Interviewer: Is there any fairy tales, legends or myths, you have learned from your Italian side of the family?
LC: Yes, I know one called the “ass that lays money very well”. So the story goes that there was a very poor woman who lived only with her young son. When she and her son began to starve and not be able to afford food she sent her son to her brother, the boys uncle, to look for help. The boy then traveled to his uncle’s farm where he was received with warmly. The boy tells his uncle of him and his mom’s troubles and the uncle tells him he would be happy to help. The uncle gives the boy an ass, a donkey, and explains that the ass lays money and all he has to do is put a cloth underneath it to catch the money and they will never need money again but the uncle warns the boy that he must tell anyone and take the ass straight home to his mother to keep it safe. The boy thanks his uncle and leaves to return home but he stops at an inn on the way. He tells the manager of the inn that he must have his ass in his room with him and that he wont leave him outside. The manager finds this very peculiar but allows it. Then once the boy is asleep, the curious manager goes to his room and looks through the keyhole to see what is going on, he then sees the ass laying money. The manager then decides he must get the ass so he replaces the ass with a similarly looking one while the boy sleeps. The boy then leaves with the wrong ass ion the morning but he soon realizes it doesn’t lay money and looks slightly different leading him to return to the inn to demand for his ass back. The manager tells him he didn’t steal the ass and that the boy should leave if he’s going to accuse him of being a thief. So the boy returns to his uncle and asks for help once more. The uncle then gives him a table cloth that magically prepares a meal when the words “make ready” are said. But the uncle warns him once more to go directly home and tell no one about the tablecloth. The boy then decides to stop at the same inn once again and tells the manager that he doesn’t need any food for the night which raises the manager’s suspicion once again. The manager then looks through the boy’s keyhole once again and watches him use the table cloth once again and decides he must have this too. So the manager waits for the boy to sleep once again before replacing the table cloth with an identical one. The next morning the boy leaves to return home, but when he stops for a meal on the way there he realizes he had been tricked once again and that this was not the same magical table cloth. The boy then goes back to his uncle’s farm and once again tells him what happened. The uncle is mad but he still gives the boy something else to reclaim his items. He gives him a magical wooden stick that beats everything in sight when the words “hit hit” are said and stops when someone says “stop”. He tells the boy to go back to the inn and use it. So the boy goes back and asks for a room. This time when the manager sneaks into his room the boy pretends to be asleep and then says “hit hit”. The stick then beats the manager so badly that he begs the boy to stop it and says he will give his ass and tablecloth back. So the boy stops it and leaves to go home with his items. When the boy gets home his mother is so happy and they celebrate by inviting their family over for a feast and that’s the end.
Interviewer: That is quite the tale, how did you learn it?
LC: My grandma on my Dad’s side of the family learned it from growing up in Italy and passed it down through our family and would tell it to me and my sister when we were little.
Interviewer: What meaning does this story have to you? Why do you like it?
LC: I guess it taught me that when someone steals, karma will end up getting them back. I just really like it because it was one of my grandma’s favorite stories and I always loved when she would tell me stories.
Interviewer: Have you only heard about this story from your family?
LC: Yes just my grandma mainly and sometimes my mom would tell me it. I think that’s because it’s a very Italian fairy tale and isn’t that popular in America.
Context: The informant is a seventeen-year-old young woman from Dallas, Texas. Her father’s parents are from Italy while both of hers are from America. She learned this story through her Italian grandmother telling her it. I collected this performance from the informant in person at the informant’s home in Dallas, Texas.
Analysis: I thought this was a very interesting fairy tale that I had not heard before. I found it to be both entertaining and fascinating. I was fascinated by it because it had a lot of aspects of fairy tales I was familiar with even though it comes from an Italian culture that I am not familiar with. It had classic elements of the “hero” leaving home on a quest, being warned of what not to and still doing not, encountering a “trickster” and a glorious return that can be found in stories vast amounts of other fairy tales. I also enjoyed how my informant was able to connect with her Italian heritage through the form of storytelling.
For another version of this tale you can find it in:
Crane, Thomas Frederick. Italian Popular Tales. Singing Tree Press, 1968.