Have you ever heard the story of the grandma who sees a young man in Dierberg's and says he reminds her of her dead grandson, then uses his sympathy to trick him into paying for her groceries? What about the the phrase "you know you're from St. Louis when Velveeta is your favorite kind of cheese?" If so, then you have an idea of the content of John Oldani's books.
Oldani is the author of Passing It On: Folklore of St. Louis and St. Lou-isms: Lingo, Lore and the Lighter Side of Life in the Gateway City. A St. Louis native and a former American Studies professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, he defines folklore as "the unlearned learning process."
"It's these kinds of oral traditions which stay with us from the time we're born to the time we die," said Oldani. "And those are the things that define us."
Something unique to St. Louis, said Oldani, is the way people convert negative superstitions. For example, the superstition of the black cat.
"If a black cat crosses your path,we know it's bad luck. But if you spit in the direction of the black cat, turn around three times and keep going in the same direction, you've neutralized the bad luck," said Oldani.
Also discussed are the use of folklore as a means of validation, integration into society and the way different groups in society turn stories on their heads--like the reversal of roles when an old woman takes advantage of a young man, since it is often the elderly that are the victims of crimes such as identity theft.
A video of Steve Potter's "City Corner" interview with John Oldani can be viewed on the SAINTLOUIS TV site.