USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘children’
Folk Beliefs
general
Myths

The Author of Ben-Hur

The rumor/myth: “The author of Ben-Hur, whose name is something Lane I think? (The only book ever written in Crawfordsville, Indiana.) His house is in Crawfordsville, and they say that on the grounds of this house is like every tree that’s like native to Indiana. I don’t actually know if it’s true though, I heard it from my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Harris. She was really weird.”

The informant, originally from Crawfordsville, told me this about the author of Ben-Hur, actually named Lew Wallace. He has never actually read the novel, but his teacher told their class about Wallace’s house in Crawfordsville. I think she told 5th graders this story to give them pride about their hometown, as it is a very small rural town that isn’t very famous to people that aren’t from there. Its truth value doesn’t seem to matter, and one could even say that it’s a sacred truth to the inhabitants of Crawfordsville. I imagine Mrs. Harris would be a bit offended if anyone challenged her on the verity of this statement, since it represents the mythology of Crawfordsville.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

The Devil will pull you under the bed by your feet

Informant (“M”) is a 52 year old woman from Bogota, Colombia. She moved to the United States in 1992, at the age of 30. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who she raised in the United States. She has four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, she was the second born. She has a 102 year old Grandmother. Collection was over Skype.

 

Transcript:

“M: Cuando nosotros uh… youngers, uh…. younger? Okay and we lied, my mom said to us when you go to sleep tonight… that was scary… the devil is coming and grab you from your feet and taking you with him. Usually we went to sleep and we covered our feet very well, and wore socks, and the next day sometimes we lost one of ours socks. She would say the devil took the socks but didn’t grab us from our feet.

Me: So what this supposed to happen when you were in bed?

Yeah, because we was wearing socks and took our socks instead.

Me: Did he like stay or live under the bed?

M: Yeah! I believe he did, he was under the bed or under old blankets. Later we’d find the socks lost sometimes and believe “oh god the devil was here”. We’d later find the socks sometimes.

Me: So she said that only happened when you lied?

M: It’s only when we lied, ‘’I know you’re lying tonight and the devil will come get you from you feet’’ [imitation of mother].

Me: Was there any way to stop him, like could you confess that you lied or pray to stop the devil?

(Did not address question as I interrupted)

M: That was like 40 something years ago, I believe that was similar in the United States in the 50s. I don’t think it a very funny way to teach to behave.”

 

Analysis:

The monster pulling you under the bed by your feet piece of Folklore appears to exist in the United States, as was noted by “M”, often tied to the boogeyman. There are multiple references to the ‘under the bed monster’ and in American popular studies journals being cited in one article as “…so universal that we no longer stop to think about their origins. “(Shimabukuro, 2014). As identified by “M” at the end of the transcript, it was used as a method to convince her, by her mother, to tell her if she had been lying. This could be used to scare the truth out of a child, or if the child would not tell no matter what, as a way to negatively reinforce such behavior.

“M”s use of socks to protect her from the devil living under the bed appears to be used as a protection charm from the devil, similar to when children hide their heads under the blanket. It was also used as an indicator of the devil’s presence, as the disappearance of the socks may have indicated to “M” that the devil had tried to grab her and grabbed her sock instead.

Work Cited

Shimabukuro, K. (2014). The Bogeyman of Your Nightmares: Freddy Krueger’s Folkloric Roots. STUDIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.

Folk Beliefs
Kinesthetic
Magic
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Dancing With the Devil

The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature. 

The Dance

Informant…

“Their was a woman in Mexico who wanted to go to this dance but her parents told her no you cant go, but she really wanted to go so she snuck out at night to go. So she went out to the dance and she was having a really good time. Some point while she was at the dance she met a guy and he seemed really cool, he was good looking, and well dressed. She started dancing with him and the party went on around them it was raging and exciting and a typical dance environment. The party progressed and my grandma described it to me that they were ballroom dancing. She looked around and noticed that there was no one there but her and the guy. She realized that they were just dancing alone and by this time it was late into the night and every one had been gone. She thought it was strange and looked back again and it was just her standing there and the guy was gone. She realized that she was just dancing by herself the whole time and she was alone the whole night. Frightened, she ran out of the dance place because she was so freaked out by what had happened and where the strange man came from. When she ran out, there was a black dog who chased her all the way to her house. The mom came to the door just as the girl was about to get there and said ““where the hell have you been its 2 o’clock in the morning!”” The girl was screaming crying that a dog was chasing her so the mom beat the dog with a broom, scratched it on the eye and the dog ran away. The next day in the town there was a weird creepy man. The creepy man had a patch on his eye and it was bruised up pretty badly. The story infers that the creepy man is supposed to be the Devil.”

The informant also stressed, “the message it is trying to get across is you better listen to your mother because you might end up dancing with the devil or doing the devil’s work.”

The informant said that this wasn’t necessarily meant to have any meaning behind it, but once his grandmother told him this he was put on the right path and was so freaked out that he would be home every night by ten o’clock, or he wouldn’t talk to any type of stranger. This story was creepy enough to the point where he wanted to listen to his parents when they said no.

Analysis…

I was able to collect folklore information from two Latina descendants. In this culture it seems common where the stories are created for the children to get them to get on the right track. The legends, myths, tales, and family tales all have a way to persuade the children to act the way the parents want them to ask whether that is a scare tactic or giving the children a saint to look up to. In the culture I’m use to, it is common where stories are told to direct children in the paths that their parents want but it is more common where the legends, myths, or tales are told to confuse the older generations. We talk about the existence of aliens, Bigfoot, vampires, werewolves, or any other strange tales that are told to our older generations. It is interesting how the folklore is geared to attract different age groups of people.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

“La Llorona”

The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature. 

Informant…

“There was a woman in Mexico named Maria. Maria was gorgeous, more beautiful than anyone else so she believed she was above everyone else. As Maria go older, she got more beautiful and prideful because of it.When she was old snout to have an interest in men she wouldn’t look at the men from her village. She believed they weren’t good enough for her and what she thought she deserved so she would say thing about how when she would be married it would be to the most handsome man in the world. And then one day, a man who fit her standard rode into her village. He was a handsome young ranchero as well as the son of a rich rancher from the south. He only rode wild horses, he thought it wasn’t manly to ride a horse if it wasn’t half wild. He was the most handsome man in the world, but he had various talents as well he sang beautifully and played the guitar. Maria decided that that was the man for her. Maria played mind games with the ranchero, if he would speak to her on the pathway she would ignore him and pretend he wasn’t there, he would go to her how at night to play the guitar and serenade her but Maria wouldn’t go to her window, she wouldn’t accept any gifts from him. This all made the ranchero want her even more and he knew he had to get her to love him. Everything went according to Maria’s plan and they were soon married. Things were great in the beginning of their marriage they had 2 kids. But the man became bored with Maria and wanted to live his crazy wild life again, he showed more affection to the children that he showed to her. As proud as Maria was, she became very angry with the him. She also began to feel anger toward her children. One night she drowned her kids in the river and when the man found out that she drowned her kids he basically rebuked her away. So she was cursed because she drowned her kids for all eternity to wander the earth crying for her kids, hence the name la llorona.”

Analysis…

“La Llorona” translated in english as the woman who cries

When asked about where he heard the story he said his mother and grandmother had told him but he wasn’t sure where the story originated or came from but he knew that it came from Mexico. The informant believes that La Llorona is real. He came into close contact with her when he was young around the ages of two or three. He said that his mother and his aunt were in Mexico cleaning his grandmother’s house when they heard her painful, creepy, whaling cries. He said that she was saying “oh my babies” and when his mother and aunt heard that they took all the children and threw them under the bed in the next room. He said they did this because it is believed that if she finds children she will take them as her own because she had lost hers. He believes that this story is also told to children as a scare tactic method to keep them in the house at night so that La Llorona doesn’t take them. He believes that because his mom used it as a scare tactic on him, his brothers, and his cousins.

Tales like this are told all over the world as a scare tactic to force kids into doing whatever their parents feel like they should be doing. Most Americans have heard of having monsters under their beds (to keep children in their beds at night) or the boogie man (forces kids to bah in fear of the boogie man coming after them. This tale reminds me of those and I initially make the connection between them. The crazy part of this tale is the informant swears that the came into close contact with the la llorona meaning that it is possible that she is real which would lead to ghosts and unwanted spirits being real.

Another version of this legend can be found in movie form and is called The Crying Woman (1993) directed by Ramón Peón.

Childhood
Game

Children’s Warring Kingdoms

Informant S is 21 years old from Boise Idaho. He is a Philosophy major who also plans on attending Medical School. He is half Columbian and half American.

So when I was like in 2nd grade, we would have a group of students, we had like 2 playgrounds, and they would congregate on opposite sides of the playground which would be separated by a big field. So we had a king of each playground, which was usually the most popular kid, and they would be like warring kingdoms. So one of the most important roles of these kingdoms was the messenger. Since I liked running a lot when I was little, I’d always volunteer to be messenger for the kingdom. So I’d run from 1 kingdom all the way to the other and I would transmit a message. They were usually about the king having a crush on a girl in another kingdom or a guy having a crush on a girl in another kingdom and stuff like that. And they were never really wars, but the kings and the knights would meet in the middle of the field, and they would like trade princesses depending on if the princess liked the king in the other kingdom or one of the knights or something like that. So my running back in forth usually resulted in a meeting in the middle, which would result in them trading a princess. So I was sort of like the matchmaker in elementary school.

 

Analysis:

Informant S remembers fondly in elementary school when he played the “matchmaker” and brought the 2 different groups on the playground together. Like a lot of children’s folklore, we can see them imitating things that they may have seen in movies or read in books such as kings, wars, trading princesses etc. We also see that a lot of the messages revolve around people having crushes on each other, which can also been seen as imitating grown up relationships.  We can also see the hierarchy on the playground as the most popular kids usually got to be king.

Legends
Material

Athena and a Bow and Arrow

Informant A is a 17-year-old Sophomore at USC studying Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis on Neuroscience. She is ¼ Greek Cypriote, ¼ German and ¼ Argentinian but she strongly identifies with the Greek side of her. She spent 9 years in Greek school and goes to Greece every summer. She speaks Greek with her grandparents.

A: Let me think of some good legends that I’ve grown up with…mostly the Greek myths. We would, um I knew them in English when I was younger because we got introduced to them in elementary school, and then I told my grandparents I was really interested in them and so they actually found me a Greek version so that I could read it in Greek and solidify my learning there. But we would talk about, um well mostly the PG ones, you know Greek mythology. And one of the ways children were often entertained in Greece was to tell them these myths and stories. These stories were used not only to pass time, but to also carry down values.

The one, I think the one that we would talk about the most is Athena. So Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, but also the Goddess of war, and her affinity is the olive branch, but also the bow and arrow. And my grandparents have always been like, ‘You’re a little Athena! You like to learn, but you’re also really feisty, so you got the war in you’ and to actually perpetrate that, my grandfather once actually went to our backyard and cut a little branch off of an olive tree and made a bow and arrow out of it for me. Kind of a fake one because you couldn’t actually shoot with it, but he like sharpened an arrow, like not sharp enough to kill an animal, but sharp enough to hit a target. And we had that fun together making that, because he’s an engineer so he like makes random stuff. He taught me a lot like how to measure batteries, and play with a solder machine, so I had a lot of fun sharing that with him and learning about what I could do. And actually too Athena is the goddess of weaving, which is why I knit with my grandmother, it’s a fun way to create with her and connect, which is how you leave a legacy, by creating something meaningful.

Me: So do you still have this bow and arrow?

A: Oh gosh I think I left it in Cypress. I’m sure it’s in a closet somewhere with my name on it. I must have been like nine or ten so it’s been a while.

Me: So you talk about how your family prized you for being like Athena, would you say that this is prized in the larger Greek community? Like you say Athena has the wisdom but also like the fire behind it.

A: Absolutely. I think that’s something that really encompasses all the women in my family. My family is mostly women. Although the ‘take charge’ role in mostly cultures is dealt with by men, in my family it is the women who are the strong ones. My family mostly grew up in the Cypress villages farming though which is why they value me going to school so much, and starting early, and are so amazed by how much I know and how I wanted to learn more, just like the values Athena prizes.

 

Analysis:

Here informant A talks about some of the values that her Greek culture prizes and how her family compares her to the Greek Goddess Athena. The Greek legends and myths are extremely important and popular to them, so much so that the Greek stories and their values will come up within conversations in her family. She also talks about the folk item, the bow and arrow, that came out of the conversations with her family and also emphasizes how important these values of strength and wisdom especially are to them, enough so that her grandfather would take the time to make a bow and arrow for her.  She also explains a bit about how unlike most cultures, the Greek myths, like Athena, have influenced her family to prize strong women rather than only strong men.  Her grandfather was proud to show her bits about engineering and then encourage her to be an engineer, instead of some culture where this might be frowned upon.  These stories also helped tie together the informants family and connect the generations.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

The Bad Lady

I collected this piece of folkore from a co-worker who grew up in Tampa, Florida. He told me about a common story that was used to scare children into behaving. His learned it from his parents, who would tell him the story in order to make him behave. Nowadays, he finds the story amusing, but when he was a child he took it very seriously and was very scared of it.

“Sometimes she’s referred to as “the bad lady” other times she’s referred to as “the swamp lady” The common theme of the story and the story I was told as a child was that there was a woman who would live in the swamps in the Everglades who was kind of like a witch who would have whole groupings of gators that would live on her property in these swamps, that she would be very close to and have a deep-seated connection to, like she could speak to them, control them and if you were bad your parents would threaten to drive you into the swamp and she would put you in a cage above the gators and depending on how bad you were she would lower you farther and farther into the lake and you’d have to try to survive with these gators. If you were really bad, your parents would just say “put him in” and you would be thrown to the gators and she would control them to whether or not they were going to kill you or how they were going to go about it based on her judgment of your crime.

So, I remember when I was five years old, I really didn’t want to go to church, and I knew I wasn’t allowed to go to church if I didn’t have shoes on, so I told my parents ‘I’m not going to put my shoes on. You can’t make me go.’ And they threatened to take me to the bad lady and leave me there with a ‘he goes straight to the gators’ thing and I very quickly put on my shoes and went to church. I was devastated when I was a little bit older and I realized there was no woman who would do this, that was against the law! But, I don’t know, it was a really common thing growing up, I would talk to my friends and be like ‘Did your mom tell you you were going to go to the bad lady?’ and they were like ‘Yeah, she’s real’. It was like Santa Claus”

This piece of folklore feels very specific to the location it comes from, since swamps and alligators don’t exist outside of a specific geographic region. So, it makes sense that the swamp lady would be in Florida, and that this specific story probably wouldn’t exist in a different state. It’s also interesting that children learned the story from their parents, and not from other children.

Childhood

The House on the Bus Route

Item:

Me: “Did you ever go to the house in person?”

Informant: “It was on the bus route which was somewhat long, so it wouldn’t have made sense to. But I don’t think anyone would have wanted to anyway…”

A house on the informant’s elementary school bus route in southwest Ohio had a very eerie exterior. The owner had built extra things on to it — weird overhands, banisters, small porches — which led to a unique structure. All the additions were poorly put together, so as a whole, it looked like a bit of a wreck. Kids would always look at it as they passed. Over time things were added to it or changed, but they never saw the owner or someone working on the house. It never looked like anyone was home. The story behind the house among the children was that a drug dealer lived there. If someone stepped on to the lawn, he would shoot them for trespassing.

 

Context:

The informant assumed that there wasn’t a reason behind the story of the man who was there. He had heard it from fellow classmates, who heard it from siblings, but as far as he knew there was not a specific reason that led to that explanation. He still remembered how weird the house looked and that the structure alone was cause for curiosity and a little uneasiness. In us talking about it, he posited that if anything, the arbitrary construction was sort of unnerving as to the mental stability of the owner. I asked if he stopped by the house on foot at any point, but because it was just one location along a bus route, there wasn’t an opportunity to. Nor would he have, he said, since there was just a general fear of it among the kids.

 

Analysis:

Around the age of 12 when the informant had this experience, kids are starting to get exposed to anti-drug education from schools and parents. There wasn’t any basis for the “drug dealer” bit, but perhaps it was created to associate a fear of the unknown with the growing awareness of a negative thing like drugs. It seems most school stories like this have no clear generation or grade where they started, but are simply an evolution that caters to the active issue around that age range. In this case, drug awareness is connected to a mysterious but haunting looking house.

Game
general
Kinesthetic

Pegging

Context:

I asked one of my classmates about game she played as a child while waiting for class to begin.

 

Interview:

Her: Okay, so, when I was in elementary school, and I must have been in 4th or 5th grade, one if those, I don’t know exactly, but it was when those people were still in school with me. We used to play a game. And I say that loosely, because there was no winning, really, it was just like something we would run around and do, ’cause like we had a big grass field that we could run around in and there was obviously kick balls and soccer balls and that stuff. So we called it “Pegging” and I don’t think, I don’t think we thought it was, ’cause I’ve heard like yucky references to what that is and I don’t think we knew that, and that’s why we called it that.

Me: ‘Cause you were in like 4th grade.

Her: Yeah. But, but like, I didn’t make that name up. Like someone else did. But We would run around and it was usually like the boys vs. girls, and it was me and another one or two girls against like three boys we would usually play with, and we would just try to hit each other as hard as we possibly could with a soccer ball. Like, we would throw it at each other, and that’s like the whole point of the game. And I think somehow we, ’cause I would talk to the girls and I would think some of us liked those boys.

Me: Oh, oh, oh.

Her: So I think there was a whole thing. I mean, We would hit hard. I mean we would have like welts,

Me: Oh, wow, yeah.

Her: And we realized we were doing that, and we wouldn’t do that anymore. And yeah, we used to do that when we were in 4th, 5th grade. It was like a form of courtship or something. Demented courtship. But like, well God, we would hit each other hard. Like, as I said, falling down would be normal after being hit.

 

Analysis:

This game was clearly a kind of courtship game. It was played between pre-pubescent children, who were just beginning the slow process of transitioning from a child into an adult. As it was played as boys vs. girls, it was a way for the girls (and possibly the boys) to “peg,” or “mark,” the boy/girl that they liked or had a crush on. How hard one could throw the ball could be seen as a posturing move, a show of strength, of accuracy, and perhaps even of the level of interest the person had for the target. Though much more painful than various other pre-pubescent “courtship” games, it is a game that lets children explore the new kinds of feelings for members of the opposite sex as they begin the transition into adulthood.

Legends

Cram it, Clownie!

The informant grew up in various parts of California, due to his father needing to relocate for work. The contemporary legend described below was first heard by him in Norwalk, CA when he was 9 or 10 years old in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. The informant’s older brother and his friends (older by 3 years) first told the story and the informant overheard them. He remembers seeing the Bozo show, but he does not remember this specific episode. He tells this story when reminded by a story about similar defiant acts by children or when televison-related urban legends are brought up.

The story is as follows (paraphrased):

There was a television show in the 1960’s called Bozo the Clown that had children as guest stars on each episode. It was supposed to be an honor to be one of these guests, and most kids were happy to be there. These programs were not heavily edited and time-delayed like the television shows of today. There was one kid, though, that was not having it. When Bozo asked the child to do something or answer a question as was normally done, the child loudly said “Cram it, Clownie!” This was obviously not the expected response and is probably why this story gets told.

The story caused my informant to laugh as he told the story. My informant had not actually seen the episode in question, and the show was probably not rebroadcast if this did occur. This really shows the unpredictability and unfiltered nature of some children, which was entertaining even to 10-13 year old boys in the 1960’s. This wouldn’t be entertaining if children were ‘supposed’ to be like that, so the fact that the story is still entertaining shows something about how children realize that they are not supposed to behave that way. I think he remembered this legend because he has seen instances of children misbehaving like this in public throughout his life and career and therefore enjoys an example that was publicly broadcast. Because he has raised two children (19 years old and 22 years  old) I think he has a different perspective now as a parent than he did when he first heard the story as a child who wasn’t much different in age from the child in question.

 

[geolocation]