USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Childhood’
Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Fatherly Advice

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: A piece of advice in the form of a proverb my friend’s dad taught him to live by.

Phrase: The most important thing is to think. The second most important thing is let other people think.

Analysis: The piece is simple, really just some advice that’s important for parents to give to their kids. My friend specified this was something his father told him every time he “did something stupid,” but I appreciate that the proverb refers to the world beyond yourself and stresses the importance of respecting other peoples’ minds.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Dreaming of Buddha

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is the story of an accident that happened to my roommate’s mother when she was young.

Dialogue: Um… I don’t remember how old she was, probably between, you know, 10 and 13. Um, she was playing hide and seek, and was in a two-story house, um, and she really wanted to be tough to find, so she climbed up out on the balcony, on the railing I think, and held on to the opposite side of the railing. Um… After that she accidentally let go and fell two stories and… landed on the ground, uh…

What happened after that, when she was unconscious. She had this dream where… uh, it was completely dark. She was looking around, and she could see these demons coming up everywhere, um, including the Devil I think, and so, her reaction was like, “What do I do, there’s demons all around me, there’s total darkness?!?” And then this light appears. I think it’s supposed to be the Buddha, is what she said, and it says, “Hey, uh… Don’t go towards those demons! Come towards me, that’s what you should do, that’s gonna be good.” Uh, so she goes on, she, you know, runs past those demons, heads to the light, and when she comes to, um, her whole family is, like, around her cuz she fell two stories, and they say she is completely unharmed. She gets back up, like, good as new, and, um… ever since then she’s been quite a bit more religious.

Analysis: I debated whether or not this deserved a “miracle” tag based on the fact that a two-story fall resulted in absolutely no injuries. I’m impressed by the fact that a single dream brought about a life-long change, but I suppose it is because views on religion in America and views on religion in Vietnam are different. It would be interesting to hear the dream told from the mother herself, though, just to get as much detail as possible on what happened while she was unconscious.

Childhood
general

Hamburger/Hotdog Folding

My sister grew up in the United States, where most kids are introduced to arts and crafts at a very young age. As many know, there are two ways to fold a piece of paper: hamburger (narrow edge to narrow edge) or hotdog (wide edge to wide edge).

Allegra: “I was introduced to the folding pattern ‘hot dog versus hamburger style’ in first grade. We were fashioning tri-corner hats out of newspaper. The first step was to fold the newspaper down along a crease to maintain its width, rather than its length. This was referred to as “hamburger style.” If the first step had instead been to fold the newspaper vertically, longer than it was wide, the instruction would have been ‘hot dog style.'”

Me: Did you notice that other teachers referred to hamburger and hotdog folding in class?

Allegra: Oh totally. It was a commonly used instruction in art rooms and day care centers that I went to throughout my childhood. A teacher would say, ‘To make a paper fan, fold the materials hot dog style.’ or ‘To begin your fortune teller, fold the paper hamburger style.’

Analysis: If I could hazard a guess, I think the metaphor works because these sandwich fixings come out of the package with a natural crease. Buns fold along a perforation for easier separation. A hot dog bun opens but does not disintegrate, much like how many paper projects require the traces of former folds to last, so that they may be used later. Two American culinary staples, same dough, two different ways to enjoy them. Hot dogs and hamburgers are also quintessential components to the American child’s diet. Notoriously fussy eaters, the one or two lunch room items every kid likes are hot dogs and hamburgers. Its an easily relatable illustration for a strange new technique, like origami.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Jasy Jatere

My friend grew up in Paraguay and has a lot of myths and legends that stem from the Guarani tradition.

Friend: “The Jasy Jatere is the God of the siesta. I heard about him from my grandmother. Apparently he would steal kids who snuck off during the siesta, which is a nap most people take during the day. I think the story was told to keep kids from leaving their houses while their parents were sleeping. Like don’t go away or the Jasy Jatere will get you!”

Me: What did he look like?

Friend: “He was supposed to look like a kid. He has blonde hair and is pretty small-framed. But he’s actually a full-grown man. Kids are supposed to think he’s their friend, he plays with them and feeds them fruit and honey, and then, according to my grandmother, he imprisons the kids and pokes out their eyes so that they cannot see to find their way home.”

Me:Did it scare you into napping during the siesta?

Friend: “Yeah I was pretty freaked out by Jasy Jatere. I definitely thought he would come and get me if I wasn’t napping. He’s sort of like the boogeyman of Paraguay.”

Analysis:The Jasy Jatere being a “Paraguyayan Boogeyman” is interesting. In some ways, it is creepy that parents would try to scare their children into staying at home and trying to sleep. Most of the time, these fears dissolve without much consequence. A child grows up and learns not to fear the Jatere, or the Boogeyman. Another connection that could be made to the Jasy Jatere is Peter Pan. It is the same archetype: a boyish creature who seems to be immortal, coming when children are without their parents, to take them away to a far off place– usually never to return home. Many cultures have these types of stories, and I think they play into our fear (and curiosity) of being taken from a loving home  with one of our kind who has learned to survive without the support of parents. transcoder

Contagious
Customs

Carving Initials into Tree Trunks

My informant is a childhood friend, and during a visit home she brought up a grade-school memory of carving initials into tree trunks. I remember doing this with her when we were very young and so I asked her to elaborate on the memory from her point of view.

Me: ” What was it that you carved into the tree trunks and when did you do this?”

KC: “Well, when I was in grade school so like third, fourth or fifth grade I suppose, at recess sometimes the girls, in a group, would get together no more than like three girls I guess, and get either a sharp stick or pen or pencil and pick a tree on the playground. On the tree they would carve their initials and under that, carve a plus sign and under that, they would carve the initials of their crush, so a boy they liked. Sometimes if the girl was really crafty they would carve a heart around those initials. It would supposed to be like, you had a crush on them and you were proving that you liked them or something, or maybe it would make them like you back or maybe like in the future you would date or something. It was all very innocent like super girlie and cute.”

Me: “Who did you learn this from and when?”

KC: “You know, I have absolutely no idea. I just remember doing it, because all the other girls did it and you did it as a group. I don’t remember being taught by like older girls or anything, just doing it and then maybe teaching it to other girls my age and getting a group together. It was kinda like a game I guess, something to do at recess. But, I do remember you could get in trouble for it, like not in trouble for the liking boys thing, but for vandalizing the tree or something like that.”

Analysis:

This is a sort of childhood game or maybe even a version of contagious magic as the little girls wanted their crushes to be reciprocated in the future. This is perhaps an example of gender roles being explored at a young age, as this is young girls in a group exploring naively the future of dating.  Girls are defining themselves as feminine as they perform this ritual of carving initials as they known they are expected to “like” boys in a romantic way some time in the future. They are naive and unaware of what that truly means, but at this age is when they are introduced to the idea of romantic relationships. Thus, this is playing at “liking” boys in the way they encounter in real life. Boys are no longer “icky” at this age and they mix a lot more and as they encounter the world around them and view dating and romantic relationships this is their way of understand it. It may also be a childlike version of contagious magic as usually the girl wants the person whose initials she has just carved to reciprocate the crush.

Childhood
Musical

Dodo, L’Enfant Do

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old student at USC; she’s studying neuroscience with an eye towards medical school. Her father is Laotian and French and her mother is French.

Performance:

“Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bien vite

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bientôt

Une poule blanche

Est là dans la grange

Qui va faire un petit coco

Pour l’enfant qui va fair dodo

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bien vite

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bientôt

Tout le monde est sage

Dans le voisinage

Il est l’heure d’aller dormir

Le sommeil va bientôt venir.

My mom used to sing it to me. I think hers did too.”

ENGLISH: Sleep, baby, sleep/the baby falls asleep/sleep, baby, sleep/the baby will sleep soon; a white chicken/is in the barn/making a little egg/for the baby who goes to sleep; Sleep, baby, sleep/the baby falls asleep/sleep, baby, sleep/the baby will sleep soon; everyone is calm/all around/it’s time to sleep/sleep is coming soon.

Thoughts:

This is an adorable piece of folklore, and one that has understandably withstood the tests of time. The lyrics and tune are quite simple; simple enough that, years and years later, people can still remember the song as it was sung to them and pass it on to their children.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Siempre ay un ‘yo lo vi’”

EM is a 45 year old statistician from San Salvador. He immigrated to the US in the early 90s to attend Kansas University, but he grew up in El Salvador where he and his two brothers were raised by a single mother. Here is a proverb he recalls from his childhood:

“This is a proverb, or a saying- something people tell you. This one is more like a warning, but it also tells you a lot about the community.

It goes something like this, “there is always someone that saw you.”

“Siempre ay un ‘yo lo vi’

So, literally it says “there will always be someone who will say “I saw him do it”!”

If you are doing something, you are not supposed to do, someone will catch you and know you were doing something bad. It’s a warning not to misbehave. My mother used to repeat that often, and early on it is proved to be true. Suddenly you are doing something you are not supposed to and the neighbor from the corner tells your mom! So you learn early that, “oh my god, this is true! If I do the wrong thing there will always be someone who will tell on you!”

I think it comes with the idea that in El Salvador, in particular, that we believe in the English saying- “it takes a village to raise a child”. Even other adults are always aware of where every kid is, and they can correct you if they find you out on the street doing something, because you are part of that community and they care a lot about you and your parents. So proverbs like this one encourage you to behave in a way that the adults in the community find acceptable.”

 

My thoughts: Proverbs that are passed down from adults to children often serve the purpose of socializing them to follow the cultural norms of their community. This particular proverb is meant to keep kids from doing things their parents don’t want them to. It also reflects the nature of these communities were, as the informant noted, the raising of a child is a collective endeavor- Salvadorans consider their relationships with their neighbors to be amongst the most important because you never know when you may need their help. Neighborhoods in El Salvador tend to be closely interconnected, and an important part of coming of age is figuring out how you fit into that community.

Childhood
Folk speech
general
Humor

Never Ever Ebbers

L is a 53-year-old homemaker living in Winnetka, IL. L grew up mainly in the northern suburbs of Illinois, but she also lived in Germany and England for a while when she was younger. L speaks English primarily but she is learning French. L attended both the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Madison for her undergraduate college education. L considers herself to be American. She does not really identify with her Welsh ancestry.

Me: What’s something funny your family likes to joke about?

L: Oh! Never ever ebbers.

Me: What is that?

L: Well, they are a very creative and inventive name for a drip castle made on a beach.

Me: Ok. Where did they originate?

L: They originated in Ogunquit, Maine, on a small lighthouse beach. My four year old daughter was sitting on the beach and she was very engaged in making this castle and I remember leaning over and saying “can I help you make a castle?” And she just looked at me and said it is not a castle, it is “Nebber Ebber Ebbers.” I think she was trying to say Never ever land or something like that.

Me: But ebbers stuck?

L: We sat there making ebbers forever. I swear we were making ebbers for three hours. And then my husband and I kept asking what is never ever ebbers, and she would reply, “it’s nebber ebber ebbers!” so, the funniest part was when we asked her if we could eat the ebbers. She said no. Is ebbers a castle or a house? She’d say no. And finally I just agreed with her that it must just be never ever ebbers, and I learn something new every day.

Me: So it’s a family thing then? Like a joke.

L: Yeah. We’ve reminded her about it ever since then. We sometimes ask her what it means. when she was 10 we asked her what it meant and she said “what?” Then we asked her if she remembered the drip castles and she was like, “oh!” Then she shrugged her shoulders and said “I don’t know.” I guess we’ll never know! It’s sad, but it’s still funny.

L talks about a the name that her daughter created for the drip castles she was making. The phrase that her daughter started has become a family joke and now drip castles are called “never ever ebbers.” They will probably never know the reason she came up with the name, but it doesn’t seem like that matters. It’s justa  funny memory and a story to tell any time anyone ever makes a drip castle.

Childhood
Game
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Egg Hunting with Siblings

M is a 20-year-old black female who is currently double majoring in NGO’s and Social Change and Communications at the University of Southern California. M grew up in Boston, MA but currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. M primarily speaks English, but she is also fluent in Spanish.

Me: Does your family have any fun holiday traditions?

M: Um. We are aggressive when it comes to Easter baskets. My mom is really happy that my brother aren’t home for Easter anymore because, I think she though she could like stop when I like reached 16, and she had the Easter baskets like out on the table, like you know, like we always do the hunt and then go to church, but she left them out on the table and we came downstairs and we were very upset and we told her she had to hide them, so she did, unfortunately very aggressively. And we didn’t even find them before church, so we had to go, we still didn’t have our baskets, and then it took us another hour and a half to find them when we got home. She was really annoyed. she was like, you’re ll adults you don’t need these, and my sister was…my sister to be fair was only 12, so she was like I am not an adult at all, like I want mine hidden. Then when my mom hid hers, my brother was like I’m only 14 and she was like ok. Then I was like, you can’t hide theirs and not mine. And then that’s when she was like, alright, these bitches… Yeah.

M talks about an annual family tradition of her mom hiding their Easter baskets and candy for her and her two siblings. Their mom thought that when they reached a certain age, that she could stop hiding the eggs, but the children all wanted to keep the tradition going. There was a sense of maturing and distancing from old childhood memories and games that the kids did not yet want to let go of, and so they continued the tradition until they moved out of the house. Not only was the Easter basket hunt fun for the kids, and kept their childhood spirit alive, but it was more time spent with siblings bonding and working together to find their baskets. They will likely carry on the tradition when they have children as it meant so much to them growing up.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

The Tooth Fairy

Informant: “When [my children] were growing up and their teeth fell out, we would tell them to put the tooth under their pillow, and during the night the tooth fairy would come and leave a dollar under their pillow and take the tooth.”

Collector: Where did you first hear about the tooth fairy?

Informant: “Well, I first heard it from my mother when I was little. My mom told me to take the tooth and put it in this little pouch with a picture of a tooth on it, and when I woke up there would be a quarter in there. I guess the tooth fairy has upped the amount of money she gives up nowadays [laughs].”

Collector: Do you know why the tooth fairy wanted teeth?

Informant: “Oh that’s actually a really good question, I’m not really sure… Wow, that’s weird, we’ve been doing this for who knows how long, and no one’s ever asked what she does with the teeth. I guess I just never thought to ask because for me it was always just you wake up and ‘ooh! A Quarter!’ and then not really think about it. I’m not even sure if she actually needed the tooth, I remember one time I actually physically lost my tooth, and I was really bummed because I wouldn’t get my quarter, so my mom told me to put a white bean under my pillow instead, and that was supposed to work because the tooth fairy would think it was a tooth or something. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I remember hearing that she used the teeth to string necklaces or make stars or something like that”

Informant is a middle aged mother of three who lives in the suburbs in the Midwestern United States. She identifies as of “American” heritage, which she bases on her admission that she never particularly looked into her family’s European heritage. The informant’s daughter is a recent college graduate.

Collector Analysis: This particular folklore is actually (in the collector’s opinion) fairly widely spread in the United States, and in fact this collector actually heard a similar story growing up. The most curious aspect of this story is that most of the people who have heard of the tooth fairy have little to no idea why this fairy is collecting teeth. Of course, the experience of losing one’s baby teeth as a child is a nearly universal aspect of human life, and it is quite possible that this story originated as a way to encourage children to report their lost teeth to their parents, who of course would be interested in the dental health and developmental progress of their children. It also may have been meant as a way to encourage children to remove their loose teeth, as it is possible that keeping a loose tooth in one’s mouth for too long could potentially cause health and/or hygiene complications.

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