A CELEBRATION OF AMERICAN FAMILY FOLKLORE: Tales and Traditions from the Smithsonian Collection by Steven J.; Amy J. Kotkin & Holly Cutting-Baker--Eds. Zeitlin

A CELEBRATION OF AMERICAN FAMILY FOLKLORE: Tales and Traditions from the Smithsonian Collection

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Wailing Woman, Grandfather Wog, the Lord's Daughter, and One-Gun Blum: these are among the delightfully varied characters met in the family stories, proverbs, expressions, and customs compiled by this team of Smithsonian folklorists. ""Families travel light,"" the editors tell us; through folklore, each family shapes its own history. There are family heroes--such as the little West Virginia girl who shot at the bank robbers and prevented their escape (""Like roota-toot-toot! It's the bandits!""). Family rogues and mischief makers--from the Italian great-grandfather who died ""by jumping out of his mistress's balcony window and missing his horse,"" to the Civil War veteran who ran back into a burning house to save his whiskey and was mistakenly proclaimed a hero by the town (""But we all know the truth""). Families suffer innocents all too gladly, amusing themselves with children's remarks and those of doddering relatives--like the musical grandfather who, jolted out of his senility by the horn of a night boat, immediately walked over to the piano, hit the right key, and said ""E flat."" ""Then he sat down and went right back into the fog."" Such characters find their context within recurring themes of American culture--migration stories, bittersweet sagas of lost fortunes, Detailed descriptions of the folklore of five separate families demonstrate the potential: a black American recalls the colorful proverbs of his multigenerational rural Virginian family (""Getting butter from a duck . . . the frying pan standing up for witness . . . sewed up in a salt sack""), while a mother recaptures the atmosphere of 1940s Greenwich Village and the family culture created by and for her two young sons. After considering the full range of forms this folklore may assume, the editors offer practical guidelines for recording and assembling family histories, including sound advice on setting, equipment, and approach to family members. A selection of family photographs complements the stories. Altogether: a celebration it is--and likely encouragement for many to reconstruct their family past in the service of the family present.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Pantheon