USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘death defying’
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Re-birthday

TO told me about an unusual holiday her family celebrates:

“When I was maybe ten, I used to go rock-climbing at a YMCA in San Antonio with my family, and one day when I was on one of the walls, I realized all the people below me were rushing around and that something had happened. When I was finally able to get down, I saw my dad on the ground, and he was performing CPR on another man. He ended up saving his life, and so every year since our families have gotten together on January 18th to celebrate “re-birthday.” It was kind of weird the first couple years, but now are families have gotten really close, and even when we moved to Carmel both of our families have travelled back and forth for the holiday. Their family has three kids that are the same age as my sister and I, and we’re all really good friends.”

I asked TO if she thinks the tradition will taper off over time, especially as she and the other kids get older:

“I don’t know…so far we’re going strong though. When something like that happens, it can make people really close really quickly, and that’s definitely what happened to us. They’re like, practically family now.”

My analysis:

While this is a relatively new tradition for TO’s family, I think it has the potential to be a holiday – and piece of folklore – she shares for a long time. Her father, a cardiac surgeon at Stanford University, has inspired her to pursue her own career in medicine, and at a young age watching him save someone’s life clearly had an impact on her. Every tradition started somewhere, and “re-birthday” may become a story or full-fledged holiday TO, her sister, and this other family share or celebrate for generations to come. At the very least, TO can pinpoint it as a meaningful experience that influenced her to become a cardiac surgeon herself, and a story she passes down to her kids about the heroism of her father.

It’s also an example of a tradition threatened by geography, and while the families are now in other parts of the country, they still make an effort to come together.

Narrative

The Cousin with Nine Lives

Informant: “My mom has this cousin, Steve, who’s almost died so many times.  I met him once, and he’s wild… He’s crazy, man…  He actually wasn’t the one who told me the stories, it was my mom and grandmother.  But I swear – he’s like that old man from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button… [laughs] You know who I’m talkin’ about?  That one guy who’s like: ‘Do you know I’ve been struck by lightning seven times?’ [laughs]  But seriously, he is…  The guy has nine lives…

“One time, he uh, was skydiving and his parachute didn’t open, so he pulled his emergency chute, and that didn’t open… But suddenly, the parachute did open a few hundred feet, I guess, before he hit the ground…  He broke a bunch of bones, he really screwed himself up, but… he survived.  Another time, he was working on construction or something, he was on a crane in a lightning storm, [laughs] thinking that was a good idea… A metal conductor, high in the sky… Yea, he was struck by lightning and survived… He had to have skin graphs, but I guess he was ok after that.  He was just crazy! …He raced cars, he probably got into an accident at one time too, he was an alcoholic… But uh, another time [laughs], he was scuba diving and of course he was attacked by a shark.  It was a great white too.  It uh, bit his oxygen tank on his back, and I guess he was able to take it off so he swam to the boat and was unharmed.”

Interviewer: “Oh my gosh! Is he ok from all that?”

Informant: “You know, we actually have no idea… We haven’t heard from him in like 10 or 15 years?  We don’t know where he is… I don’t know, this is really sad to say, but he probably lived out his nine lives…”

My informant has been told the story of his mom’s cousin by his mother and his grandmother for years, but he remembers being first told when he was about thirteen years old.  He explained that this is a story that his brother, cousins, aunts and uncles know and tell at family gatherings.  He also mentioned the fact that if I had interviewed anyone else in his family, they’d probably come up with different death-defying accounts.  His family members told him the ones included above, but these are the ones that he could remember.

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