunately, one gets a whiff of the dirty laundry between Jung and the popular icons of the times, and of the rivalry between Jung and Freud than to folklore itself.

I am reminded of poet Bob Hass’ line from “Meditation at Lagunitas” (written ca. 1970), where he warns the poet against the danger of generalization: “each specific erases from the clarity of a general idea.” 

My criticisms of von Franz’s Interpretation of Fairy Tales revolve around the weakest link of Jung’s theory—that of a common collective unconscious. In order to maintain the late Jung’s pandemic generalism, she often forces her many sound insights into another kettle of fish, thin and they lose something in the process Von Franz compounds this flaw by using a Germanic cultural map for all European (and by extension, world) culture.

As a non Anglo-Saxon, I find some of her statements exclusionary. What about non Indo European cultures? For example, she uses the motifs of the king’s white horse and fog as symbols of Wotan/death, and giantesses washing clothes/weather.

 In Celtic mythology white horses are not Wotan’s symbolic transporting the dead to Valhalla, they are a sacral regnal representation and fertility rite of the great horse goddess, Rigatona/Epona/Rhiannon as kingmaker. 

This motif is annotated in Gerald of Wale’s 12th century account of visiting Ireland. Fog is a Celtic trope of entering the Otherworld, and animals with red hair, ears are Otherworld beings. These motifs are warnings that the hero is out of his element.

Finally, though this is a minor point of contention, at the other end of the spectrum, von Franz claims as a German custom, at midsummer festivals “throughout the Germanic agricultural region, people roll the fiery wheels down the mountains....(p. 115). 

In that my great-grandfather practiced this custom in Co. Cork, Ireland, during the 1860s to the 1890s, I would suggest that this is an Indo-European custom, not Germanic (or Swiss). I point these details to suggest that one should read her text with a critical, if jaundiced, eye and not to take her hypotheses at face value, though they do offer an insight into the German psyche as to the interpretation of Germanic fairy tales.

Von Franz makes some interesting remarks about Hitler’s inadequate psychic map, and post W.W.II Germany. But she doesn’t go far enough, as if she were afraid to delve in too deep. And I think her basic assumptions on women’s roles and desires, are off the old patronymic map. In several passages, von Franz often doesn’t distinguish whether she’s referring to fictitious women in fairly tales or to real women of the 1960s. A minor detail, but a wrong reading profoundly changes the context by which to read /interpret her ideas.

In her final essay on shadow, anima and animus, Dr. von Franz suggests that modern woman retains certain negative “animus” traits, and is unintegrated and therefore, is dissatisfied. But von Franz neglects to mention that fairy tales she cites as psychic templates were composed by men centuries earlier. Therefore the relatively few fairly tales about women are indeed exceedingly negative in nature—as their function was to ensure that women remained pliable and docile and unopinionated within the confines of a society long since gone. 

Ironically, if one were to hypothetically apply some of her observations onto herself, she too might be classified as “negative animus.” It would have been interesting if Von Franz had broadened her lens to include some of the studies of women’s roles during the 1970s when she compiled this manuscript, and again when she amended the book in 1978, instead of leaving it chained to the albatross of 1950s philosophy. 

 In revisiting this text, I discovered my own metaphoric albatross was merely an overweight, flightless seagull paddling around within the confines of a small pond after all.







Folklore: Superstition, Law of 3


Genre: Proverb/Superstition, British (myself)
December, 2, 2001

“Parsley goes nine times to the devil.”

My grandmother, Jennie Walsh Reilly (born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland, emigrated to California in 1919), who raised me in Forest Knolls, West Marin, Ca., had relatively few active superstitions for an Irish Catholic woman but this proverb was repeated several times on a yearly basis—especially to the parsley pot outside the kitchen door. My grandmother had trouble sowing the parsley and often roundly cursed it.

I first heard this proverb when I was quite young, during the 1950s (she was in her late 70s), but it wasn’t until I was a teenager before I thought to ask her what it meant. She explained that parsley was such a difficult herb to grow from seed, sometimes she’d have to sow it as many as three to five times before it sprouted. 

She never had such rotten luck as to have to sow it nine times though. I wasn’t sure what the devil had to do with it and the idea of him prowling around to have a look at our parsley was a daunting proposition. However, she did hide the pot away from view, “to keeps the cats from taking a snooze (or a shit) in the pot,” she’d explain. 

When the parsley sprouted, we’d chew on some of the leaves and she’d always tell me how “parsley was good for the heart.” She said that she must’ve learned the proverb in Bantry Bay, Ireland, where she most likely heard it from her mother (but she wasn’t sure), on their family farm, Coomb an nOr (Hill of gold). 

In the “Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs,” J.A. Simpson, ed. (Oxford, 1982), A terminus ante quem is suggested for “Parsley goes nine times to the devil.” as it is first notated in 1658 in Memes & Smith, “Wit Restored (34), “There is as saying in the North Riding of Yorkshire that the weed [parsley] before it’s borne nine times the devil sees.” (p 193). I would add that the ritual use of 9 (3 x 3) is a significant compound of the Indo-European Law of Three.

I don’t think my grandmother believed the devil was withering her parsley with his malevolent gaze, because the cats usually got blamed for it. Or she’d note that she either over watered the seeds or forgot to water them. She rarely indulged in evoking superstitions, she thought they were, nonsense; she was terribly practical for a Victorian Irish woman. I think her goal was to be an active bearer of the oral tradition and I was the intended recipient. 

She often said, of all her “children” (though I was her eldest-born granddaughter), I was the most like her in temperament. And she was forever filling my head with stories of the ancient Celts. I grew up in a divided world: I learned Irish history at home, and an Anglo-British version of history in school. Often the two didn’t correspond. Later, when I studied anthropology and epic literature in college, I discovered most of her stories proved to be true.


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes




Folklore: Charm to ward off bad luck


Genre: Proverb/charm, Provençal?  (myself) 

December, 2, 2001

Avanti, avanti, maleficium defense
(avantee, avantee mal-le feecee-ium defance)
out out evil protect Out, out evilness, and protect (me?)
honi soit qui male pense. let there be no thoughts which are bad.
(oni swoa kay mal-ee pance)
it that bad and thought


I first learned the proverb from a former boyfriend, poet John Oliver Simon (b. 1942), of Berkeley, Ca., ca. 1982. He used “Avanti” as a preventative magic superstition charm to ward off evil. The first time he used it was when he ritually smudged his house with sage to purify it ca. 1982, and another time, when we were in San Cristobál de las Casas, Chíapas, México, in the mid-’80s, during the New Age event, the Harmonic Convergence, touted by José and Ivan Argüelles.

But instead of harmony, it was as if the dead and the devils were truly on the rampage. While hiking, we met a gringa (American) who had been raped, and someone else was just murdered on the trail we were on....we were too close to the underbelly of the world.

The night of the so-called Convergence, I had nightmares that the dead were after me, and I kept waking up, screaming my lungs out, with my hands in the aura where their ghostly green presence was. After my third nightmare, John felt the need to purify us. He said “Avanti” was an old Provençal proverb from the Middle Ages, and he’d successfully used it as a charm for 20 years.

Still I was haunted, so we gave up the idea of sleep, climbed onto the roof and sat back-to-back with our elbows interlocked and chanted the charm as we watched the stars while waiting for dawn to arrive.

When I described the strange dead woman who visited me in my dreams that night, John said he recognized her; I’d described how she dressed, demonstrated how she stood, hand on hip, pointing to John. She had a message for him, but I couldn’t make it out. He said, “That’s Mickela, in Berkeley. Something’s happened.” I hadn’t a clue who Mikela was.

But next morning, a telegram arrived from the poet Alta, John’s former wife: Mikela died that night. The first apparition was a friend of mine, poet Dave Evans,—I wondered why he was in my dream.

When I returned home to the States months later, I learned Dave Evans had died that week of a heart attack. The third apparition was demonic, perhaps Jaguar & it wanted me. My Irish grandmother had the gift of the Second Sight, I’d dreamt of the deaths of Borg Haugen, and a poet-friend Boschka Layton, (sister of Donald Sutherland, & wife of poet Irving Layton), but I never dreampt of someone I didn’t know, and for another person. I’ve no explanation for it, as I don’t tend to place much stock in it. However, if I’m in a tight situation, I will say “Avanti.”

In an attempt to track down the origin of this proverb, I asked far and wide, to no avail, I couldn’t even get anyone to help me translate it. I was told it was medieval Provençal, but how could I prove it? It kept niggling at me. I knew this proverb from somewhere else, but where?

The only clue I had to go by was the 1994 movie, “The Madness of King George,” the king wears blue ribbons (the Order of the Garter) around his calves with the proverb printed on them. So I began to think of knights, and a UC Berkeley linguist, Renee Perelmuttter, said, “Isn’t that from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? He wears it on his girdle to remind himself of his foolishness. And then all the knights wore girdles too.”

Then I began to harbor some anatomical worries. Seething like Malvolio at cross-purposes with his garters, I pondered: why did they confuse girdles which presumably go around a man’s waist, to garters, which hold up one’s stockings around the calf or thigh?

The last line in the 1959 Penguin edition of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” indeed ends with: “HONY SOYT QUI MAL PENCE” (p 125). It is not in most of the Sir Gawain tales. I looked at 5 other tales. This particular version of Sir Gawain comes from the 14th c. Cotton Collection MS, Nero Ax, in the British Museum. A footnote revealed: “The conjunction of the green baldric and the motto of the Order of the Garter; but that order was founded by Edward III, in about 1347...” It went on to say that the Green Knight was originally associated with the Order of the Bath. And “Ritual purification of knights by bathing appears to have been practiced by the English as long ago as the 11th c.” Henry IV formalized the Order in 1349. So we have a terminus ante quem of the early to mid-14th c; and a possible 11th c. source. Since the story Sir Gawain is a Romantic reworking of an older Celtic tale (it first appears in the Ulster Cycle, in the 12th c. MS, Leabhar nahUidre), further research into Medieval French courtly poetry is required to see if I can locate the first line of the proverb.


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Folklore: Sign Superstition/ Birds/ Death

Genre: Superstition/Folk Saying, Celtic  (myself)  December, 2, 2001
“A bird flying into the house
was to let death come into the house.”


My grandmother, Jennie Walsh Reilly (born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland, emigrated to California in 1919), who raised me in Forest Knolls, West Marin, Ca., had a few Irish superstitions about death. One was, “A bird flying into the house lets death come into the house.”

Since we lived in the country, and she usually left both the kitchen and front doors open in good weather, we often had winged visitors, including the wild towees that clustered like small chickens at the kitchen door to peck at the toast crumbs.

The first time I remember her telling me this death superstition was when a brown towee flew into the house. I was about six years old in the mid-50s. Since it was usually up to me to catch and release the birds before the cats spotted them, it was a time of great excitement, so I wasn’t too worried about the idea of portending death.

But later, when several deaths did occur after birds flew into the house, or banged against the windows, I began to sit up and take notice, filing the idea away for future reference....to test the hypothesis. I sensed the type of bird that entered the house also mattered by intensity of degree, but I couldn’t say why. Towees and bluejays were lower on the totem pole, a woodpecker or a wren had more significance. Ravens were the war goddess, the Morrígan’s own doomsday birds.

A variation of the bird coming into the house was when a bird tapped its beak or banged against a window—it didn’t matter whether it was inside or outside the house—it also portended a coming death. The combination of a bird entering the house and knocking were both omens of death signals. If my grandmother was wakened by the sound of knocking at night, she said it was a sure sign of death.

She’d wait for the bad news with resignation. And usually within the week or two, a letter would arrive from Ireland or California announcing the death of someone in the family. After the third time it happened, whenever a bird entered the house, I’d get goose bumps.

This is a sign superstition in that the event is our control. According to J.H. Brunvand in “The Study of American Folklore,” (Norton, 1966), “Superstitious death and funeral customs (category VII) reflect our fear of all things associated with death. A bird flying into the house...signs that were once widely regarded as sure omens of a coming death in the house...” (p. 387). Venetia Newall in “Discovering the Folklore of Birds & Beasts” (Herefordshire, Shire Publications 1946)writes that many birds, especially the owl, represents misfortune and death. (pp. 46-47). Ann Ross in “Pagan Celtic Britain,” (Academy Chicago Publishers, 1967), writes: “There are many references in [ancient] Irish literature to the drawing of omens from birds.....Evil is also divined in the flight of birds.” (p 329). The raven, the Irish war bird, was the most evil bird of all.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes



Friday, November 30, 2001

Folklore Parody song to tune of Auld Lang Syne


Genre: Folk Song (parody?)
Mike Tuggle, male, 60s
poet and painter
American, born in Oklahoma
Nov 30, 2001
Cazadero CA (residence)


JOSEPHUS & BOHUNKUS
(Sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne)

There was a father had two sons
and these two sons were brothers.
Josephus was the name of one,
Bohunkus was the other.

Now these two boys to college went
for reasons quite specific.
Josephus was religious bent
Bohunkus, scientific.

Now these two boys are dead and gone.
Long may their ashes rest.
Josephus of the cholera died.
Bohunkus, by request.


I first heard Mike Tuggle sing this song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, at a poetry reading he was giving in 1980, in Sonoma County, Ca. Since then, I have heard him sing it at dozens of readings; it’s become somewhat of a trademark of his. And though I’ve sung the song to many others over the years, no one else seems to have heard of it, nor is it in any of my songbooks including my Irwin Silber Songbook, and my Alan Lomax folk song collections.

Mike said that his father taught it to him when they lived in Oklahoma, and that it was passed down through the family. Mike is Irish-American and Cherokee descent. He thinks it’s a folk history of sorts, modeled after a real event. I agree. I think there was also a middle verse with mules too.

I like to sing the song, because there’s more of it than first meets the eye. Even though it has a biting, moral tone, it offers an interesting world view. Given that the song is at least 75 to 100 years old, it refers back to an earlier era, perhaps the early 1800s, and the idea of both brothers going to college would have seemed unusual (and expensive) for midwesterners. (It turns up as a college song in at least two midwestern colleges).

It doesn’t strike me as a particularly eastern song, it seems to fit within the cowboy lament genre, even though one brother is a scientist and the other, a preacher/scholar. And the fact that they’re cremated seems a bit fantastic. Most songs—laments of the funereal genre, like The Streets of Loredo—tend to have coffins and graves in them. I like the irony of the last stanza, whether they were good or bad, they both still died in the end.

NB (7/2104): With a little sleuthing (the internet 13 years later is fantastic: this piece was collected and researched in the pre -Google era!)  I later found variants of the ditty in several collections, but Mike's version, handed down to him by his father in the early 1940s, is older, by far—which makes his verified collection date from around 1915, and if it was handed down in the family from his grandfather (25 years = a generation), that dates the song back to the 1890s, easy. 

Cholera arrived to America in the early 1900s via the port of New York City; arriving in 1849 with the Irish coffin ships. President Polk died of cholera in 1849. The thing that gets to me is that the bodies were burned. Not a normal practice—unless there was an outbreak of cholera or the plague. Cremation became popular in the late 1850s after major cholera epidemics. There was another major cholera outbreak in 1890.

Josephus and Bohunkus are definitely not Irish names. Josephus is Biblical while Boohunkus sounds like secular slang—like Hunkie. So how did these tow polar opposites meet up? Sacred and profane?

Mudcat also has early references to the Grimes version dating back to the 1920s. Last entry at bottom of page has this: Roud #764, Albert G. Greene, said to be the author of the ballad of " Old Grimes," in the 1822, a fugitive poem circulating in the oral tradition that went rogue when it met up with Bohunkus. Reference: Brown III 321, "Josephus and Bohunkus" (2 texts plus a fragment). Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 83-84, "Bohunkus" (1 text). Recorded by Ernest V. Stoneman, "Josephus and Bohunkus" (Victor, unissued, 1927). 

In the oldest documented version I could find online, at Missouri State Ozark Folksong Collection, both verses are there but Josephus and Bohunkus have swapped places. But Josephus is a Biblical name…he's the good guy. Cain & Abel.


Collected by Parler Dick Upton, West Memphis, Ark. Mark Williamson, Little Rock; Lem McCrary, Lonoke, Ark. Phillip Purifoy, Texarkana, Ark. 
January 14, 1960, Reel 356, Item 5 

Bohunkus

There was a farmer had two sons,
And these two sons were brothers,
Bohunkus was the name of one,  (swapped lines)
Josephus was the others.

Now these two boys had suits of clothes 
And they were made for Sunday,
Bohunkus wore his every day,
Josephus his on Monday.

Now these two boys to the theater went
Whenever they saw fit,
Bohunkus in the gallery sat,
Josephus in the pit.

Now these two boys are dead and gone,
Long may their ashes rest.
Bohunkus of the cholera died, (swapped lines)
Josephus by request.

Now these two boys their story told,
And they did tell it well,
Bohunkus he to heaven went,
Josephus he to_____.



But only the first stanza is similar.

VERSE 1
There was a man, he had two boys (sons)
An' these two boys were brothers
Josephus, was th name of one
Bohunkus was the other

Cat. #0658 (MFH #332) - As sung by Reba Dearmore, Mountain Home, Arkansas on January 7, 1969

Ironically a similar second stanza was collected in Santa Rosa.

VERSE 6 (Grimes' two sons)
Now these two boys are dead an' gone
They now are laid to rest    (Long may their ashes rest)
Bosephus died for want of bread  (Bo-Josephus of the cholera died)
Bohunkus by request
Bohunkus by request

Cat. #1474 (MFH #332) - As sung by Bill Ping, Santa Rosa, California on September 20, 1972


Apparently, a variant sendup of it is also the song of Ohio State University.
It's also printed in Dirty Work at the Crossroads p. 49 (1969) with a Yale twist that dates back to 1882.

Mudcat: From Yale Songs, compiled and edited by Frank B. Kellogg* and Thomas G. Shepard (New Haven, Conn.: Shepard & Kellogg, 1882), page 43:
BOHUNKUS

1. There was a farmer had two sons,
And these two sons were brothers.
Bohunkus was the name of one.
Josephus was the other's.

2. Now, these two boys had suits of clothes,
And they were made for Sunday.
Bohunkus wore his every day;
Josephus his on Monday.

3. Now, these two boys to the theatre went,
Whenever they saw fit.
Bohunkus in the gallery sat;
Josephus in the pit.

4. Now, these two boys are dead and gone.
Long may their ashes rest!
Bohunkus of the cholera died;
Josephus, by request.

5. Now, these two boys their story told,
And they did tell it well.
Bohunkus, he to heaven went;
Josephus he to—Sing-sing. (was opened in 1826)

More Mudcat parodies here. Roud Index lists a dozen entries  (No.6360), all from the USA or Canada, with titles like Josephus and Bohunkus, Bohunkus, Old Grimes is Dead.

So I'm sticking with my 1849 cholera epidemic theory. Who was Bohunkus, anyway? A parallel song to Old Grimes. Fodder for another day.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Thursday, November 22, 2001

Folklore: Superstition, Unexpected Guests/ Hospitality/ Luck


Genre: Custom/ Superstition Irish-American? (myself)
To set an extra place at the table during a feast
because it might attract an unexpected guest
(what is implied, an unexpected guest brings good luck).

I first remember observing the custom of setting an extra plate for the unexpected guest in the late 1950s when I was eight or nine years old—for Thanksgiving dinner. Because my grandmother who raised me, (Jennie Walsh Reilly, born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland), had a large family of eight children—with children of their own.

Thanksgivings were a huge affair with my cousins at the little table, and aunts and uncles & spouses galore at the big table. It was a madhouse of some 20-30 people, plates and chairs, all crowded in to the dining room & adjoining living room. How we were supposed to fit an extra guest in, I wasn’t sure. But we always set an extra plate, just in case—and invariably an unexpected guest arrived at the door just as we all sat down

My grandmother would always be the last one to sit down at the head of the table. It was almost as if she were waiting for that extra place to be filled before she sat down. She’d stall until we all got upset and demanded that she sit down. I’m not sure how I arrived at the idea that an uninvited guest arriving during the holiday was considered to be good luck. I just “knew” it, probably because when someone did arrive unannounced, my grandmother would welcome him with excitement and happiness (especially if it was a tall, dark, handsome man).

I suspect that this custom held some elements of a Celtic hospitality custom. My grandmother grew up in the oral tradition in the Southwest of Ireland, and I learned many Irish customs and tales from her. Serving tea to unexpected guests was part of that welcoming custom, though it would not be considered causal magic superstition. 

As I was collecting folklore, my aunts explained to me the custom of “George” the mythical extra guest. I’d heard about “George,” but never understood that other members of my family (3 generations) thought the extra place was for him as well—as my grandmother, Jennie, didn’t use the saying. She sometimes mentioned a McGregor. 

I remember her annotating it with a reference to Elijah—perhaps to tie it in with the Christian tradition. Though I didn’t find a specific reference in J.H. Brunvand’s “The Study of American Folklore,” (Norton, 1966), he does write that: “Superstitions associated with home and domestic pursuits (category III) usually concern cooking,...changing households....[and methods of] allowing someone to enter the house...” (p. 385).


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Folklore: Extra Dinner Guests

Genre: Proverb, British-American (myself) November, 22, 2001
“Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.” 


As two dozen of us sat down to Thanksgiving dinner this year out in the yard like pilgrims, having outgrown the house because another family had joined us, my uncle was late at arriving to the table. His wife, my aunt “Toddy” repeated the family saying, “Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.”

I first remember hearing this saying in the late 1950s when I was around eight or nine years old—as we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner in Forest Knolls, Ca.

Because my grandmother who raised me, (Jennie Walsh Reilly., born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland), had a large family of eight children—who also had children of their own—Thanksgivings were a huge madhouse affair with my ten cousins (whose ranks later swelled to 18) at the little table, and aunts and uncles with spouses galore sitting at the big table—it was a sea of people, plates and chairs.

 How we were supposed to fit McGregor into all this, and who McGregor was, I wasn’t sure. But invariably some unexpected guest came to the door as we sat down and was squeezed in at the extra plate. I confused the two customs and thought the plate was for McGregor.

My grandmother would always be the last one to sit down—which was always at the head of the table. Why would she say this when she was already at the head of the table? And as she sat down, she’d say: “Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.” 

I wasn’t too sure who McGregor was. She wasn’t a McGregor, she was a Walsh-Sullivan, but for years I figured he was an ancestor or relation of sorts. But he was Scottish and we were Irish. Even though a great-aunt married a Scotsman (Ward), I wasn’t too sure where McGregor fit into the scheme of things. I remember once worriedly looking up at the Reilly and Walsh family coats of arms on the wall, wondering what his crest would look like—maybe with a turkey or a plate in it.

I confused and conflated the saying of McGregor with another custom we had which was to set an extra plate at the table for the unexpected guest—an uninvited guest arriving during the holiday was considered to be good luck. 

As I was collecting this folklore, my aunts explained to me the custom of “George” the mythical extra guest. I’d heard about “George, but never understood that they thought the extra place was for him as well, as my grandmother didn’t tend to use the saying. She sometimes mentioned McGregor. I remember her once annotating it with a reference to Elijah as someone unexpectedly arrived at the door in time for dinner. 

Part of my confusion with McGregor/George had to do with the fact that I had to sit with the ever swelling ranks of little kids and I wasn’t allowed to join the big table until I was about ten. My birthday fell on Thanksgiving that year, I was allowed to join the adults. I remember puzzling over McGregor.

Interestingly enough, when I explained my confusion about McGregor and the extra plate, my aunt Jane, 73, went ballistic and thoroughly chewed me out with a character assassination which left us all stunned as I was explaining to my family that what made folklore unique was that there were variations in folklore and that this was my own (if flawed) variation. I don’t know why she got so angry, but that made it impossible to probe deeper into the origins of McGregor.

I had to later re-interview my other aunts and cousin in order to get their opinions as to what they thought it meant. I think Jane was threatened by the process of analysis of the folklore which they rejected the idea that McGregor had something to do with Scots thriftiness and stinginess, though they did mention freeloaders and free meals. 

My aunt “Toddy” said the association with McGregor was “so nobody would feel bad wherever you sat because you might get shifted from your place if a stranger came.” We all learned to associate McGregor with the extra plate.

I always thought my grandmother’s usage of McGregor had to do with the famous betrayal and slaughter of the Scottish Highland McGregor clan, invited to the rival Campbell clan’s stronghold for a feast at Glencoe, then killed by the treacherous Campbells—a horrific breach of Celtic hospitality. She’d often use “The Campbells are coming” as a threat. I thought she was honoring the slain McGregors, they’d always be welcome at our table. But when we looked up this story, we discovered the McDonalds were slaughtered in 1692 by the Campbells, not McGregor.

The idea of resurrecting clanship may not be far off the mark. I think my grandmother, as acting head of the Reilly clan, abdicated her personal role, and stood in place for the absent chieftain (hence the mythical McGregor), since her husband had died in the 1950s. My grandfather, as the eldest surviving male Reilly (a sept of the O’Neils), had the legal right to claim the family holdings in Co. Longford, Ireland, but he chose not to do so.

Note Bene: Looking McGregor up in Scottish and British proverb sources yielded nothing, but when I flipped through Archer Taylor & Bartlett Jere White’s “American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, 1820-1880,” (Harvard, 1958), while looking up “shank’s mare,” another favorite of my grandmother’s, I stumbled upon: “Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table.” The quote is listed as Emerson’s Works 1, 105, (p. 232), but I suspect it’s much older than that. Thiis makes our McGregor an interesting variation indeed.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes


Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Integration Games ('Lupe)

‘Lupe turned out so beautiful it made your eyes hurt, with her blue-black hair, honey-colored skin and green cat eyes all turned up at the corners with lashes that threatened to put Maybeline right out of business. But then, I hadn’t seen her since eighth grade when her family moved away from the Valley after her uncle Dean died. So strange seeing her working at the health clinic like that, after all these years. Not exactly a place you want to run into a long lost best friend. Not too many families from our end of the Valley ever escaped ’cause no one ever seemed to have two dimes to rub together, let alone, two month’s rent in a row—especially in winter when work was scarce.

Over the Hill, the idea of Town was another country, another state of mind most of us were incapable of traversing. The Valley, with its rural poverty and geographic isolation was practically a third-world country by comparison. White’s Hill was always threatening to slip at the pass after heavy rain and the townies, they just kept away, afraid they’d slip off into the ravine, or worse, into poverty, as if it was the clap or something. The old timers always said the pavement at the pass was over 50 feet thick and that was before it dropped another 5 feet during the big storm in the Fall of ’64. So the townies, they mostly kept away, which was fine by us, except they called us Valley Rats just to even up the score.

And if the National Seashore hadn’t happened with LadyBird Johnson and all, I bet we’d still be cut off from the world. Instead, we prepared for mass invasions each weekend, but the townies, they never stopped, they never bought anything at the Little Store, or at the House of Richard—that’s a hippie store in Forest Knolls—or DeLacy’s Store in Lagunitas.

They say Darryl Wilburn mostly burned down the rest of both the villages—village is too big a word for where we lived— there wasn’t much left to stop for anyway—unless you needed gas at Urien’s gas station, which was coffee shop where you could get a candy bar, some smokes or a beer. By that time Darryl had burned down all the historic building and watering holes: Speck McAuliff's bar, The Little Store, the ice cream parlour. The only thing he didn't burn down was the Saloon, but it was made of stucco and a family later bought it, so it was a steadier source income than selling firewood.

There was also a garage at Uriel's where our school busses were repaired and a trailer park out back. The Uriels diversified—but the price of gas was too high even for the townies. But Don Uriel was fine to look at standing behind the bar in faded jeans and a white teeshirt choking down a cool one—even if he was old. He really looked like James Dean but if he fixed your car, there were extra parts left over.

I remember how I was so lonely that last year in grade school without ‘Lupe showing me the ropes like—how to rat your bangs. Or what happens if you throw a cherry bomb down the girl’s bathroom toilet and time the flush just right. ’Lupe was always explaining important things like that. Ratted bangs were where the older townie girls stored their arsenal, as she sprayed a half-can of Aqua Net on her bangs to keep them firmly anchored in place. They were frosted so stiff it was like a picture of the wire on top of the Berlin Wall in winter. We were all gearing up for the Big Move to high school Over the Hill. We were being bussed into new territory like those kids from Montgomery, Alabama, only we weren’t Black, we were just poor.

Talk about climbing over walls, I had to find out the hard way about the wall that also divided the Valley when I accidentally repeated to July about what I heard about Kathy Unterberg doing it and maybe being knocked up. I’d never been in a real fist-fight before. I refused, I didn’t want to hit her in the jaw; afraid it might break. It’s not like I didn’t know how, with my brother and all. I always got into more trouble if I hit his face. But she came at me like a watermill and I had no choice. I wasn’t mad at her, so my heart wasn’t in it. She was from Woodacre, you know—the snotty end of the Valley. I was glad ’Lupe wasn’t there to see me so humiliated.

I guess I was kinda jealous ‘cause Katrinka was going out with ‘Lupe’s cousin, Duane de la Ventana—who was to drop-dead-to-die-for gorgeous. July finked that secret out to the world too. Some friend she was. One step up from trailer trash, and living at the dividing line between San Geronimo and Woodacre, she was quickly figurin’ out what side of the Valley her bread was buttered on.

Duane, he was so gorgeous, I couldn’t wait for Thursdays after school—that was catechism day—when we all rode the bus down to St. Cecelia’s church together. He was so cool, he combed his hair just like Elvis. He was always patting his pompadour like it was a newborn baby, and admirin’ it in the mirror or in windows when he thought no one was looking.

Taydie Waverwick was absolutely nuts for Elvis too, she used to wear her hair like his too—which was confusing. She could croon every song he recorded but she was sorta weird with her big boobs and all. She always wore these cowgirl outfits with rhinestones and white go-go boots.

We used to speculate that Taydie's boobs were fake water balloons. She was big as a cow—not at all like Dolly Parton—and she wore rhinestone glasses to match. She used to pick on us runts until one day, in self defense, I accidentally punched her out in the boobs. I was cornered, no place to run—I was the fastest kid in the school. But like I said, I was cornered and I was too short to hit her in the jaw. I really expected them to pop, or something, but her eyes got all watery instead and I felt bad. Anyway, after that, she decided to be my friend. As long as she didn’t want to mash her lips on me it was OK, I guess.

That’s how I inherited the new girls, Phoebe and Elvie, as friends—through Taydie. I knew I was stepping down the evolutionary ladder a bit, but beggars can’t be choosers. Elvie and Eddie, the twins, had already been to Juvie a few times, and their mom was officially on welfare—we always knew who was on welfare on account of where they lived, down on Resaca Road where Papermill Creek always flooded in winter. What I didn’t know was many others were on welfare until much later. Folks was good at hiding things.

Phoebe talked funny ’cause she had a hare lip. She showed us the place where the hole in her palate was and then push some food through it just to gross us out. But sometimes after school, we’d all sit around as if we were good friends instead of accidental leftovers and we'd lip sing all the songs to Elvis’s albums: Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true... I heard Taydie later became a cowboy singer in Vegas. I didn’t ask as to what sexual persuasion.

When I was younger, I especially loved going over to ‘Lupe’s house after school, her mom would make us the best fresh tortillas and there were always babies to play with. ‘Lupe smelled so fine, like the roses on her saint’s namesake. Her mom only used her whole name when she was real mad at ‘Lupe, which was almost never ’cause ‘Lupe was that kind of sweet. I hardly knew who saint Guada’Lupe was—other than the fact she had roses on her lap.

Once I was chosen for Queen of the May and had to climb up the altar and crown Mary’s head with roses so that sort of made ‘Lupe and me sisters under the skin. One time we both had wounds and so we sealed it with blood. Like with Katrinka. It seems there were always plenty of babies smelling like sour milk and poop, not roses—no matter whose house I was at.

‘Lupe’s mom was usually expecting, but then, so was Katrinka’s mom, Mrs. Larsen, there were 11 kids in her family and we always thought there was something not quite right about Beanie & Booboo. One of ’em fell on his head out of a car which didn’t improve things any.

Mrs. Walton also had 11 or 12 kids but they were all way older than us—except for Scotty, the baby—his brother Clark was old enough to be his father, and he was blind as a bat as well, but he could sing real good. Especially Peter, Paul & Mary songs. He never shaved and looked like a prophet right out of the Bible with his beard and baggy clothes and all—I guess he couldn’t see to shave and no one else wanted to do it for him.

His brothers used to lead Clark up and down the dirt roads—it was like Blind Man’s Bluff, but for real. I was especially confused by this as I once thought he might be related to Superman, and I thought that maybe he was faking at being blind ’cause he was really in disguise, you know, like Clark Kent.

The Waltons lived at the top of the ridge where Mount Barnabe joins up to the long ridge where I lived on the other side. You could go for miles on those ridges and never see a soul: Nicasio, Bolinas, even Fairfax, but to get to Mount Tam, you had to cross the ravine at Alpine Dam but the horses were too afraid of the bridge.

Sometimes, after school, I’d sneak up over the ridge on horseback over the fire road that connected our little Arroyo valley, off Barranca Road, where I lived, to the Walton’s place in Lagunitas— only there weren’t any lakes in Lagunitas, they were all at the other end of the Valley, the rich end, but our end, all the lakes were dried up and stingy—except for the one at Borrillo Ranch near the school.

After ‘Lupe moved, Duane’s family moved into the Borrillo Ranch for a while so I’d ride my horse past whenever I got a chance. When they moved to San Geronimo, it was harder to think up an excuse to ride by ’cause they lived at the end of the fire road. And if I did ride by, you know, casual-like, to be cool, but then I was stuck riding for several hours along Bolinas Ridge above Kent Lake to Lagunitas and then I had to double back on the next ridge just to get home ’cause you couldn’t get off the ridge in between, the ravines were so steep and besides, the scrub was impenetrable. And in fall, with the days growin’ shorter by the minute, there just wasn’t enough time after school to ride both ways and get home before dark. Forget about homework, you could hardly sit after that kinda ride.

Anyway, sometimes Mrs. Walton would give me fresh doughnuts—still sizzling from the hot grease. Don’t ask how I always knew when she was frying doughnuts, it was luck, I guess. Riding home in the dark, licking sugar from my lips took away some of the edge of being under the tall pines where you couldn’t even see the horse’s ears in front of you, but Chiquita—she was steady as a bulldozer—she could see just fine, even if it was pitch black and besides, she always knew the way back home, no matter how far we roamed.

The Wilburns—they had a lot of kids too but they were another matter altogether, they even adopted a couple of their sister’s youngest orphaned cousins—it seems she couldn’t handle her growing tribe. I was convinced Brenda, the redhead, was specially put on this earth to make my life miserable whenever possible. But she’s dead now. Water under the bridge. And my grandma said not to speak ill of the dead. I wonder whatever happened to her that she’d take her own life like that, behind the post office where we’d smoked our first cigarettes....

Don’t you dare tell a soul...I don’t wanna say too much more about them as I’m telling you about real people and they’re all still alive and as mean as ever, thinking they’ve come up a notch in the world and now they own the local bar—the one Darryl didn’t burn down. Them’s that aspire toward the middle class are the most vicious.

But it’s my story and I have the right to remember—even if some folks don’t like it that way, preferring revisionist history to the truth. I guess I could change all the names for the story’s sake, but then I never could think of anything better than the real thing. Besides, their real names resonate in me like bells until I get goose bumps on my heart like when I look at the sacred heart of Jesus or like when the cat licks your lips and your stomach goes all squidgy on you like with your first kiss.

Besides I’ve nothing they want, and it’s all common knowledge anyway. Except they could burn down my granma’s house—which at this point would be a favor since the cousins moved in. As I was saying, it’s really ironic, as Darryl, the eldest kid, proceeded to burn down half the Valley, leaving us with no villages at all—just greasy wide spots in the road where the buildings used to stand. Darryl, he got ’em all, only no one could prove he did it.

The Lagunitas ice cream parlor, both train stations, and the Forest Knolls store with its covered boardwalk—which was a cryin’ shame as they were just like props out of a western movie, only they were real, not fake. But all that pyrotechnics put poor Harry Bolton right out of business.

Harry, a newcomer with money to burn, fell in love with the vintage buildings and had big plans for the Valley long before Marin was “discovered.” It was pretty exciting while it lasted. We even forgave him for building his monstrosity of a house on Horse Hill at the foot of Arroyo Road. It was real cool, with a fake waterfall inside it.

But Darryl really fixed his wagon. Wherever Darryl went, buildings mysteriously burned down. I bet he burned down half the River. Maybe it’s because his father sold firewood, I don’t know. Why, when he was a young child, he even burned down his own family home. Only problem is, everyone was still at home when it happened. That was when it all started, when we knew something quite right, but everyone said he was just a child—couldn’t have known what he was doing—except two youngest brothers also died in the fire.

I remember Mr. Begley coming around collecting clothes and mattresses for the Wilburn family—on account of him having a truck. It was a baby blue Ford and it looked so odd without its camper shell and its vegetables all in neat rows. Instead, all our discarded belongings were stacked up naked like in the movie, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

I didn’t want to give up my favorite old quilt as it was my grandpa’s and he was dead… but Grandma said I had to, ’cause there was folks out there less fortunate than us. But Darryl knew what he was doing alright when he burned down the store, ’cause he did it a third time too. Any empty building seemed to be fair game.


Someone later said that one of the new owners of the Lagunitas Store banked on Darryl's firebrand reputation to burn down the Lagunitas Store and collect the insurance. Stories have a way of coming out eventually. Darryl got blamed for it just the same.


Now, I ain’t sayin’ Darryl did it, but when McAulliff’s bar burned down, that was the worst loss of all, ’cause Teddy Roosevelt used to stop there after huntin’ and they say Maple Leaf Rag was composed on that piano. Someone was burning down all our heritage until there was nothing left. Now some fancy-ass contractor lives there—says he restores historic buildings and all that, but I see he hasn’t bothered to restore McAulliff’s.

Anyway, up the hill from McAulliff’s, that was where Mrs. Begley and her whole tribe of kids lived—all in ragged Ma Joad clothes and that wall-to-wall dirt on their faces made their eyes seem especially watery and puckery on account of the Pink Eye—they were like sour grapes when you bit them in two. You just wanted to squeeze their eyes until the dirt made runnels down their cheeks.

Mr. Begley—who sold us vegetables from his camper truck, he was nice—he sometimes gave us kids the small wilted carrots. We’d all pretend we were Bugs Bunny and say: Hey, what’s up. Doc? and munching like demented rabbits. Here the Begleys had no money at all, and he was giving us the stuff he needed to sell. Dinner at the Begleys consisted of lots of rice and vegetables. That’s the first time I ever ate zucchini with catsup.

Now, Mack’s mom, Mrs. LaRoche… I sorta lost count of how many kids she had—maybe ten? twelve? Anyway, Mack—he was an altar boy along with Mark French and Johnny Hoffmann—they used to finish off the sacrificial wine on the sly when Father Connery got done with it. But Mack was murdered by the Zebra Killer and later on, his little brother went crazy, killing an old lady he was robbing for dope money. The hardest thing about his trial was that I had friends on both sides of that courtroom. He pleaded insanity.

Come to think of it, it seems like there was something not quite right about most of the youngest kids in all those big families. It’s hard to say whether it was genetics giving out, or that it was the mothers who were just plain old worn out after raising and refereeing a baker’s dozen of kids squabbling and carrying on like banshees—with the babies literally getting away with murder.

My grandma, she only had eight kids, and the only one who was really crazy was my mom. Two of my aunts are a bit crazy too, but everyone thinks they’re perfectly normal—which is much scarier than having a bonafide crazy mom. We call them The Bags on account of the cavernous naugahyde purses they carry—you could furnish entire bathroom suites with them.

At least everything’s out in the open with my mom. I didn’t see very much of her as she was always off to Hollywood or Vegas—working for Frank Sinatra doing the showgirl costumes. Mostly feathers and beads. Yes, Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes himself. She said he was real nice; had a drink with him. She knew people like that.

Sometimes it was off to Napa State Hospital too. So it was hard to tell fact from fiction…. Remind me to tell you sometime about Tommy Smothers and Sterling Hayden—they used to baby-sit me over at the Gate Theatre… but that’s another story…. Also, remind me to tell you about the time my baby cousin visited Jerry Garcia’s medicine cabinet on Resaca and had to get her stomach pumped too...

Where was I? Oh, yeah, babies. Anyway, I hardly ever saw any of the moms at the communion rail who weren’t expecting It was as if there were this invisible line across the Valley at the Nicasio turn-off where the big families began. We were all segregated out in second grade when the nuns came and asked us Catholics to raise our hands and there we were, branded from the San Geronimo and Woodacre kids who came from small families and usually had their fathers living with them.

My mom must have had something of the bad Valley seed with her as she once sent me home a baby brother which I didn’t particularly want. Home was with my grandma. My mom was always wild, bucking what my grandma said about sticking to your own kind—you know, race, religion, and all.

My mom, she was like a cat always dropping litters—most of them died—two more lived, but I don’t want to talk about them. One was adopted by an aunt but wound up in Pelican Bay and the other lives in Azuma somewheres—see, he has cerebral palsey and was in a wheelchair—he was kidnapped by the state. That’s what made my mother crazy.

‘Course, I never actually told a soul that she was crazy. I said she was an actress in Hollywood, which was true, and she was in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World with Jack Lemmon—but she was pretty hard to spot in that crowd scene.

Anyway, the state, they lied about stealin’ the baby and my mom spent 25 years looking to find that poor child. She knew that he existed, I mean, she gave birth to him and that’s something you’re not likely to forget—even if you were crazy.

He—Billy Panis, the baby, he was named after this Filipino guy she married so that he could get a green card— he made costumes too—but some gay lover murdered him. It was in all the papers. I once helped sew beads on Miss Korea and Miss Universe’s dresses—they were like angel wings.

Anyway, Billy, he eventually found her when he was an adult and the laws changed, but by then, it was way too late. She was just too used to being crazy. I think it was 60 Minutes or some TV show like that who wanted to do a story on the reunion and all, but I don’t think middle America was quite ready for us. Even we were never quite ready for us, ourselves. Where was I? Oh yeah, I was telling you about my first major crush, on Dennis De la Ventana….

Once a week, I used to love waiting out at the fence post by the bend in the road, for Duane's father, Dean, who was the milkman. He always had something for me: a candy or a kind word. But in winter it was just too hard to get up that early and sometimes the milk would freeze in the bottles and the cream would push up the little paper flap that said “Lucas Valley Dairy” on it, and all the cats would be lined up around the three bottles licking away at the little white pillars of cream while fighting off the birds.

My grandma always got three bottles. If one went off, she made these cottage cheese pancakes for dinner—especially during Lent. One time I ordered orange juice from him but she made me give it back ’cause we couldn’t pay for it. You could get eggs too but we got ours’ from Mary Bianchi.

Dean—he looked like Dean Martin—he used to drive around in this big white convertible with red seats—it was like a steamboat. Sometimes he’d pick up Duane and ‘Lupe after school and give us rides home. But one night after the bars closed, Dean, he flipped that big white convertible on the hill at Lucas Valley Road, and that was that. They say it was a closed casket ceremony.

I was surprised to see Duane in school the next day. Didn’t know what to say to him. I mean, what do you say to someone whose father had to be scraped off the road with a spatula? But Duane, he wore this black sweater with a big purple band like arms wrapped around his chest and carefully patted his hair. That was when I decided purple was my favorite color. I was a little in love with death and wanted to embrace the color of mourning, or of forgiveness, more like it.

But after that, things began to change, everything unraveled and ‘Lupe’s family moved away, into town. I was so lonely without my best friend. The others didn’t quite fill the void that ’Lupe had left. And I never even got to kiss Duane, not even once.



10/31/2001

rev © 2002 Maureen Hurley

This version of these pieces were written in our childhood dialect for a MFA monologue class with Roy Conboy. We had to change the names of the people but not the actual events. An interesting assignment of reportage and character development. I was surprised at how visceral the characters became when I changed the names to protect, in this case, the guilty. It is an interesting tightrope between monologue and memoir as fiction. I had an interesting correspondence with poet Sharon Doubiago who is writing her memoirs, She said that when she wrote about famous people and poets, she always used their real names, but with close friends, she tended to fictionalize them. Apparently I am Lacy Murphy. Maybe Lacy will appear in some of these stories.