Kenneth L. Untiedt, ed. Folklore: In All of Us, In All We Do. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2006. Pp.xi+298, photos, illustrations, index. $34.95 cloth.
B. Grantham Aldred
At first blush, Folklore: In All of Us, In All We Do appears to be a straightforward collection of Texan folklore, a gathering of diverse materials under a regional banner. And indeed, it serves well in this capacity. However, the collection goes deeper than that and examines a more compelling question using these texts: the relationship between folklore and history. Collected into five thematic sections, Folklore: In All of Us, In All We Do gives insight into the rich tapestry of Texas folklife from the eyes of its various contributors.
The central theme of the volume, the interrelation of folklore and history, emerges most clearly in the first section of the book, “First Cousins: Folklore and History,” where the details of this pairing are dealt with using specific examples. The section opens with Tom Crum’s “Is it Folklore or History? The Answer May Be Important,” which muses on the lack of differentiation in everyday life based on his observation that folklore is a kind of history to people living in Texas. From there, the volume includes folkloric/historical essays such as J. Frank Dobie’s “The Roadrunner in Fact and Folk-Lore,” which explores the way in which stories about a species have affected people’s everyday lives.
The second thematic section, “A Woman’s Touch,” deals with gendered folkloric experiences in Texas, looking at some different dimensions of gender and culture in Texas. One of the most interesting examples is Kelly M. Mosel-Talavera’s “Growing Up Female in Texas: The Importance of Beauty Pageants in Texas Communities,” which draws together issues of body art and gender performance in Texan culture, touching on questions of coming-of-age rituals and local identity. In Gloria Duarte’s “La Llorona’s Ancestry: Crossing Cultural Boundaries,” a local legend is explored for its broader cultural origins, examining the ways in which The Weeping Woman is not unique to the border region, but has roots worldwide.
The third section of the book is titled “Folklore at Work: Occupational Lore” and deals with folklore emerging from a number of occupations in the Texas landscape. Lew Schnitz’s “Five Stands Off Bottom” is an examination of the rich variety of folklore in the oil business, examining details of folk speech in both occupational practice and nicknames as well as the way in which individual oil wells developed their own folkways. The article “A Rural Mail Carrier” by Milt McAfee (As told by Ben Mead) provides an interesting perspective on the relationship between tradition and history in one community through the example of a postal worker who worked the same route for 48 years, illustrating the way in which local events become a sort of specialized history through folklore.
The fourth section, “Cops, Politicians, and Other Shady Characters,” includes articles dealing with the official legal culture of Texas, showcasing the folklife of police and politicos. In Kenneth L. Untiedt’s “The Police Language: The Lore of Law Enforcement Communication in West Texas,” investigates the unique language of police folk speech. Examining both radio communication and report writing, Untiedt outlines the ways in which the ‘secret language of law enforcement’ shows how folk speech emerges based on the needs of folk groups. On the political side of the chapter, Lora B. Garrison’s “Cactus Jack Garner as Folk Hero, Vice-President of the United States 1933-1940” gives a biographical sketch of Texas politician John Nance Gardner IV, mixing oral history, anecdotes and official records to create a broader sketch of a folk politician whose presence in the local landscape is a blend of history and folklore.
Finally, the book includes a section titled “Odds and Ends” to incorporate some of the material that does not fit easily into the prior sections. Kenneth W. Davis’s “The Lore of Retirement and Extended Care Facilities” explores how factors such as customary behavior and nostalgia combine in the folklife of retirement communities. Davis’ article shows a point of direct contact with history, people whose individual historical experiences have shaped their folk culture. In “Mi Fronteridad in the Classroom: The Power of Writing and Sharing Stories,” Meredith E. Abarca explores the dynamics of identity and narrative in the classroom in relationship to la frontera, the border as a frontier of ‘continuous exploration.’ Abarca’s work explores some of the difficulties and opportunities that emerge in this hybrid culture.
The articles mentioned here are only some of those included in the book; Folklore: In All of Us, In All We Do is filled with material that explores different angles on history and folklore in the life of Texans. While it is neither heavy with innovative theory nor a rich anthology of texts from a singular culture, Folklore: In All of Us, In All We Do is a well assembled collection of the diverse folklore within a single state and an exploration of the way in which folklore is often more imminent than history to people’s lives. It would be quite useful to anyone interested in the dynamics of folklore and history.