USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘family’
general
Life cycle
Narrative

A Friendly Ghost

Context: While sitting with my family for our weekly Shabbat dinner, I decided to ask my family members if they’d ever had experiences with the supernatural. My mother shared a rather lovable encounter that had stuck with her for the last 29 years.

 

Background: The story takes place in 1989, about one year after my sister – her first child – was born. Her younger brother had suddenly passed away in 1985, one year before her wedding.

 

Main Piece: “She was almost 2 I think. Dad was always leaving really early in the morning and would work until late at night, so it was always just the two of us alone together in our old apartment. I was always so nervous around that time, I was scared to be alone with the baby because I had no idea what I was doing. That night I finally got her to go to bed after she was crying and crying for hours. Right after I put her down I was sitting in the rocking chair in her room and I was just thinking about [her brother], and I just thought to myself, I wonder what it would be like if he was here, I wonder if he would think I was a good mom. I kept thinking of what it would have been like if he had met her and seen me as a mommy. I remember I started dozing off and started imagining him standing with me and holding her in his arms, and at that exact moment, [my sister] started saying ‘agha, agha’, which is man in Farsi, and started pointing to the corner of the room. She only knew how to say a few words at the time, and I just remember I had goosebumps all over my body. It was as if she and I saw the same picture that I was imagining in my head. Or maybe he came to visit the both of us. I can’t tell you what happened that night, all I know is that there was no one else in that room, but it didn’t feel like it was just the two of us.”

 

Analysis: While this was not a typical “ghost story”, it definitely qualifies as some supernatural encounter. My mother has always been a very spiritual person, but always tried not to talk about death or the afterlife, and usually deflects when talking about her brother who had passed. It’s interesting to hear that individuals can still feel a supernatural presence. 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Protection

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.

 

Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 

 

Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”

 

Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.

 

Customs
Foodways
Material

Lentils on Monday

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: It was a Monday afternoon and my informant was eating a bowl of lentils, she explained that she did so every Monday, as explained by a common Peruvian folklore custom. Her parents and grandparents have followed this tradition for as long as she can remember, and she feels that it’s something that connects her to her family, even while she’s away from home.

 

Main Piece: “So every Monday I make sure to eat a bowl of lentils. Back at home, my mom would make them for dinner every Monday night for our whole family to eat. No matter what else she made, there were always lentils involved and we always had to have at least one bite, no matter how badly we didn’t want to eat them. The reason is that it’s supposed to bring or attract money, prosperity, and good luck. I’m not sure where this tradition started, but my grandparents grew up on it, so did my mom, and she makes sure we all take part in it too. Peruvians use a lot of foods to represent or attract different things into life. Food is a huge part of the culture. I’m not sure how much I believe that this tradition works or anything like that, but it’s something that I’ve done for so long that it feels natural to continue. Little things like this keep me connected to my family which is important to me now that I haven’t been able to see them since I’m away at school.”

 

Analysis: The continuation of cultural traditions and rituals is something very important to the elders of immigrant families. It’s easy to assimilate to the current lifestyle of where a person lives, so it’s refreshing to hear that first or even second generation immigrants keep their culture alive.

 

Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Wedding Ritual

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: N.D. explained that she was going home to Miami in the coming week to celebrate her eldest sister’s wedding. She and her other four sisters planned to perform a traditional Greek bachelorette ritual, that had been done in her family for years. It’s a generations-old ritual that my informant’s family, relatives, and friends, all perform, and it is deeply rooted in Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “The night before the couple’s wedding, all of the single friends of the bride usually do this thing where we come together and decorate the couple’s future marriage bed. A few of my sister’s friends will be there, but it’s me and my sisters that are going to be doing most of the work. Basically you put a bunch of flowers all over, and put rice all around the room and on the bed, and also leave out coins and money. The idea is that it promotes prosperity, fertility, and love for that couple. My family is very into these little traditions and it’s a fun way for all of us to get together before the wedding and celebrate the bride. Rice is used in a lot of ceremonies like this in Greek culture, and Peruvian culture too actually. Even though it’s such an old tradition, it still has a lot to do with the typical American bachelorette party activities. We’re planning on doing that too, but this is a different way of celebrating that also takes us back to our roots a little bit.”

 

Analysis: I found it interesting how the idea of rice is intertwined in such a large number of cultural customs, especially in regards to weddings. In other cultures, the throwing of the rice at the end of the wedding ceremony symbolizes rain, which is thought to be a sign of good fortune and prosperity. In the case of Greek culture, the rice is placed in the most intimate part of the couple’s life.

 

Customs
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Smashing Plates

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: While discussing her sister’s upcoming wedding, my informant described a Greek ritual that is often performed at celebrations. It’s the idea of smashing plates to promote fun, good spirits, and positivity. N.D. couldn’t place how or when the tradition began, but mentioned that it was deeply rooted in authentic Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “Any time we’re at some big party, usually a wedding or an engagement or something like that, there’s always some point where everyone just picks up a plate and starts smashing them onto the floor. It usually happens at the peak of the party, when everyone is dancing and drinking and having fun. It’s supposed to symbolize the idea of good spirit and fun. My parents say it promotes positivity. When I go back to Greece in the summers to visit my family there, you see it everywhere. The restaurants there are very lively and upbeat and play great music. At one point a lot of people will start dancing once they finish eating, and you’ll see the plate smashing there too. I don’t think it has some crazy symbolic meaning to it, but it’s something you’ll always see in Greek culture.”

 

Analysis: The idea of breaking glass, especially in regards to weddings, reminds me of Jewish tradition as well. At Jewish weddings, the groom usually stomps on a glass, to symbolize the loss suffered by the Jewish people throughout history. Though it’s a somber reminder, it represents healing and better fortunes ahead. Broken glass in many cultures emphasizes positivity and happiness, among other things. It’s interesting to see the similarities across cultures for this kind of ritual.

 

Customs
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red Eggs on Easter

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, but goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: While discussing the upcoming holiday of Easter, my informant described a generations-old Greek Orthodox tradition that she has practiced with her family for years. Her father’s family participated in the tradition in Greece, and she and all of her relatives have continued the tradition after having moved to Miami.

 

Main Piece: “The night before Easter Sunday my parents always dye the eggs red. We used to do it all together when my sisters and I were little, but as we got older we got a little less involved but they always kept it going. My dad and his entire family have been doing this for years in Greece and since his family is very religious it’s really important to him that we keep the tradition going. The red dye on the egg symbolizes the blood of Christ that was on the cross ‘for us’. Then the morning of Easter when we’re all sitting together, we start cracking the red eggs, and that symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection, because the egg represents his tomb, and it also represents new life. Since I moved to New York for school this is one tradition I haven’t kept up with on my own and neither have any of my sisters. Our family definitely isn’t that religious even though my dad is Greek Orthodox, things like this are just traditions we would do as a family to spend quality time and celebrate together. It also kept us really entertained when we were younger.”

 

Analysis: This Greek tradition is an interesting take on the symbolism of eggs on Easter. Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus emerging from his tomb, but most cultures, especially in America, choose to decorate the eggs in colorful patterns to celebrate the coming of spring. This Greek Orthodox take on the deeply-rooted tradition is one of great solidarity with Christ, in order to remind oneself of the sacrifice he made.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Lentils and Pork on New Year’s Eve

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. The piece describes a traditional New Year’s custom for Italians, which is thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

 

Background: My informant has practiced this custom in her family for as long as she can remember. Her family participated in this tradition while still living in Italy, and she and they all continue to practice it after having moved to Los Angeles.

 

Main Piece: “Every year the family spends New Year’s Eve together whether we’re in L.A. or visiting family in Sicily. My dad and his 4 brothers are all chefs so food is definitely a very important aspect of our daily life. On New Year’s Eve, they all prepare a big meal together and we sit down and eat with the whole family, it’s always like 40 or 50 of us. At midnight, we all come back around the table and eat lentils and pork sausage. Lentils symbolize good luck and the pork symbolizes prosperity and good fortune. Eating those foods at midnight is supposed to bring you a year filled with good luck and prosperity, so it’s really important to my dad and uncles that we all take part in it. Food in Italian culture has a lot of symbolic meaning.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to hear how important food is in so many different cultures, and the symbolic meaning it holds. In another interview, an informant explained a Peruvian custom, which requires eating lentils, also to bring good luck and prosperity.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

La Pasquetta

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. She and I were discussing the upcoming holidays – Passover and Easter – that we planned on celebrating with our families. She mentioned an Easter tradition celebrated exclusively among Italians.

 

Background: The tradition described below is called La Pasquetta or, Easter Monday. My informant explained that the tradition is deeply rooted in Italian history and culture. She was not sure how it began, but it’s been celebrated in her family for generations.

 

Main Piece: “The day after Easter has always been my favorite part of the holiday for me. For Italians, Easter day is more reflective and has a somber vibe to it, but the Monday after is the exact opposite. My dad usually invites his family over, which means like 50 people at our house and we have a big barbeque, him and his brothers cook another feast, and we spend the day outside in the sun. I think the point of having La Pasquetta is to rejoice after a day of mourning. In Italy everyone celebrates it. My dad says everyone would take that day off, go to the park and have picnics. It’s a day to celebrate Easter in a happier way, but also to celebrate spring and being surrounded by family. It’s kind of a staple in Italy and my family definitely hasn’t let go of it even after moving to America. The holiday definitely has some historical aspects to it, but I’m not 100% how or where it started. All I know is that my family has celebrated it forever.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how one religion’s holiday is celebrated in so many different ways across cultures. In American culture, Easter is typically a happy day, celebrated with family. In Greek and Italian culture, it’s a more somber day, usually spent in church. To compensate for a day of mourning, Italians choose to have their celebration the day after.

Legends
Narrative

Cutting the Ham

Text: “This story was passed down as if it were the true in my family. But I have heard it told by others as well. My mom was preparing a ham for Easter and she cut the end off the ham before putting it in the pan. When I asked her why she cut the end off the ham she said, ‘because Grandma always cut the end off the ham.’ So we decided to call Grandma and ask her why she cut the end off the ham. When she answered the call she replied, ‘I always cut the end off the ham because Great Grandma always cut the end off the ham.’ So we went to go visit Great Grandma in the nursing home and we asked her about it and she said, ‘oh well I always cut the end off the ham because my pan was too short.’ The moral of the story is two generations of women were doing something because of the way they had always seen it done but in reality there was no need for them to do it.”

 

Context: This story was told to me by a 45-year-old white woman from Denver, Colorado when I asked her if she knew of any folklore that was passed down within her family.

 

Interpretation: I assume that this story was told in the informant’s family for two main purposes. The first is for entertainment, since it is simply a funny story that I imagine most people who hear it would find humorous. The second is to give advice to its listeners because it has a moral to it, as the informant stated at the end of her text. One could reword the moral she stated as don’t do something just because someone else does. This story reminds me of a longer version of a common saying that is said to children that goes something like, “If (name) jumped off a bridge, would you?”.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Signs

University of Texas’s Reappearing Ghost Face

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place at a cafe one evening. The informant and I were in an open space but sat alone. I know that my informant really loves horror movies and ghost stories but often says that she is unfazed by them, so I asked her if there were any ghost stories or urban legend back from home that she was familiar with or believed. In this account, she tells the story of a ghost that resides in the University of Texas, something that was told to her by her friends in middle school. My informant laughed a lot throughout our conversation, most likely due to the fact that she doesn’t believe in ghosts and thus found this story a bit ridiculous. In this transcription of out conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: So, I’m from Houston, and so obviously there’s the University of Texas, and there’s like this story about the Ewing Wing. So, um, the University of Texas, the property that they own now was once owned by a guy that would threaten to haunt his children when he died if they ever sold his property, but after he died his daughter sold the property anyway and it became Ewing Hall at UT, and so when it was finished, a face started to appear on, like, one of the floors and there are actually photos of it, and it kind of resembles the owners, and it’s real creepy and that’s that.

 

K: What do you think this story represents? Why do people continue to tell it?

 

A: Well, there is this part of the story I left out [laughs] where the wall… the face keeps showing up, like they kept repainting over it and sandblasting it, but the face kept coming back. Even when they removed that chunk of the wall to another floor, the face still came back… I think people keep telling this just because it’s creepy, you know? Creepy ghost persistence…

 

K: How did this affect the people around you?

 

A: I mean, my friends, or like people I know that do believe in ghosts think it’s kind of cool or they think it’s like creepy and they don’t want to go near the Ewing Wing.

 

Thoughts:

I ended up looking up this story and, as it turns out, this ghost is well known throughout Galveston, Texas. It resides at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) campus, and the story that I found is quite similar to what my informant told me. Legend says that the building is haunted by the ghost of the former land owner; while he was still alive, UTMB offered to purchase his property, but he refused. Before he died, he made his family promise to never sell the family land and to make sure the land is passed on for many generations. However, once he died, his family betrayed his dying wish and sold the property, which is what began the construction of Ewing Hall.

Ghost stories, and other various types of legends or folklore,  are told because it’s a way for people to provide an explanation for something that they cannot understand. Furthermore, the telling of a ghost story reinforces remembering the events of the past, reminding us of specific people and places. So, what is the explanation for the ghost’s face that keeps reappearing, in spite of the efforts to completely get rid of it? It’s to remind us of the man who owned the land and instill guilt in us, the family who sold the land, and even the people of UTMB because they betrayed the owner’s wish. His reappearing face is a literal reminder of his existence, and it also serves as a warning function. Often times, ghost stories are told to shoo people away because most people choose not to live or be in a place that has a reputation of being haunted. We can see this as being true, for my informant admits that though many of her friends that believed in ghosts thought that this story was cool, it still made them fearful and not want to go near the Ewing Wing where they thought they could encounter the ghost.

 

[geolocation]