USC Digital Folklore Archives / Adulthood
Life cycle

Ghost Mom and her Daughter: Car Guardians

Tim is a father of 3 children, and he currently lives in northern New Jersey. He went to Iona College in New York where he studied mathematics; after graduation, he worked for the family printing business before breaking off and starting his own. Now, he lives about 15 minutes from where he grew up, so many of the local legends he heard while growing up still apply. He told me this story while I was growing up.


Jack: “Dad, do you remember that road we used to drive down, the one that you said was haunted by a little girl and her mom?”

Tim: “Yeah, what about it?”

Jack: “Can you explain how that story goes again, and where you heard it?”

Tim: “Of course! So my dad actually told me and my siblings this growing up. The legend goes that this mom and her daughter were driving down that same road when suddenly their brakes gave out, but the problem was that the mom didn’t realize that until it was too late. When she got to the bottom of the hill and tried to brake, nothing happened, so they kept rolling into the middle of the road. Since it was early, there were some trucks going onto and off the highway, and one of them didn’t see the car so it smashed into it. The mom and daughter both died.”

Jack: “So how does the haunting come into play.”

Tim: “Oh, yeah. So the rumor goes that if you roll down that same hill, the mom and daughter will stop your car and hit the brakes for you, and if your brakes don’t work, they’ll just hold your car back. They’re basically trying to protect people from the same thing that happened to them. So these aren’t really your typical ghosts, I guess, because, you know, they’re nice. I guess ‘haunting’ is the wrong word. They’re more, like, lurking there and protecting the area or guarding the people that go there.”

Jack: “Can you see them?”

Tim: “I’m not sure about that. I haven’t seen them, but that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t.”

Jack: “So you said that they’re guarding the area and the people there. Do you still think that they’re ghosts, or do you think that they might be something else?”

Tim: “You know, I’m not sure. They could be ghosts, but they also might be guardian angels. But then again, they’re both just spirits, so how different could they be?”


This was one of the first stories I had ever heard about a ghost possessing or controlling some sort of machinery. Since I was young when I first heard this, it’s possible that my dad made the entire thing up just to scare me or give me something to believe in, but the fact that he mentioned his dad telling him the same story gives it a bit more truth/realism. Also, my dad and his father are both very religious, so I doubt they would lie and I also doubt they would make something up about ghosts until he really thought it was true. The parallel between ghosts and angels, however, was very interesting. It is true that they are both entities, and I guess both could be characterized as spirits, but it’s strange that they could both be categorized as this considering they both carry such different connotations. Angels have a positive and friendly connotation while ghosts have a malevolent and scary connotation, but as my dad said, not all ghosts are bad.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Ritual Of Coffee Service Employees

The informant in question is a barista with one of the most popular and well established coffee companies in Los Angeles. The ritual in question is, in the informants experience, company wide. Every employee does it.

“Working at a coffee shop with constant, bustling lines and loud talk Is really tiring. Getting really good coffee to thousands of people in one day is a difficult task. Our service line is like a manufacturing line, and we have to also retain a certain level of quality. We start at six in the morning and some of us work far, far into the day. The work is good though.

Mid shift, when the shift is halfway over, we all take a shot of water from our espresso cups. It’s something we all do, right in the middle of the day. It’s like taking a real shot, you know? To celebrate, to get you through it. It’s like ‘the day is halfway over’ and it’s a nice tradition. It helps us keep working and get over the halfway bump”

How long have you been doing it?

“Oh, ever since I’ve been at the company. Always. It’s something we came up with as a team to motivate ourselves. At first we thought, maybe a shot of beer. But there’s lots of us that shouldn’t and can’t do that so we take a shot of water instead. It’s great”

Analysis: This is a cool little ritual that must be helpful for gathering some energy. These baristas are standing all day, constantly pulling shots and servicing people. At first, the informant couldn’t think of any pieces of folklore to share with me. But he got quite excited in sharing this little ritual of theirs.


The Black Angel

Informant: Hey, while we’re talking about college towns, did I ever tell you about the black angel of Iowa City?

Interviewer: No.

Informant:  Um, so it was a big deal when I was in college, there’s not much to the one I’ve actually heard, it’s just that if you ever kiss a virgin in front of this black statue of an angel in the cemetery near the university in Iowa City, it’s face will turn white.

Interviewer: Did you ever?

Informant: No one ever has!


This local legend/joke might be construed as emphasizing anxiety about sexuality and, for women at least, the fine line between being considered prudish and being considered promiscuous; for young men, perhaps anxiety about being considered manly enough.  The informant heard this first from a college girlfriend of his, and apparently it was not uncommon for couples to go kiss in front of the statue on a dare–playful proof of adulthood in the liminal space of college, when many students find themselves no longer protected by parents but also not quite independent.


Senior Retreat

Anshika is a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara. She went to Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA, which was a small public high school that was #1 in the nation.

Anshika told me about her senior retreat she went on in her senior year of high school.

“When I went on retreat with my senior class, I was excited because I had heard about retreats from past years. My upperclassmen friends all said it was the first time that teachers got real with us and that we would get sentimental about graduating high school. I was excited to just camp out with my friends in the woods. Our senior class cabinet I remember themed it around Harry Potter. So, like, cabins were paired together to make houses and we would play games as part of the Triwizard Tournament to win the Cup at the end… It was pretty cool. During the day, we had organized activities but also free time to spend with friends. Then, during the night, teachers would rotate throughout cabins – one man and one woman teacher – and talk about things like sex, drugs, college life, life lessons, etc. They were super real with us and to be honest that was the first time I saw my teachers as humans too. Like, they went through shit in their past when they were our age, and that was super encouraging to hear. They talked about the transition from high school to college and what being an adult meant when you’re out there making your own decisions. It was a safe space. And hearing about the mistakes my teachers had made and how their life wasn’t as perfect as it seemed to be was really… humbling. Seeing them outside of the classroom was.. Weird, but really… insightful. Then, on the last day, we got back the letters we had written to ourselves at the very beginning of the year. Seeing how far we’d come in the span of just one academic school year and how much everything had changed was cool to see… honestly it was probably my favorite part of senior year. I got to know my classmates and teachers a lot more outside of the classroom.


In celebration of students graduating high school and moving on to the next stage of their life, college, or in other words, adulthood, many high schools host some sort of retreat or day where students can ask questions about life in a safe space. I really like the way they organized the retreat from Anshika’s words because they incorporated entertainment and real-life lessons all into one retreat. I appreciated the fact that they thought about the genders of the teachers and how comfortable the students would be asking certain questions with female and male teachers. It was very purposeful and I’m glad that the students had the chance and the safe space to prepare for adulthood together.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dale, Dale, Dale – Piñata Song

Informant: Maria Burguete. 20 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City

Informant: “Mexican parties are very fun. If there is a piñata involved we all sing a specific song while the person hits it with a stick. Once the  song is over, the person stops hitting the piñata”


“Dale, dale, dale! no pierdas el tino,

Porque si lo pierdes… pierdes el camino;

Ya le diste una!

ya le diste dos!

ya le diste tres!…y tu tiempo se acabo!!”



“Hit it, hit it, hit it! Don’t loose the aim,

Because if you loose it, you loose the way;

You already hit it once!

You already hit it twice!

You already hit it three! and your time is up!


Collector: “Do you recall when you first heard this song?”

Informant: “No, this song has literally been in my life forever. When I was a baby and I could not hit the piñata, my dad would carry me and everyone would sing it. Over time, this song has stayed with me and everyone I know. It is really part of our culture.”

Thoughts: This song is really important in Mexican culture. Whenever there is a piñata at a party, everyone immediately sings. It really has been engraved in the culture forever. Piñatas are an important part of a celebration in Mexico and although it usually involves kids, adults also partake in the activity.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cigars on Graduation Day

Informant: Sebastian Williamson. 21 years old. Born in Mexico. My brother and USC student.

Informant:“Sophomore year of high school I went to a boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire. One of the traditions at St. Paul’s is that when the seniors graduate they smoke cigars on the lawn after receiving their diplomas. I had never seen this ritual before. I remember seeing the seniors smoking cigars with their fellow graduates, taking pictures with their parents, and showing off their diplomas. A friend explained to me that the father buys the cigar—usually an expensive one—to signify a rite of passage into adulthood. Some of the teachers are not too happy with this tradition as smoking is prohibited on campus, yet this tradition is an exception. It has been such an old tradition in boarding schools that the administration accepts it. It is really a symbol of maturity and the next chapter in one’s life. I left boarding school after that year and finished high school in Mexico. When I graduated, I actually decided to smoke a cigar. Even though I was only at St. Paul’s school for one year, I wanted to bring a part of that experience to my graduation in Mexico. HA! What’s funny is that the school’s principal told me I couldn’t smoke so I just took several pictures.”

Thoughts: The cigar ritual at boarding schools is very traditional and old. Just like my brother, I went to boarding school but actually graduated from there. After receiving my diploma, I went to the lawn and smoked a cigar with my friends. This tradition of smoking cigars after graduation is a good example of a ritual done in order to enter into adulthood. Interestingly, my father didn’t buy me the cigar as I never told him about the tradition so I had to find an extra one from a friend. My brothers experience is really unique. His decision to smoke the cigar in Mexico was more about wanting to keep in touch with his boarding school tradition and I thought it was a great idea. In Mexico, since this tradition does not exist it makes sense that the administration got mad.


An Extra Birthday Candle

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I learned that you when celebrating someone’s birthday, you always need to have one more candle than necessary on the birthday cake. This candle has to be left unlit. I learned this from her grandma. For kids, this extra candle is one to grow on, so it symbolizes the hope that they will grow big and strong in the following year. On the other hand, for adults, this extra candle is for a long life and luck.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s a family tradition. It reminds me of my childhood because I always had an extra candle on her birthday cakes. Also, this concept always excites children who want to grow and become big and strong. As an adult now, I likes the idea of having this candle to promise a lucky year. I definitely plan to pass this tradition on to my children one day.

Personal Thoughts: This tradition is interesting to me because it highlights the fact that superstitions and traditions in general are not only for children; they are important to adults too. While kids love the idea of growing up to be big and strong, adults do not easily forget such traditions they celebrated growing up. They keep the tradition alive by changing its meaning to something which they want in their lives no matter how old they are- good luck in the next year.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

March of the Living

KM is a student at the University of Southern California studying architecture. She is from Encino, CA and has lived her whole life in Southern California. She comes from two Israeli parents and has a strong Jewish background as most of her family lives in Israel. She attended a private Jewish high school and learned Hebrew over the course of her school career. She actively participates in many holiday traditions and prayer rituals.

Is there any significant milestone other than a bat mitzva that you have in your young-adult life?

KM: Well when we graduate high school we go on a trip called March of the living where we basically tour all the concentration camps in Europe and travel to meet with others Jews who do it as well. Every year the graduating class at Jewish schools across the world do it and other Jewish organizations do it as well.

How is did that experience or tradition effect you?

KM: It was an amazing experience and it changed my life and my view on my heritage as a Jewish-American. Going to the concentration camps made me very emotional because many of my ancestors went through that experience in WWII. I think that it gave me a better perspective on how close our Jewish community is as well. When we got to meet Jewish people from all over the world and talk to them about our religion it was very comforting that we found solace in other people.

What was the most influential part of the trip?

KM: I think it was the march in general and especially when we went through the forest that people had to walk through or labor in where many people died. The trees were narrow and if someone walked more than 5 yards ahead they would disappear completely which was a scary thing to see how easily one could get lost or run off but they couldn’t for fear of being killed. Also, many people were killed out there which made the silence of the walk eerie and something I will never forget.


The march of the living is a very important trip for young Jewish people. The experience the true persecution of the holocaust and it is extremely eye-opening for most of them. I think it is a week where they focus on their culture and also connecting with others who share the same cultural identity and history. It is a tradition that is a bit newer but, still has had a dramatic effect on Jewish people around the world.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French Hunting Tradition

Main Piece: French Hunting Tradition


This tradition was told to me by my high school friend Mika:


“In France, white boars are very prevalent and hunting them is a big recreational pass time there. My uncle used to go on hunting trips where they would round up all of the 20 year olds and later teen men in the town and go out on a hunt.

They would have somewhere around 20-25 hunting dogs with them when they went hunting. The dogs would be let loose to chase down the boar and corner them. My uncle would then run up to the cornered boar and kill it with a traditional hunting sword.

My Uncle was 16 when he killed his first boar on a hunt like this. He didn’t have a son to pass on the tradition to, so when I was 16, he passed on the same sword he killed his first boar with to me.”




Mika’s family is primarily of European descent, with his Grandparents hailing from Finland. Mika’s uncle is a very avid hunter and would go out on expeditions all the time. Mika tells me his favorite type of hunting was the one mentioned above, as it is more of a sport having to be closer to the animal and adding a level of danger that is not there when shooting at it from 100s of yards away.

Mika especially likes this story because it is the tradition in his Uncle’s French community where when your son was ready to hunt, you would pass the sword on to them. Because Mika’s Uncle didn’t have a son he could pass the sword on to, he passed it down to Mika because he was the closest thing he had to a son. Mika said it was a real honor to get the sword from his Uncle because he was basically saying that he sees Mika as his son.




Mika has a lot of artifacts and artwork on display in his house, anywhere from weapons they bought in Africa on a Safari to artwork his grandparents passed on to his parents. I wasn’t expecting to get a big story out of it, but one day over spring break when we were hanging out in Mika’s room I saw the sword and asked him why he had it. He proceeded to tell me the story above, and I knew that it had a special meaning to Mika and it wasn’t just some souvenir he picked up when visiting a castle.

Mika tells me he plans to pass the sword on to his son, and even though he doesn’t use it for the same purpose his Uncle did when he passed it on to him, he wants to keep it in the family as an heirloom. He hopes to keep the story associated with the sword, as it is something that is a part of their family history and where they come from.


My thoughts:


I personally am a big fan of family heirlooms and their passing down from generation to generation. I think it gives the holder a reminder of where they came from and not to forget their roots and their family. I think the story is a great accompanying piece to the sword, and it is a great conversation starter.

I don’t personally have a family heirloom, but I would like to start one by passing something on to my son that has a deeper meaning, not just something I decide to give as a gift but will be cherished and passed on through many generations.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy


My friend from Paraguay has a lot of folklore about the seven Guarani monsters and the legends behind them. The Kurupi was the strangest of all the seven that he told me about.

Friend: “There are several Guarani monsters I learned about growing up in Paraguay. One of them is the Kurupi, a weird gremlin-like dude with a really long penis. I think he represents the spirit of fertility or something. ”

Me: Were there any stories about him?

Friend:  “Yes. In ‘the old days’ a lot of people would say (if they had an unwanted pregnancy) that Kurupi had impregnated them without even entering their home. For example, if you were a single woman or if you had cheated on your husband and didn’t want to get into trouble, you would blame it on Kurupi. His penis is so long that he can go through windows and doors in the night. There are also a lot of stories about the Kurupi taking young women and raping them.”

Me: Did you ever believe the stories?

Friend: “No, I never really believed in the Kurupi. Mostly he’s just a funny little demon that we’d laugh about in grade school.” 

Analysis: The Kurupi is certainly the strangest looking creature I’ve ever seen. Besides the initial hilarity of his appearance, the tale of the Kurupi is creative and disturbing. In a place and time where modern medicine cannot explain pregnancies and sex, legends will replace science. This is a clear example where women would become pregnant (by someone other than their intended) and the only way to protect their virtue would be to blame it on the Kurupi. In many ways, belief in a creature like this can settle marital disputes before they even arise. Additionally, however, the Kurupi could have taken the blame for many rape incidents– when a real person was the perpetrator.