Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Long Forgotten Folklore

   Many people think of folklore as something that isn't true. A tale of a man of old with super strength. A woman whose motherly instinct knew no bounds. A heroic deed by a family member that simply cannot be verified.

   Many fail to realize that most folklore is based in reality, it has just changed slightly(IF at all)over the generations in order to keep alive our ancestors memories.
Folklore also involves sayings and names that were once so widespread and generally conveyed, that they are true. 

   New Englanders, henceforth referred to as Yankees, are the epitome of folklore, the definition really. In our Yankee folklore, you will find materials of a homely epic, Yankee toil, Yankee ingenuity and enterprise, Yankee, salty humor, idiosyncrasies, Yankee tradition and invention. Really, the typical American face of Uncle Sam but with the wondrousness of the tree squeak.

   Enjoy a trip back many centuries, only to continue the ride up the the 21st century, where many of you will be reminded of some of the following.

Some of the Yankeeisms that have been continued through the centuries include:

   A fresh cook, meaning a cook that uses little to no salt.

   Thatchy milk, or milk that tastes of thatch. Thatch was the coarse grassland pastured called salt marshes. This was common in the 17th-19th century New England and people could tell if a cow had eaten thatch. 

   Booze fuddle, as in "Got me a jug of booze fuddle." Meaning any type of liquor.

   Ding licker was a very pleasing person. Kind, gently and generally nice.

   Dingmaul was a mythical woods creature that was widely known to hang around lumber camps. Lucivee, or the "Injun Devil", was another name for another 4 legged animal, along with the Mooner, tree squeak and side-hill ranger.

   Dust your back was a phrase that meant to wrestle.

   Herring choker was a person from Prince Edward Island, although it came to mean anyone from English Canada. PJ was another name for the same.

   Prayer handles meant your knees.

   Yankee bullets were rifle shot made of pewter instead of lead.

Pumpkin heads, or rightly punkin' heads. Yes, this name has stuck around for many generations and is still uttered, referring to anyone who has had a "bowl cut". It began in New Haven, Connecticut in the middle 1700s and began  because of the ancient Blue Laws, which governed clergymen and his flock must keep their hair out of their eyes at all times. Over a few years, children too were given this type of hair cut. Ones hair could NOT be hanging down past their respective caps, so everyones hair was cut with their caps on. If one didn't have a cap, and many backwoods families could not afford one, then the dried shell of a pumpkin was used. And always on a Saturday night, right before Sunday services. Why was this important? Four reasons were outlined.

1. To prevent ones hair from snarling.
2. It saved the use of an expensive comb.
3. It kept you from being distracted from the Sunday sermon, instead of constantly fussing with ones hair.
4. And probably most important at the time, "such persons as have lost their ears for heresy, and other wickedness, cannot conceal their misfortune and disgrace."

   Thank'ee M'ams was a phrase I heard often from my uncle whenever we would go over a dip in the road. He told me when your body sunk at the lowest point, you should utter "Thank you m'am" every time. It was true in the horse and buggy days as well.

   How many know what is the Nutmeg State? Of course Connecticut comes to mind, but what about Pudding Town? Or Puddingers? Puddingers were people in Pudding Town(and I am not making this up)who ate hasty pudding with milk for supper every Saturday night. How about Scrabbletown, another name for Chatham? 

   Where were "lard eaters" from? This was another name for Cannucks. How about Chowderheads and mooncussers? Both refer to Cape Cod residents. Bean-eaters should be an easy one, referring to Bostonians.

Us Yankees have always had folk sayings as well, and are quite famous for many, such as:

   "The New England climate consists of 9 months of winter and 3 months late in the fall."

   "Go to Poodic". This is less known and simply meant the same thing as "Go jump in the lake". Poodic was the Indian name for a point  of land on Maine's coast.

   "Put a bag of coffee in the mouth of hell, and a Yankee will  be sure to go after it".

   Yankees are very well known, if not on the positive end, of answering a question with a question.

"Stands out like a blackberry in a pan of milk." The expression alone will tell you how old this saying is. When was the last time you ever had a pan of milk?

From 1888:"As Maine goes, so goes the country."

"Jumped like a cat out of the woodbox."

"Pick up your feet". We all know what this means but originally it was a demand from the top sawyer to the bottom, pit sawyer. When a 6 foot trench was dug and a large log was placed over it, a top sawyer would grab one end of the saw while a man would enter the trench and grab the other. When sawing in this manner, work was much easier, with both men pulling and pushing to saw through a huge timber. If the bottom sawyer wasn't giving his all, the top sawyer would holler, "Pick up your feet."

    Before Paul Bunyan was even a thought in the woodmens minds, Sock Sawyer was the "scape goat" for Yankee lumberers of old. If a riverdriver dropped his peavey in the water, he would say, "Well take it Sock Saunders." Or if he slipped on a log but recovered, he would say "Not quite this time Sock Saunders."

   And my favorite story of a Yankee, which encompasses what a true Yankee wit and ingenuity means is the following.

"A well known sea captain of Searsport, Maine when about 60 years of age, nearly lost his shipping business and 5 schooners as a result of his taste for liquor. His eldest son was appointed conservator of his estate, and allowed the old captain to take a voyage once in a while. The captain of the schooner on which he sailed was always instructed never to let the old gentleman have any money when he went to shore, obviously knowing that a tavern would be the beneficiary of every last cent.
ON the occasion of one of his trips, while anchored at T wharf in Bosotn, the captain sat on deck looking the length of Atlantic Avenue, viewing the many saloon signs witha parched throat. After speculating for hours as to how he could obtain a drink without money, he became inspired. Going to the cabin, he filled a gallon demijohn half full of water, and hurried to the nearest saloon. Entering, he informed the bartender that he wanted the demijohn filled with rum, and said he thought that it would take about 2 quarts as it was already half full. When the bartender had filled the jug and demanded his pay, the captain told him to charge it. Whereupon the bartender reclaimed his two quarts of rum./ Repeating this at the next five saloons along the avenue, the captain returned to his ship with two quarts of excellent rum".

   And lastly, of Songs and Rhymes. We can rightfully call old Yankee ballads as Folk music. It was homespun and rural. Yankee psalms and hymns in the way of deaconing(an ancient New England word for reading a line before singing it so that those worshippers without an expensive hymnal could sing along) were the foundation of the folk music we know today. It all started in the 1600s and is proven and referenced by Cotton Mather when he wrote that he was against the "foolish Sons and Ballads, which the Hawkers and Pedlars carry into all parts of the Countrye."

Long forgotten ballads include:

Old and New England
Old Colony Times
Away Downeast
Yankee Manufacturers
Free America
Ballad of the Tea Party
The Millers Three Sons
Mary of the Wiled Moor
The Shining Dagger
The Boston Come-All-Ye
Blow Boys, Blow
Cape Cod Shanty
Nantucket Lullaby
The Little Pig
The Herring Song
The Old Man Who LIved In The Wood
The Lone Fish-Ball
Old Woman, All Skin and Bone
Devil's Dream(Which I have a copy and play frequently on the violin)

And Corn Cobs Twist Your Hair. This song was a comic song and sung by Little Yankee Hill and was popular by 1800. It is sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Localized rhymes were so many, I simply cannot list even a tenth of them here. Some great examples are:

God is great, god is good. So always do what He thinks you should.

Needles and pins, needles and pins. When a man gets married, his trouble begins.

To the tune of Ring around the Rosy, children sang, "Ring a ring a rounder. Daddy cought a flounder. Oysters, oysters, hurray!"

The Montague girls are pretty, and the Howland girls are sweet. But the Passadumkeag girls, all have big feet.
Rain before seven, clear before 'leven.
A sunshiny shower won't last hafl an hour. Sun at seven, rain at 'leven.
If the rooster crows when he goes to bed, he will get up with a wet head.
A mackerel sky won't have the ground dry.
Mackerel sclaes and mares tails, make lofty ships to carry low sails.
A cold wet may, a barn full of hay.
On Christmas day, half the wood and half the hay.
Half the pork and half the hay on Chrismas Day.