Author Archives: John Keating


The story of Pocahontas and the reason I know and was told the story is because…. supposedly I am related to her.  Her story is that when the Europeans, English people, came to Jamestown, long, long ago, it was a harsh, harsh climate and environment, and they did not know how to survive and she was the princess of the Powhatan Tribe, she was a young girl though, and her father was chief… of the Powhatan Tribe, and she was very curious about the settlement and, um, was kinda always, you know, peering in and looking around, and finally she got braver and braver, um, came into the village, the people invited her in, but really, these people– the settlers– had no idea how to live in this climate and when winter hit, it was super harsh.  And they didn’t know what the land had to offer, I don’t even think they knew what sweet potatos were, they’d probably never seen corn before– things like that.  But the Indian people knew how to live, uh, they’d been there for millenia, so they– winter was not an issue for them, but it was killing all the Jamestown people.  And so, um, Pocahontas, who’d kinda befriended them, I think she was kinda  a pet, and particularly to John Smith.  So anyway, Pocahontas teaches these people how to live, but her father did not like her running over to the white men’s camp, and she had particularly befriended John Smith, and he didn’t approve of that at all.  So, I guess, John Smith– you know they were exploring and took a group of people out to the wilderness to look around and the Indians captured them cause they didn’t like the white people.  And I’m telling this so badly haha cause now I’m realizing that, like, Chief Powhatan didn’t know that Pocahontas had been sneaking into their village and he didn’t know that she had befriended any of those people.  So, uh, all he knew was that the white people were bad and he was afraid of them and thought they were bad people and so when he captured John Smith and his crew, he was gonna kill him, they were gonna kill them all.  So, supposedly, he was gettin’ ready to cut off John Smith’s head and Pocahontas came up on the scene and rescued them.  Said “Ohh, you can’t!”  She threw her body in front of the hatchet or whatever, the axe, and said, “No, no, no, you can’t do this, you cannot do this!”  And she protected John Smith from her father and from the Indians.  And then… the Indians helped, because of Pocahontas, the Indians helped the white people survive there, for the winter.  And that was the way it was told to me by my parents, and they said we should be so proud cause we were related to her…. and that she did such a huge thing– the beginning of a civilization.”




I had obviously heard of Pocahontas before, but I had never heard just a detailed telling of the story like this one I received from my mother’s childhood friend, Mary.  It was very cool to learn that she was a descendant of Pocahontas.  I was a little skeptical of this at first– Mary is white–, but she had proof.  A couple years ago, her son’s biology class went on a field trip to a lab to code for a sequence of DNA that was found in all Asian people.  At the end of the day, her son– who is white– and two other Asian kids were the only people to have the sequence in their DNA.  Surprised, Mary’s son, asked how this could be possible.  He didn’t have any Asian heritage that he knew of.  One of the lab’s scientist asked if had any Native American blood in his family.  The scientist explained that Native Americans originally crossed a land bridge to North America from Asia.  Baffled, Mary’s son told the scientist that his mom had always claimed their family was descendants of the Powhatan tribe.  


The Brooks Mansion Ghost

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials MJ.


JK:  Got any stories weird stories from your past growing up in the suburbs around Boston?


MJ:  Yea I’m from a town called Winchester about ten minutes north of the city.  I live across the street from these woods called the Brooks Parkhurst Forest.  So, there’s an old mansion called the “Brooks Mansion” in the middle of the forest close to this pond.  Apparently it was built at some point in the late 1800s.  The town tried to restore it and turn it into this kind of landmark at some point over the last 20 years, but people didn’t keep it in good shape and… so it kinda fell into ruin.  Anyway, me and some of my buddies had always heard it was haunted by the ghost of the lady that owned the house and died there sometime in the early 1900s.  Now, being normal people, ya know, we all thought this was bullshit….  We did not believe in ghosts.  In the past, I’d walked by the house with my dad.. but I’d never gone inside.  I’d heard stories about other kids going there to drink, but that was pretty much it.


JK:  Was there specific kind of story that you had heard about this ghost?


MJ:  Yea, a couple kids who were a few grades ahead of us told us they went in the house one night in the early fall.. had heard a bunch of weird noises, got freaked out, and left.  They mentioned they had heard the front door slam while they were upstairs in the mansion, and that made them freak and run out one of the back doors.  I told them it was probably the wind, but they all said it was a super calm night with no breeze at all.  So anyway, like a year later, me and two of my friends are smoking a spliff out in the woods and we start talking about the mansion and how some people think it has a ghost.  We all decide to take the 10-15 minute walk through the woods to get to it.  It was a mid September night, probably around 60 degrees– and get this– no wind.  Like none.  It was a wicked nice night, that’s why we were out there smoking in the first place.  So basically, we get to the mansion, open the front door and roll inside.  At this point we were definitely all a little high, but no one was stoned.  The inside was pretty run down.  The floors creaked, the walls were a mess.  A lot of windows broken, some graffiti on the walls.  It was all typical abandoned house stuff.  So we walk around taking it all in and head up stairs.  As soon as we get to the top we hear this noise that sounds exactly like wind blowing through an empty house…. But there’s no wind at all.  The night is dead still.  We look outside and none of the trees are blowing around.  This starts to get us scared.  Maybe we were higher than we thought.  After like 15 seconds of this, we hear the door slam, like loudly slam, beneath us.  We all let out a couple swears and bolt down the stairs and out one of the back doors.  Freaky stuff.  I’ve never gone back in the house.



This sounded like a classic old haunted house story:  old lady dies in her mansion and then her spirit stands guard over it for the rest of time.  When I asked the kid if he now believes in ghosts, he said, “Uh well before I didn’t but now I don’t really know what to think.  Maybe I was higher than I thought, but that door definitely slammed and there was no wind– or other people around– to do it.  Definitely makes you think.”  From this response, it is clear the interviewee is still unsure about the existence of the supernatural, but– if I had to bet– I would say he is slightly leaning towards believing in ghosts.  

St. Christopher

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials SC.

SC: A long, long time ago, there was a huuge man, like so strong, the strongest person that he knew and anybody knew.  And because he was so strong, he was saying he didn’t wanna serve anybody except the strongest person that he could find.  So he went to the King, and he’s like, “I have got these major gifts for you, look at me, I am the strongest person in the world.  I will do whatever, ya know, I wanna serve the mightiest master and I will do whatever I can do for you.  And, um, so he serves the King.  But then, um, he hears the King, like, um, the King talks about the the Devil, like, “Ohh, the Devil.”  He gets scared of the Devil, he’s worried about the Devil.  And, um, the big strong guy his name was Offero–


JK:  Offero? What?


SC: Offero, I think his name was Offero.  So Offero says, “Wait a minute, if you’re scared of the Devil then you’re not the mightiest of the mighty.  And I don’t need to be serving you, I wanna go serve  the Devil. I wanna serve Satan.”  So he goes and finds Satan and he serves Satan and they get into all sorts of terrible mischief and bad stuff, uh, he really liked it, so big, and brave and huge, and he says, “This is my calling to serve the mightiest in the world, so I’m here with Satan.”  And then there were walking along one day, and Satan takes a huge detour, and Satan never does anything except the most direct way cause he just walks on everybody and, ya know, he didn’t let anybody boss him around.  Offero notices that he’s taking this huge detour, needlessly, when there was no reason to do it– he took the long path and avoided the road when he could have just stayed on the road.  He asked Satan, “Well why did you do that?”  And he’s like, “Ohh, there’s something back there that makes me uneasy, I don’t like it, it’s like, there’s this cross back there, I’m uncomfortable with it, I don’t like it.”  So Offero says, “Wait a minute, I thought you were the mightiest in the world and there’s something you’re scared of?”  And he’s like, “Wellll, yea it just makes me uncomfortable.”  So the cross is like a symbol of Christ, or they call him the Prince of Peace… So Offero says, “Well, I’m gonna go search for this guy cause I’m huge and mighty and I only wanna serve the most powerful person in the world.  So Satan say, “Alllright.”  So Offero goes off and he’s lookin’, lookin’, lookin’, he has no idea where to find this Prince of Peace, and he asks everybody, and finally he asks an old hermit, and, um… the hermit says, “I don’t know him, but I know how you can serve him and maybe he’ll come to you.”  He takes him to this big river, which is always rushing with rapids, and it’s dangerous, but people always have to cross it, and he says, “Well, ya know, if you serve him this way and help people cross the river, he might make himself known to you.”  So Offero says, “Well he’s obviously the most powerful if Satan’s afraid of him, so ok, I’ll do it.”  He’s like, “If you can help people, a lot of people have died crossing this river.  If you can help people crossing this river, on your back, you know, you can help them get across safely, then that would be serving him.”  And Offero says “Ok.”  And he builds a hut, and he gets a staff, and he helps people across the river, he helps anybody who wants to go across the river, he puts them on his back and he helps them across the river.  This is a long time ago, before bridges.  And he does this for years and years, and you know, he’s like, “Gee, I don’t really know who I’m serving, but it’s nice here, and anyway, people are friendly to me, they like that I’m doing this, and so, I think I’m serving the most powerful person in the world, so ok.”  One night he’s tryna go to sleep, and there’s a terrible storm, and he thinks he can go to bed early cause it’s such a bad storm, nobody could possibly be crossing the river in such a torrential downfall in such wind and everything.  So, but he hears something that’s like, “Help me across the river.”  He hears this faint voice and Offero’s like, “Whattt, nobody could possibly be out in this weather, what is this about?”  So he tries to close his eyes, but then he hears it again, you know, just a faint call, so he goes to investigate and it’s just a little kid, a little child, standing by the river and needs help crossing.  He’s like, “Will you help me across the river?”  And Offero looks at the kid and he’s like, “Woww, well gee, I guess, I mean it’s just a little kid, and I can probably do this, ya know.  It’s terrible, terrible rain, but I can manage to get a little kid across.  Certainly he can’t do it on his own.”  So he puts the kid on his back and they start out across the river and it is just terrible, it is just the absolutely worst, hardest, most brutal crossing that Offero’s ever had.  He feels like it gets harder and harder with every step, like he’s got the whole weight of the world on him.  Just unbelievably– wasn’t even sure he could make it, but he just kept hanging onto the kid and crossing the river.  And he gets to the other side and um…. And he’s like, “Well here you are, safe and sound across the river.” And he says, “By the way, who are you and why’d you wanna cross the river at such a bad time of night.”  And um, he says, the kid, “Offero, can’t you tell who I am?  I’m the one you’ve been serving all these years.  And you have done a tremendous job serving me and I’m going to rename you– he goes I and Christ, the Prince of Peace and I am going to rename you, not Offero the bearer, which means the bearer, but I’m going to name you Christopher, the Christ bearer, because you carried me across the stream and you’ve been serving me and my people all these years.  So that’s why you see St. Christopher medals.  He’s a protector.  He keeps people safe, that’s why you get St. Christopher medals.  The medal always has St. Christopher on it with a staff carrying a child.”


This story was told to me by my Uncle Steve.  It was very interesting to see the character development of Offero as the story progressed.  At first, he’s just a man that wants to serve the world’s greatest power.  He seems to need constant reinforcement that he is, in fact, working for the guy at the top of the totem pole.  However, when Offero starts living by the river, he is only going off the word of the hermit that he is serving the Prince of Peace.  He does this noble work for years before finally having his questions answered.  I especially enjoyed this recitation because it didn’t come off as overly religious, despite being about the rise of St. Christopher.

The Woman in Black

“Ok, so this is a story of Georges Island, an island out in Boston Harbor.  During the Civil War, they built a fort out there called Fort Warren.  And that’s where they held prisoners of the Civil War, so Confederate soldiers were held out there.  Um, so there was a soldier out there who wrote a letter to his wife that he was being held out there and she got the letter, she was from Georgia.  So she comes up and she wants to break him out of jail.  So she ends up staying in Hull, right, which is a town right on the water and one stormy night, she rows out there, dressed in men’s clothing, and she had cut her hair, so she looked like a prisoner.  So she broke into the prison and she was doing everything she could to break her husband out of jail.  And as she was doing it, she was captured, along with her husband, and as they were about to take her, she went to take the pistol of one of the guards, and as she was grabbing at the pistol from the the guard, the gun went off, and it killed her husband.  And then she was tried for trying to break him out of prison, and she was convicted, and she was gonna be put to death.  And they said, “So you have one request.  What is your request?”  And she said, “I don’t wanna die in men’s clothing.”  They said, “Ok, that’s reasonable.”  So the guards at the fort went around, but there were no women on this island, so all they could find was like this black material and black robes.  So they put her in the lack robes and then they executed.  And from that day on, when you go out to that island… people swear that there is the “Lady in Black” that everyone sees walking around by herself.  And the legend is that that’s this woman.”




This story was told to me by my dad’s buddy, Stephen.  As a Boston native, I found the story to be very interesting.  Apparently it was based on true events.  It’s funny, as Stephen was reciting the tale, I recalled a short news clip from a Boston station that I’d seen several years ago.  The clip showed a shadowy figure donning black robes standing in heavy winds on an island in Boston harbor.  When Stephen, got to the end of the story, I put two and two together.  This was one of my favorite pieces of folklore that I collected.



“How bout Icarus? How bout a myth?  Icarus?  You know Icarus?  So I always heard this myth, Icarus and his dad….were imprisoned– I don’t really know why.  But, they just worked for the wrong people, anyway they went to prison……. Oh now I remember.  His father was an architect– a famous architect back in Greek mythology, and he had built a labyrinth for the king or whatever back then– the emperor.  But they locked him up though, after he built it, they locked him up cause they didn’t want him telling anybody the key to the labyrinth, they wanted it to be secret.  They were afraid that if he were out in the public, he would tell people how to escape from it and I guess it was meant to…um, keep people in.  So he was shut up in a tower with his son, Icarus, and but he was a really skilled guy and they were up in a tower and they had windows around them but they couldn’t get out because it was so high up, but the birds would fly around and sometimes feathers would drift in.  So they spent– Icarus’ dad had an idea that they could use the wax from their candle if they collected enough feathers, they could maybe  make wings to fly out of the tower.  So they collected– every time the birds flew around they collected all the feathers that fluttered into, um, their prison, at the top of the tower, and they finally collected enough that they were able to create these wings.  But Icarus’ dad said, “Listen, these are made out of wax and, you know, you see the candles, and when wax gets hot it melts and so when we fly out of here you cannot fly too close to the sun.  You must stay low.  Follow me, follow me.  And so, Icarus, the day came and they’re very excited to jump out of this tower and fly away from their imprisonment.  And Icarus’ dad says another time, “Don’t fly too close to the sun….or you’ll fall.”  So they start out and they’re doing wonnnderfully, they’re flying out of it and it’s exhilarating and so exciting and, um, Icarus is following his father, but he just gets so carried away with being able to fly that he starts kinda flying around his father, and then he gets a little higher and then goes down a little bit, then he gets a little higher again and he comes down and he keeps getting a little higher and his father is saying, “Icarus, don’t fly too close to the sun!!”  And… Icarus starts to lose a few feathers….and the wax gives way on his wings… and the feathers fall off of his wings and he plummets to the earth and dies.  Cause he flew too close to the sun.  So the message is, he indulged– what is it– he indulged his whimsy which led to his demise.”



I had heard the myth of Icarus before, but it was nice to get a refresher.  This tale follows the traditional structure of a Greek myth.  You have an individual pushing his abilities and boundaries to unattainable levels.  The individual is then punished for his excessive ambition.

Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo

“So this is a Chinese one.  Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo.  So back then, way, way back in time, back in Chinese time, um, sons were idolized and first borns were the most treasured member of the family.  Cause of that they gave them huge long regal names that worshipped them.  It would be like, “One that I worship”  And so it would be a big long name like, uh, and then, uh, so this woman had two sons.  The first one, her firstborn she named Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo.  So and then, which means like “One that I adore” or “Most wonderful child in the world” and then she had a second son and she named him Chang, which means like “Second” or “Another” or something– you know, it was a very short name.  And she idolized her oldest son and thought he was wonderful and, um, but anyway, the boys loved each other and they would play together and everyday the mother would go down to the river and do her washing and the boys would go and they’d play around her.  And there was a well by the river and um, sometimes their mother would let them go up on the hill and let them play, play near the well cause it was a nice view.  So they’d play around up there and, um, one time, Chang, got a little too adventurous, and he was lookin’ in the well and he was so small and he, uh, lost his balance, and he tumbled in… and, it was awful.  And Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo ran all the way down the hill with his little legs and told his mother that Chang had fallen into the well.  And the mother said, “Oh what? What are you saying?  Speak up, the water’s so loud down here I can’t hear.  So the boy hollers, “Chang fell into the well!!”  And his mother goes, “Ohhh, go get the old man with the ladder then.  Underneath the tree.”  So Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo runs over to the man with the ladder and says, “Ohh my brother has fallen into the well, Chang has fallen into the well!  Please come help me with the ladder!!”  And the guy says, “Oh I’m comin’ right straight away!”  So they get him out, they fish him out of the well and, uh, the old man, like turns him up on his knee and pumps all the water out of him and Chang is kinda choking and gasping for a moment, but he comes back to life, you know, he’s good as new within 20 minutes.  He comes back, he’s just fine.  Um, so, the boys were very scared of that incident, so many, many months pass before they go up on the hill again.  But they got braver and braver and they went up finally, after a long time, and they got a little more braver and braver and more curious and more curious about the well cause Chang had told hi brother about the well and what had happened inside it.  And soo, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo says, “Ooo I wanna poke my head in there.”  And Chang says, “Be careful, I wouldn’t do it if I were you.”  And well, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo does it and, um, falls into the well!  And Chang, on his little legs runs down the hill as fast as he can to his mom to his mom and says, “Mom, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And he’s practically out of breath after such a long name and running down the hill.  And the mom has the water rushing in her ear and can’t hear and says, “What?? What are you saying to me?”  And he says it again, he says, “Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And she’s like, “What nonsense are you talking!?”  Because he’s just like saying it so quick, and so she says, “Slow down! What are you saying!?”  So then, the boy is so out of breath he says really slowly, “Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo is in the well!!!”  And his mother says, “You should show your older brother more regard than saying his name like that!!”  But then she realizes that he’s fallen in the well and she says, “Oh my goodness, run, run right away to the man on the hill with the latter.  So the boy, whose exhausted now trying to get his mother to pay attention to him, runs over to the guy whose sleeping under the tree.  And so he’s out of breath and can just barely get it out of his mouth and he says, “Sir, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo has fallen into the well!!”  And the old man is sleeping and Chang’s voice isn’t loud, so he’s like, “What? What?  What’s in my dream?”  And, um, the boy jostles him and says, “Sir, Tiki Tiki Timbo No Saw Rembo Pali Pali Gucci Rick Ricky Rimbo is fallen in the well!!  And the guy is like, “What?”  And finally Chang shouts, “My brother fell in the well!!!”  And the guy says, “Oh my gosh, lemme get my latter!!”  And they run up to the well, run up the hill, and the poor kid is like completely out of breath.  But they get there and they drag the boy out and they try and try and try to revive him, and they work really hard, and they do revive him, but it is many, many– he is sick for a very long time after that, and um, ever since then, Chinese people have stuck– they have stuck with short, quick, easy names to say.”  




This story was told to me by my Aunt Susan.  She said she heard it when a teacher told it to her son’s kindergarten class on a day when she was helping out at the school.  This was one of my favorite pieces that I collected.  I think it’s cool how it’s a long story that has an ending that provides an explanation for a specific aspect of Chinese culture: using short, quick names.



“Be good to your teeth, or they will be false to you.”

So what’s the meaning behind that?


Uh, I mean I think it’s just clever and funny.  If you aren’t good to your teeth, you’re gonna end up with false teeth.”


Ohh ok, now I get it


Oh my gosh!!  You didn’t get that!?  I think that one is so funny, so cute.





This little saying is a short, clever play on words.  My Uncle Steve told me that his Aunt used to say this to him and his cousins all the time.  Apparently, she had taken poor care of her teeth as a child and young adult.  She started having to wear false teeth in her late 50s.  With this precautionary tale in mind, it comes as no surprise that my Uncle Steve has a nice, pearly white smile.  “I didn’t wanna end up with chompers like hers,” he jokingly says of his Aunt.


“When you know a thing, allow that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, allow that you do not know it. This is knowledge.”


“So in other words, knowledge– know it alls are kind of… stupid and the fact that they think they know it all.  Really knowledgeable and smart people are those that are open– they open their mind to learning… all the time.  And so if you don’t know something then you say, “Oh, tell me about that!” you know?  You don’t just act like you know it already.”




This was told to me by my Dad’s friend, Evan.  He says his mother used to tell him little sayings like this all the time.  He says that this one stuck with him more because he’s found it to be the most applicable in the different stages of his life.  He explains that the jist of this saying is that you have to accept your lack of knowledge on a subject before you can really start learning about it.


“Lift your feet up when you drive over a bridge.”

This little saying was told to me by one of my buddy’s older brothers, Emilio.  Their family grew up in Irvine, CA and to get to school everyday, they had to drive over a bridge.  Everyday, throughout elementary and middle school, their mother would tell them to lift their feet up when they drove over the bridge.  He recalls his mom telling him pick up his feet and look out the window because they were ‘flying’.  Unfortunately, Emilio’s mother passed away a few years ago.  He says when he drives over a bridge now and lifts up his feet, it gives him a fond memory of his mother.


John Henry


“John Henry.  Back in the railroad days, railroads were king, and that’s how you would get around the country, and um, and ya know, so railroad workers were really celebrated and there’s this one huuuge guy who could, um, drive a railroad tie, ya know how you have to put the pins in the railroad tie?  His name was John Henry, and um, he was huge, and soo strong, and he could drive railroad ties faster than anybody– he was legendary for doing that.  And um, so, but with time, machinery caught up and technology and everything, and a steam driver was made and everybody was like, “Ohh nobody can beat John Henry.  So I don’t care what kinda machine you make, he is just amazing.”  And he was like, “I’m not gonna let any machine beat me.”  And so he, um, they had a contest, they brought the steam tie driver out, and they went right alongside each other, steam driver and John Henry, and um, it was crazzy, never seen anyone work as hard as John Henry.  And he, uh, just kept drivin’ em in with his huuge sledge hammer, just one after the other, he could do it in one hit, ya know just drive the whole tie down in one hit.  And he, uh, he beat the steam– he beat the contest, he beat the steam driver.  And I guess he was a real guy, but I guess it’s a legend that he beat the, uh, the machine, the steam driver.  But he worked so hard, sweated so much, put so much out of uh– just gave his whole self to beatin’ the steam driver that he, he had a heart attack.  Just too much for his heart.  And he died.  But everyone was so impressed cause he did beat him, he did beat the steam driver.  I think they made a statue, I always heard the story, I’m sure there’s books and things out there.”





This was told to me by my dad’s buddy, Evan Rennie.  I had actually heard this story when I was young, but it was nice to get a refresher.  This tale follows the track of a typical legend.  The main figure possesses a mythic power (strength in this case) and is determined to succeed.  I thought John Henry’s death at the end of the tale presented an interesting twist.  If anything, his death helps grow the legend even more.  He went out doing what he loved to do: driving railroad ties.