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Voices Spring-Summer, 2002:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the On Air column, “Edith Cutting: The Importance of Planting by the Moon” by James Moreira here.
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Voices 28-1-2 cover


Volume 28

Headline: Edith Cutting--The Importance of Planting by the Moon and Knowing Folk Sayings by the Yard

Folklore for Edith Cutting began as life itself: watching the weather, planting the garden, building fences, preserving food, making quilts. The daughter of a logger-turned-farmer, she understood the importance of context in documenting the way her people lived. Her study of folklore, published in several collections, in turn changed her life. Her awareness of the whole culture—of which folk sayings, folk songs, and folk ways are a part—enabled her to see the depth and richness of her own world. She still treasures the albums that belonged to her father and grandmother because they are original. "I like to work with the original material or the original people," she once told an interviewer.

It was fortunate that such a folklorist turned to teaching. In a radio documentary, transcribed below, she tells interviewer Lamar Bliss how she discovered folklore, and how she has passed along her love of the field to younger generations.

The study of folklore in New York State reached a milestone in 1939 with the publication of Body, Boots and Britches. This collection of stories, songs, beliefs, and practices was compiled by Harold W. Thompson from work that he and some of his students had done. One of those students was Edith Cutting.

Cutting: I had grown up with weather signs, I’d grown up with proverbs. I’d grown up with stories of the lumber woods; things of this sort were just a part of my life.

Bliss: Edith Cutting grew up in Essex County near Elizabethtown, New York, where her family had farmed the land since the early 1800s. As a teenager in the 1930s she left the farm to attend the Albany Normal School, a teachers’ college. It was a simple assignment for a college course on American Folklore, recalls Edith, that got her to look differently at her family and all the stories and traditions she’d grown up with. Her professor, Harold Thompson, known as Dr. Tommy, asked his students to go home and collect stories and songs from family members.

Cutting: So, when I went home at Christmas time, I spent the whole Christmas vacation writing down just as fast as I could everything that people were telling me. I had no recording machine at that time; but dad and mother had done their share of the work very well. They had talked with my grandparents, my great-uncles, the neighbors, anybody that they could think of and told them that I needed these things, and I would be there at Christmas time, and I would come see them.

Bliss: The resulting paper earned her high marks from Dr. Tommy. He asked to use some of her research in his book Body, Boots and Britches and, a few years later, he encouraged her to publish her own study, Lore of an Adirondack County. Over the years she continued to discover her family’s rich collection of ghost stories, home remedies, and sayings.

Cutting: Weather signs, I knew ’em by the yard. Dad and mother had lots of them. And planting, you know, there were people that planted by the moon. There were things that were used as teaching devices. I was trying to remember the verse about planting corn. "One for the cutworm, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow." So that even a child could help plant the corn, ’cause it was a hand process. And some people said, "Two for the cut worm, two for the crow, two to rot and two to grow." But a verse like that was used as a teaching device. A youngster could do that, and that was perfectly true. You put more in the soil than you expected to come up. There was one about judging a horse, "One white foot, buy him. Two white feet, try him. Three white feet, deny him. Four white feet and snip on his nose, take off his hide and feed him to the crows." Again, I don’t know how true that was. Theoretically a white foot would have a softer hoof, so that it could be more easily damaged.

Bliss: Her interest in folklore is a life-long passion. Trips home always resulted in new stories and songs from relatives. When she settled near Binghamton and started teaching in Johnson City, her English classes gave her the opportunity to ask her students to do what she’d done in college.

Cutting: I think it is so important for youngsters to have a close family relationship, and I think folklore is one of the warmest and most delightful ways of encouraging that. To find out that their parents and grandparents knew stories and songs that probably they’d never even spoken of before, but they went back and talked with them and brought in stories, songs, verses, recipes, all kinds of things of that sort, that I think they would not have been aware of otherwise if it hadn’t been for that unit which started their thinking ... And I think once they realize that history is a personal thing, that people have lived through these times and can tell them about them, if they ask, if they’re interested, I think it helps their understanding of history.
On Air


This radio documentary, produced by the New York Folklore Society, is edited from James Moreira’s 1995 interview of Edith Cutting and published with permission of Traditional Arts of Upstate New York, Canton. The Voices of New York Traditions series has been produced by Dale W. Johnson and Lamar Bliss.

I had grown up with weather signs; I’d grown up with proverbs. I’d grown up with stories of the lumber woods; things of this sort were just a part of my life.

This column appeared in Voices Vol. 28, Spring-Summer 2002. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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