My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.
“Most of the houses have entrance doors that are raised. There are no accommodations for the less able….everyone is expected to get in and out. If you fall or trip once, you should remember the next time you approach the door. If you miss again, you will be considered incompetent.”
Analysis: This proverb is essentially one that states that you should learn from your mistakes and from past experiences. If you trip once at the door, an intelligent person would remember the next time they encounter it, whereas a person who is oblivious will trip again because they did not pay attention the first time. Though the proverb can be applied to all situations where people fail to learn from their mistakes, the use of the word child implies that the person who is hearing the proverb—regardless of age—is acting like one. It exemplifies the expectation in the Cameroonian community to learn from your mistakes and take care not to make them again.
“Well, so my mom used to complain about how big my feet were for someone so small, and my grandmother would tell me that, ‘The good Lord put a strong foundation on precious things.’ . . . So that was the saying that made me feel better.”
The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. The informant learned this proverb from her grandmother (known in the family as Me-Ma) and the informant thinks she learned it from her own mother (the informant’s great grandmother).
The informant says that her grandmother used this saying “in that moment because I was feeling bad about how big my feet were and it made me feel special.” She thinks it means “that you should be happy with what you have and things will change and you will be fine. At least someone’s looking out for you ahead of time and you don’t even know.”
This proverb sounds right in line with the things that would be said among that side of the family. What I mean by this is that my mother learned a lot of similar sayings that sound like they might come from the Bible, but actually do not. The reason for this might be that religion was a really important authority in this group of people, and making something sound like it is entrenched in that way of thinking gives it legitimacy, even if it’s something silly. Additionally, it is interesting that such a strong proverb was used to make a little girl feel better about her big feet. This might be because a child would be more likely to believe something, even if that something was as substantial that she should accept her herself, if it came more formally phrased.
The informant’s great grandmother, a well-loved Argentinian woman, passed away when he was very young — at an age where he could only speak a little bit. He and his mother’s side of the family called her “Abuela Bastón”, or Grandma Walking Stick, for the distinct sound of her moving around with her trusty walking stick. After her death, there was a day where the family was sitting around, and the informant was nearly sleeping lying on his back. Suddenly, he sat up, pointed ahead, and exclaimed “Abuela Bastón! Abuela Bastón!”, claiming he heard the sound of the walking stick. It caused a bit of a reaction especially with his grandmother, who was very spiritual.
The grandmother (daughter of the deceased) was apparently very spiritual. She completely believed the informant was pointing at the spirit of Abuela Bastón only he could see. The rationale was that Abuela Bastón was there to check in on her great-grandson. While the informant doesn’t remember this incident, he does have vague memories of the sound of the walking stick during his youth. He doesn’t believe in ghosts or spirits but does respect the fact that it’s an important part of his family and culture, so he stays pretty objective about it so as not to offend.
It stands out the the informant, despite not really believing the spirituality of the situation, is motivated by cultural and familial respect to not refute that it was indeed a spirit. It’s also not quite a “ghost story” — more so a visitation from the spirit or soul of a recently dead family member. There wasn’t anything terribly haunting about it, and there wasn’t a visual component. Plus, it came from the mouth of a young child, although the clarity with which he suddenly woke up and spoke her name was uncharacteristic.
Q: Where did the turtle go to get gas?
A: At the Shell station!
My inormant learned this joke from a joke book that she got when she was in elementary school. As a child, she loved reading joke books and remembering jokes. Because she enjoyed being humorous, she would tell her newly learned jokes to her friends to see if they thought the jokes were funny or not.
On the way to dinner one night, she and her friends passed a Shell station. Using this perfect opportunity to say her joke, my informant recited the joke. After a long pause of everyone in the car looking at her, she burst out laughing to end the awkward silence. Even though this joke isn’t very funny, she tells it when there’s nothing else to talk about or when she’s bored.
My informant does not actually think the joke is funny. She actually believes that this is the stupidest joke ever. She only thinks it’s funny because of how lame it is. It’s just one of those jokes that is easily remembered to tell in any situation.
If someone were to tell me this joke, I would laugh only because I think it is lame. This joke is definitely not one of the funnier ones that people enjoy hearing. I agree with her, this joke one of those jokes that people tell when they’re bored. It’s also a great ice breaker when there’s an awkward silence or when people just meet each other. This turtle joke shows how jokes are necessary in our society. Jokes provide people with something that they can all relate to. Jokes give people an opportunity to all agree on the humor or lack of humor of the joke. They’re great topic starters and offer people a chance to see what kinds of people they’re with.
The informant related an activity she did with her children.
When I was a real little girl, My grandpa used to put me on his foot like this and hold my hand. [She crosses her legs at the knee and holds her hands at about knee level as though holding the hands of a toddler.] He was Norwegian and he would sing: “Ah ria ria runken. Hasta netta blunken” [phonetic transcription] [She mimes bouncing the child every other syllable.] I have know idea what it means.
I find it interesting that the informant remembers and passes on this piece of folklore despite not knowing even what it means because, even though she does not speak Norwegian, she is sentimentally attached to the rhyme.