# How many people are in family?

Main Piece:

Informant: There is one grandma, two mom’s and two daughters and one granddaughter. How many people are in the family?

Interview: Oh, shoot, my brain is running slow. How many?

Interview: Three. Because the grandmother, uh, two mothers: the grandmother and the mother (2), two daughters, the daughter and um . . the daughter and the daughter’s daughter and there is one granddaughter.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked her is she knew any jokes or riddles.

Thoughts:

Proverbs, riddles, and.charms are three of the shorter forms of folklore. They are not necessarily confined to oral expression, having appeared in written literature for ages. The purpose of the riddle is usually to deceive its listener regarding its meaning. A descriptions is given where the answer must be deciphered. Many times riddles are used as a contest of wits. In America, riddles are very popular with children though in most cases age segregation does not apply.

# Ghost Mom and her Daughter: Car Guardians

Tim is a father of 3 children, and he currently lives in northern New Jersey. He went to Iona College in New York where he studied mathematics; after graduation, he worked for the family printing business before breaking off and starting his own. Now, he lives about 15 minutes from where he grew up, so many of the local legends he heard while growing up still apply. He told me this story while I was growing up.

——————–

Jack: “Dad, do you remember that road we used to drive down, the one that you said was haunted by a little girl and her mom?”

Jack: “Can you explain how that story goes again, and where you heard it?”

Tim: “Of course! So my dad actually told me and my siblings this growing up. The legend goes that this mom and her daughter were driving down that same road when suddenly their brakes gave out, but the problem was that the mom didn’t realize that until it was too late. When she got to the bottom of the hill and tried to brake, nothing happened, so they kept rolling into the middle of the road. Since it was early, there were some trucks going onto and off the highway, and one of them didn’t see the car so it smashed into it. The mom and daughter both died.”

Jack: “So how does the haunting come into play.”

Tim: “Oh, yeah. So the rumor goes that if you roll down that same hill, the mom and daughter will stop your car and hit the brakes for you, and if your brakes don’t work, they’ll just hold your car back. They’re basically trying to protect people from the same thing that happened to them. So these aren’t really your typical ghosts, I guess, because, you know, they’re nice. I guess ‘haunting’ is the wrong word. They’re more, like, lurking there and protecting the area or guarding the people that go there.”

Jack: “Can you see them?”

Tim: “I’m not sure about that. I haven’t seen them, but that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t.”

Jack: “So you said that they’re guarding the area and the people there. Do you still think that they’re ghosts, or do you think that they might be something else?”

Tim: “You know, I’m not sure. They could be ghosts, but they also might be guardian angels. But then again, they’re both just spirits, so how different could they be?”

——————–

This was one of the first stories I had ever heard about a ghost possessing or controlling some sort of machinery. Since I was young when I first heard this, it’s possible that my dad made the entire thing up just to scare me or give me something to believe in, but the fact that he mentioned his dad telling him the same story gives it a bit more truth/realism. Also, my dad and his father are both very religious, so I doubt they would lie and I also doubt they would make something up about ghosts until he really thought it was true. The parallel between ghosts and angels, however, was very interesting. It is true that they are both entities, and I guess both could be characterized as spirits, but it’s strange that they could both be categorized as this considering they both carry such different connotations. Angels have a positive and friendly connotation while ghosts have a malevolent and scary connotation, but as my dad said, not all ghosts are bad.

# Treasured Daughters – India

“A general idea shared by Indians is that daughters are the most important in the family. Like they bring prosperity and wealth for families, so they are sacred. So for me as a daughter, I’m not supposed to touch anyone’s feet. Another thing for daughters is blessing new things like when we bought a new house, my parents are super Indian and did prayers. But I was the first one to walk into the house because I bring good luck.”

I was surprised to learn that daughters of Indian households are so valued.  Although my informant said her family practices and observes a lot of traditional Indian customs, she could not find an explanation for why Indian daughters are so treasured. They are treated like goddesses because they are considered as the Goddess Lakshmi—goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. Despite this elevated status, sons are still preferred over daughters. When daughters get married, they get passed along to a new household; however, when sons get married, they don’t leave and remain in the same household.

Sons are probably valued more because they have the title of breadwinner, while daughters are meant to marry and be sent off. These are all clearly religious and socio-economic factors that influence the attitudes toward sons and daughters. To my informant’s family, the belief that having her walk into a new house first will bring good luck is rooted in religious belief. However, to others it may seem like a simple superstition. This made me realize how subjective the process of defining superstitions are, and that religion and superstition can be tied closely hand-in-hand; however, no matter how similar the two ideas may seem, they are still fundamentally two different types of beliefs.

# Naruto Manga

The Main Piece
Manga has become an extremely important part in Japanese culture, creating a huge fan base which people of all ages, races, and genders enjoy. Certain mangas have become so rare that they are collectible and highly valued. Although the Naruto manga Sara’s family holds is not exactly “worth a million dollars,” it holds great value to her father. Being a fan of the manga since childhood, her grandfather greatly looked up to the manga’s protagonist. Since this was the first manga that he ever bought, it reminded him of his youth, “a time where he could just leave the real world and go off on his own and imagine anything he wanted.” He later passed it on to Sara’s father who intends on passing it down to his son.
Background Information
My informant is my roommate, Sarah Kwan. She is an undergraduate at USC and is considerably close with both her father and her grandfather. Her grandfather would often tell her stories of his past, one of them of him buying his first manga. He was so excited to have a legitimate manga, not any nock off American comic book, but the “real thing.” She says “I can still remember him telling me about it because he would tell me the story one hundred times. He’s so proud of it, he swears that it’s worth at least a couple of hundred dollars.” It is because of this belief that her father plans on passing it down to his son, that it holds value and that he can be of some use to him if he ever needs the money in the future. However, her grandfather passed it down to her father in hopes that her father would have the same appreciation for it that he did.
Context
Sarah told me this story as we were in our room together watching television and a Naruto commercial came on. She was reminded of her grandfather and father and felt the need to share her story with me.
Personal Thoughts
I felt that it was interesting to hear that the two generations of Kwan’s had different reasons for passing down the Naruto manga. It reveals that different generations have different motives for preserving certain folk object, which is not necessarily an idea to be looked down upon, simply that the way generations think is changing. Also, it is important to note that when the subject of Naruto is brought up, Sarah thinks of her grandfather and father. Thus, revealing the impact a folk object can have on not just its owners, but those that have seen the passage as well.

# Meteor Candy

*Note: Taylor is a member of the student organization USC Troy Camp, a group that mentors/tutors students in the South Central L.A. area and raises funds during the year to send 200 elementary schoolchildren from South L.A. to a week-long summer camp in Idyllwild, CA. This week-long camp is completely run by the counselors, and through the year many legends and traditions have developed that are upheld/told each year at camp, carried on by newer counselors as older ones graduate. Because I am also a member of Troy Camp, she didn’t provide any context for this, so I figured I’d do so to minimize confusion. This particular story is the story of the meteor candy, which we tell to campers outside on a big grassy field under the stars at night.

COLLECTOR (myself): So tell the story we tell the kids, and then also explain what we do with the candy.”

INFORMANT: “Okay, so we’re sitting out on the field with our cabin, and we tell them we have a very special story to tell. Okay, so…

Years ago, before any of us were in Troy Camp, there was a family who lived in Idyllwild in a little cabin up in the mountains. There was a little girl and her mother and father, and one day the mother got very sick, and the girl and her father went out down the mountain to try to get the medicine that could save her. They walked many miles to town and got the medicine, but as they were walking back through the forest, suddenly the sky FLASHED and something huge fell from the sky. BOOM! It was a giant meteor! It crushed all the trees and sent smoke and debris everywhere, and the girl and her dad got separated. They called out and called out, but they were too far away – they could barely hear each other. There was so much smoke and it was so dark that neither one could see the other. The girl sits down in defeat and begins to cry. She picks up a piece of the meteor and throws it in anger… but when it hits the ground, it creates a bright spark! The girl has an idea. She picks up more pieces of the meteor and throws them, creating sparks each time. Suddenly, from all the way across the clearing, through the smoke, she sees a spark. Her father has seen the sparks, and now he’s throwing pieces of the meteor too!! The girl and her dad keep throwing meteor pieces and making sparks until they’re close enough to hear each other and then to see each other. They gave each other a big hug and continued back up the mountain to give the mother her medicine. The meteorite had cleared a big hole in the forest, a lot like the field we’re sitting in right now. But the best part was that the candy shop down the road got little bits of the meteor all over it, so the candy they make still has liiiittle pieces of the meteorite in it. Did you notice the candy shop we passed on the way up [of course, we didn’t pass a candy shop, but none of the kids were looking out for one, so this part gives the story more validity]? We have some of these candies for you tonight.

And then we give each camper a mint Lifesaver, but like they don’t know it’s a Lifesaver, and we tell them to turn to a partner and chew the Lifesaver. And when they bite into the Lifesaver, usually it makes a tiny little spark in their mouths. It’s really cool, I don’t know why it does that.

Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite TC traditions, because the younger kids are usually totally amazed. Some of the older kids figure out that the candy is just a Lifesaver, or they look for the candy shop on the bus ride back down the mountain and notice it doesn’t exist, but most of the campers are completely captivated by the meteor story. It helps because we tell the story in a big clearing, so we can pretend that’s the spot where the meteorite hit many years before. After we tell the story, usually the cabins lay out and look at the stars, because a lot of the campers haven’t really seen many stars in their lifetime because they’ve never left LA.

The story doesn’t have much of a message, but it’s a fun way to bond the cabins and contribute to Troy Camp lore to make the campgrounds seem almost magical. This story, like Mary Brown, is told slightly differently by each counselor who tells it, though the general elements remain the same.

# How Pineapples Came to Be

My informant (A) is currently an AV technician. He grew up in Quezon City in the Philippines for the first 13 years of his life before moving with his family to San Francisco, California for a year and then moving down to southern California, where he has stayed every since. He first heard the story about how pineapples came to be from his mother when he was around six years old. The story is also used in reading books for children when they are learning to read in the Philippines. His mom and aunt told him this story to frighten him into behaving when he was a child, and he has since told the story to his younger sisters and a few other people when casually talking. The story is paraphrased below:

“There was a mom and daughter in the Philippines long ago. The daughter’s name was Piña. Piña constantly lost things and, instead of even trying to look for the things by herself, she would just ask her mom to find them. The mother was really busy because she had to work in the fields all day, but the mom still helped her daughter find the things she kept losing. One day the mom could not find her hat, which she needed when she was working in the fields to keep the sun out of her eyes. The mom asked Piña to help her find the hat because she had to hurry or she would be late to the fields. Piña replied ‘Nanay [the word for mom], I don’t where the hat is. I’m busy.’ The mom told Piña that she really needed help, so Piña finally got up and walked around pretending to look for the hat. She didn’t actually look for the hat and then told her mom that she couldn’t find it. The mom got really frustrated and then she found the hat, which wasn’t that hard to find and Piña should have seen it when she was looking. The mom got really mad and said ‘Piña, I hope you grow 1000 eyes so that you can find things.” Then the mom went to the fields and spent all day working in the fields. When she got back to the house, she asked Piña to make dinner, but Piña wasn’t there. The mom looked and looked but she couldn’t find her. Days and weeks and months go by, and still the mom can’t find Piña and gets very worried. After a while, the mom starts seeing weird plants that look like they have 1000 eyes. The mom realized that Piña had turned into these plants. These little plants are pineapples, and that’s how pineapples came to the Philippines.” (Note that Piña is the word for pineapple).

This tale seems to serve two purposes. One is that it explains how the pineapple came to the Philippines, which only happened in the 19th century, which is probably why this story is necessary to explain why they are a relatively recent addition to the fruits normally found in the Philippines. The other is a more practical purpose, which is a way for parents to scare their kids into doing stuff from themselves or risk turning into a pineapple. This is probably why it is continually told to children. My informant spelled out the name Piña for me, and he used the Spanish spelling instead of the Filipino one (pinya), even though he used the Filipino word for mom (nanay). This is also interesting because the Spanish introduced the pineapple to the Philippines.

This story touches on the tension between the older and younger generations, and the how physically hard the lives of women are.

# How to name babies

Informant Background: The informant was born in rural parts of China called Hainan. She lived there with her grandparents where she attended elementary school. She moved to the United States when she was thirteen. She speaks both Chinese and English. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother but travels back to visit her relatives in Beijing and Hainan every year. She and her mother still practice a lot of Chinese traditions and celebrate Chinese holidays through special meals.

Babies are named as dogs, cat, rock, or owl as a pet name so that they would not be thought of as human because the parents are not sure if the baby will survive. If the baby survives the first year then the baby will get human name. Chinese parents who want boys would name their daughter to sound like “asking for a son,” “praying for a son,” or boy’s name so that their next baby will be a boy.

The informant said she learned this she was growing up in China. She said that nowadays it is less practiced. But sometimes the child will be given an official name but the parents will still call their baby using the pet name. The practice of naming daughters to “pray for a son” has lessens as well. The informant said she personally knows some girls whose names are homonym of the word son.

This shows the importance of why some people celebrate first birthday for their baby even though the baby will not remember the event. It is evident that the celebration is for the family and the community to celebrate the survival and the integration of a new member. This is also similar to some Western culture the belief that children are not yet human unless they survive the first year or two. This also shows the fear of the fragility of newborns, especially in the past where there was no advanced medical practice to ensure the baby’s survival. Parents do not want to give babies human names with fear of the babies dying while the connection is already established. Parents then want to make sure their child would survive before they become an official part of the family. Otherwise if the baby did not survive they would lose an “official” member of family (and society). Giving the baby an official name and last name is to integrate the baby as a new member/individual to the community. Not making that official until the survival of the child is guaranteed can prevent that community from constantly losing their members due to death at a young age. This also shows how the individual identity within society is not established until after the first year of survival.

The naming of baby girls to “pray” or “ask” for a son seems very strange but yet understandable since Chinese culture is a patrimonial society. The particular way of naming of baby girls is the direct reflection of how Chinese culture preference in male and how male is the dominant gender. Daughters are then perceived as the stage before the baby boy is born. The parents then use the daughters to pray for a son. Naming their daughters to sound like they are saying “praying for a son” forces them to say it constantly in hope that it would come true.

This shows again how an individual is integrated into a community through different methods; also when the individual is integrated.

# The Roast

The informant recounted the legend on Easter in the context of telling family stories. She acknowledges that it isn’t specifically tied to her family but could be from anyone’s family.

Story:
A mother is teaching her daughter how to cook a ham, and when she cuts the end off, and puts it aside, and puts the ham in the oven and bakes it. [The informant mimes these actions as she tells the story.]

And the daughter says: ‘Why did you do that?’

And she says: ‘Oh, I don’t know, because my mother did.’

So, the daughter goes to the grandma and she says: ‘Grandma, why did you do that?’

And she says: ‘I don’t know, because my mother did.’

And so, she goes to the great-grandma and she says: ‘Grandma, why did you do that?’

And she says: ‘Cuz I had a small pan!’

[Everyone at the table chuckles.]

Me: And when would you tell that story?

Informant: To your granddaughter? I don’t know. When you’re eating ham? [laughs] When someone asks “why?”.

Analysis:

This exists both as a general funny story to tell to the family but also as a piece of meta-folklore explaining how traditions come to be. It also follows the rule of three from Olrik’s epic laws. The daughter has to ask three mothers to get her answer about the tradition.