USC Digital Folklore Archives / Old age
Old age
Proverbs

Italian Proverb: “Old Age is Trouble”

Is there something of a proverb that comes to mind from home?

J.A. – “La vecchia e una rogne; ma si non l’arrive, e una veregogna.” (Italian)

Translates to: Old age is trouble; but if you don’t get there, it’s a shame.

J.A. – “My parents’ people were farmers in Italy.  This saying has a fatalistic humor that resonates with me.  I feel closer to people I never knew hearing the clever play on words in the original Italian.”

 

This being a dark proverb, it brings to my mind the mortality of those I’m close with.  I got stuck for a few minutes on the first half of that sentence; “old age is trouble.”  What does that mean?  Are you going to die?  Is disease coming for you?  It’s interesting – this person thought of the proverb as an example of “fatalistic humor.”  I’d disagree with that, actually.  I’d argue that it’s a blatantly depressing proverb, explaining that any life is better than death.  The inevitability of what’s coming for you may be frightening, but – hey, at least you’re alive.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Old age

Haitian Reincarnation

Context/Background: The informant’s parents are from Haiti which holds positive beliefs towards reincarnation. One particular encounter sticks with them within this belief.

Informant:

[Face-to-Face conversation]

“So, my family- or I think Haitian people in general just believe that if someone is born the day someone dies, the person who dies- their spirit goes inside the new baby. So like, I think my Dad had a friend who died the day my sister was born, so he’s like, I think his spirit is like, in my sister. So, that’s a nice thing we believe. Yeah.”

Introduction: Personal exposure and informed through Haitian father.

Analysis/Interpretation: This belief is seen across cultures and religions, so I find that intriguing and would love to explore further similarities around the globe with similar ideas. I remember watching different documentaries and being introduced to the idea of reincarnation from different cultures and societies which was interesting to observe and compare that to the belief systems of others. I think the ability to find peace of mind in the informant’s specific circumstance by having faith in the transfer of a soul to another body as comforting, in a way.

 

For reference to reincarnation in other cultures, reference

(2019). Basics of Hinduism: Karma and Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/karma-reincarnation

Tsuji, T. (1996-2019). BuddhaNet Basic Buddhism Guide on Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/reincarnation.htm

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Homeopathic
Life cycle
Magic
Material
Old age

Long Noodles, Long Life

Context/Background: The informant is a first-gen Filipino-American whose family has engaged in a wide range of customs throughout her life. One specifically pertains to food and one’s lifespan which she learned from her family.

“Yeah, so a Filipino… maybe Asian… tradition is to eat long noodles on your birthday for long life. So Even if you go out to dinner for your birthday, you HAVE to eat long noodles in order to have a long and fulfilling life.” (Informant)

 Analysis/Interpretation: When I first heard of this tradition I thought it seemed like a nice practice where one could find a clear state of mind when consuming their bowl representing a long life on a birthday. I looked into this more after speaking directly to the informant and found a large presence of this tradition in Chinese culture where participants eat yi mein, known as “longevity noodles.” I found it interesting that these noodles were being compared to cakes in some aspects because these noodles are such an integral aspect of birthdays in Chinese culture. Seeing how these specific aspects of birthdays in varying cultures are so integrated, caused me to wonder how other cultures perceive American birthday traditions such as cake and blowing out candles.

 

For further information on other forms of food for with significance, refer to

China Highlights. (1998-2019). The Symbolism of Chinese Foods. Retrieved from https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/chinese-food-symbolism.htm

 

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Musical
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.

 

Legends
Old age
Tales /märchen

Grandpa and the Friendly Ghost

Main Piece: CR: So, I’m not sure if the ghost came with the house in Winchester because after I finally told Grandpa about the ghost he then told me that the house I grew up in also had a ghost, so I don’t know if its a new ghost or like a continual ghost, but um, yeah there was the two specific things that happened! So we had bookcases in the den, built in bookcases that had books and knick knacks, so one day sitting in the living room I can see the den, out of the blue one of the knick knacks, a little fairy, literally falls off the bookcase on to the ground. No animal had walked by, nothing had happened. So I went to pick it up, and I put it back and I thought “well, maybe it was just learning funny, maybe it got bumped and finally fell off” so I put it back. I sat back down. Within a couple of minutes, from that same area on the bookcase, a book fell off and hit the ground. That’s the one that freaked me out because there’s no way a books just gonna fall off and hit the ground from the same area that that fairy was! In addition, things would go missing forever, we’d look and look and look for something, and a week later bam it’s just sitting there where we had looked 47 times, and I also would notice little peripheral lights in certain areas, and i’d look and it would go. So that’s when I made a deal with the ghost, I said “you can stay, but you cannot freak me out!.” and so I feel that when we moved to the first condo, I feel it came with us, because I still had the lights and things would still go missing, BUT when we moved to the second condo was within a few months of grandpa dying, and I have had very little issues at the new condo, so I don’t know if Grandpa is running interference with us with this ghost.

 

Context: These ghost sightings were noticed years ago, in an old house which happened to live in a city with a lot of Native American culture.

 

Background: CR tends to believe in these things: she meditates, she collects healing crystals, and she firmly believes that this ghost was real. She just as firmly believes that her father, after he died, has sent signs to her and has possibly protected her from this ghost.

 

Analysis: Ghosts are always interesting, especially when dealt with from the perspective of someone who firmly believes in ghosts. It seems difficult to find any sort of logical explanation for CR’s items falling off of her shelf other than a ghost, as books flying off shelves just isn’t something that regularly happens. The most interesting part of this story, however, is when CR mentions her father; it is definitely worth noting that her father died around the same time that her ghost stopped making problems for her– perhaps the ghost was tied to her father, since he mentioned that they definitely had a ghost in her childhood house. Perhaps the ghost was helping her recently deceased father get situated. Or perhaps, as she said, her father is out there, protecting her from this ghost that just wants to knock things off of shelves. Her firm belief in the presence of this ghost, and the relationship of the ghost to her father, is what makes this story truly unique.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Día de los Muertos Traditions

Transcription: “We don’t do a big ofreda. My mom puts out photos of my grandma and lights a lot of candles on that day… I guess in remembrance of her spirit. We don’t eat the special bread.”

When I first asked my informant to tell me about any of her family traditions, she immediately thought of Día de los Muertos. Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated by those of Mexican descent. The celebration remembers those who are no longer living starting on October 31 and ending on November 2. During that time, the spirits of the dead were thought to be able to come to earth and mingle with the living.

My informant’s family is from Mexico and she is originally from Texas, therefore, she has a strong connection to Mexican culture. When I asked about her Dia de los Muertos practices, she explained that the traditions her family follows on the holiday are simple. Although her family recognizes Día de los Muertos, it is not an integral holiday in her family tradition.

Every year, her mother sets up Día de los Muertos decorations. Día de los Muertos is known for its extravagant ofrendas, or offerings, to the dead. Since Día de los Muertos is not a popular holiday in her family, they do not set up elaborate ofrendas. Instead, they set up pictures of deceased relatives and light candles. Her family’s decorations may be simplistic, but they accomplish the same goal as the ofrendas. Both honor the dead by recalling their image to the minds of the family and invite a spiritual form of remembrance.

According to my informant, there is a special type of sweet bread that is eaten on Día de los Muertos, but her family does not usually buy it. My overall impression was that her family celebrates Día de los Muertos not because they believe in the holiday, but because honoring the dead is central component of their culture.

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative
Old age

A Spirited Dream

Collection: Legend (ghost) and Folk Belief

I asked the informant to describe an unusual happenings regardings spirits or the soul. She answered with the following story.

“A few weeks after my dad died, he came to me in a dream. This was the most realistic dream I have ever had even to this day. Of course I was so overjoyed to see him and talk to him because he had just passed away. He told me that he was so proud of me and his grandchildren and that I’ve done a wonderful job raising them. After we talked for awhile, he said, ‘I’m sorry honey but I have to go now.’ I cried and screamed, ‘Please Daddy don’t go! Don’t go!!!’ He said, ‘I love you, I’m okay, don’t be sad and don’t be scared. I’m okay.’ He started to rise up, up ,up in the air, and then he was gone. The next thing I know my husband is saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ I was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking up at the corner where the wall meets the ceiling, and  yelling for my dad to stay.

Context/Interpretation: This collection depicts folk belief in a soul and implies the existence of an afterlife or spirit. Further, this narrative reflects the life cycle as the informant’s father spoke to her after death, and he mentioned new life, her children.

 

Old age

Funeral

Interview:

“We go to the temple for funerals.  Everyone eats lunch or dinner together like a family reunion.  It’s like a funeral but also an opportunity to catch up with each other. I went to those funerals, but I don’t really think of them quite as funerals.  “

What usually happens in these events?

“We go to the house of the person who died.  The priests come there.  Usually the day is spent making food and preparing the house, then making an alter and decorations.  Service where they have chanting, and at one point they take a string, and wrap it around the attendants around the hands of the attendants.  Same thing happens for blessing the house.

After the service is over, before noon, then the priests can eat, but if it’s after that, then no.  Then after that they party and eat.”

 

Background:

The subject describes the traditional events of a Sri Lankan funeral of which he has participated in a few times.  He also stated that it emphasized family in a way, bringing people together who may have been unable to communicate for long periods of time.   Similar to stories I have heard from Louisiana, rather than mourning the death, they celebrate a person’s life.

 

Analysis:

I found that the idea that death could be viewed as a celebration to a person’s life rather than mourning was incredibly positive.  It seemed like a means to help people move on after death and in this case, rekindle the family bonds that may have slowly drifted away.

Customs
Holidays
Life cycle
Narrative
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Reading of the Christmas Story

A father has implemented a tradition in his family that the eldest family member present reads the “Christmas Story” as recorded in the book of the Bible, Luke. This occurs before any Christmas presents are opened, he explains:

“I started this tradition as a way of reminding everyone what Christmas truly means without getting too wrapped up in the excitement of the holiday and the gift aspect. Christmas to me is a true celebration of life and having the oldest family member read the story is another way of celebrating life itself.

This version of the Christmas story text reads as follows (Luke Chapter 2: 1-21, NIV edition):

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the         Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.”

 

 

Background:He is 53 years old and raised in Los Gatos, CA. He was raised in a Catholic home and began to strongly identify in the Christian faith after college and into his years as a father. He attended Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley.

Context:He shared this tradition with me at a dinner we had just the two of us. His mother had just passed away, and he was reflecting on his fondest memories of her.

Analysis: Family traditions, particularly those linked to particular holidays or particular people, is a really emotional form of folklore. There is something about a holiday ritual that evokes such a strong sense of family unity and solidarity that I think is very unique. In terms of the Christmas tradition explained above, the most captivating element is that the reading is done by the eldest family member every year. This is really emotional to think about, as the eldest family member could potentially change every year depending on family members who pass on. For the person who shared this story, his mom was the one reading the Christmas story for many years, until this Christmas, when the tradition had to be passed on to someone new. The tradition becomes heavy in this sense, but also a really beautiful way to continue someone’s legacy and memory within one family unit.

Folk Beliefs
Game
Gestures
Humor
Legends
Magic
Material
Old age
Signs

MS College for Women: Old Maid’s Gate

Title: MS College for Women: Old Maid’s Gate

Category: Curse/ Conversion Magic

Informant: Lieanne Walker

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 60s

Occupation: Blue Collar— Homemaker, stockman, Home Depot Employee, etc.

Residence: Columbus, MS

Date of Collection: 4/21/18

Description:

The Old Maid’s Gate on The Mississippi College for Women’s campus has a curse associated with it. Women entering campus on foot from a certain drop off location will sometimes purposefully avoid the gate in order to not have to go through a charm of reversal in order to undo to curse. The gate is on the corner of campus in a  central location (making it a nuisance to avoid or have to follow through with), and appears to look like any other marble statue. However, if a woman is entering campus through the gate (and there are only a limited number of gates that one can enter the camps through), then she has to walk backwards under the gate all the way down that sidewalk of campus until she reaches the statue at the end of the park, turns around, and kisses it— This statue is known as the “kissing rock.” If the woman passing under the gate fails to do this, then she will grow up to become an old maid.

Context/Significance:

The “W” as the college is known, is famous for a few ghost stories and superstitions. This one in particular is special since there is a way of reversing the outcome of the curse. Since the “W” is a women’s college, its not surprising that this story would revolve around something bad that could happen to women in particular. Becoming an “old maid” is an irrelevant but somewhat universal fear shared by a majority of women, and the “W” being a location that houses a large number of women at a young age, it’s not surprising that a common fear at that location would be ending up alone.

Also, during the time that this tradition was probably established, in earlier years it was more common for women to have to rely on men for a sustainable lifestyle. Marriage held more importance and it was something you’d never want to be cursed from if possible.

Personal Thoughts:

My Aunt attended the “W” when she went to college and I remember her telling us the story of the old maid’s gate. When my mother tells the story she say s what happened was that her family was taking Aunt Chris back to school one semester and everyone was piled in the car to drop her off. When they arrived at the College my Grandfather prompted her to get out of the car. Aunt Chris refused and asked to be dropped off at another open gate to the school. My grandfather was refusing until she told him the story of the Old Maid’s gate and how she didn’t want to have to go through the ritual in order to carry her things back to her dorm. While they sat in the car, they actually watched another girl go through the conversion as they watched— They then agreed to drop her off at another gate.

Annotation:

For additional history behind MS College for Women’s Old Maid’s Gate, read an exert from:

Golden Days: Reminiscences of Alumnae, Mississippi State College for Women

MLA Citation:

Pieschel, Bridget Smith. Golden Days: Reminiscences of Alumnae, Mississippi State College for Women. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009.

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