USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘family story’
general

Food for even the Mice

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

When I was growing up we would prepare a separate meal for these specific mice. Although we do not do it anymore because our house is clean and there are no mice around, it was very common during my time when we grew up. The specific mice we fed were called 錢鼠 (Qian Shu). Because their name had money in their names, we would hope that after feeding these mice, we would become prosperous.

The mice are called Asian house shrew/money shrew in english. This was interesting because even my father did not know or believe that these mice were actually real. My grandmother had to convince my father that they actually existed, but they are not seen anymore. This came as a surprise to me, because during this time my grandparents were under Japanese rule and that these traditions did not come from them, but they were extremely poor during that time. Feeding random mice for good luck seems very weird for me, especially since they did not have a lot of food, to begin with. However, seeing as it all panned out well, I guess feeding the mice did help!

Legends
Narrative

Elsie the Cow

Item:

“During the Anglo Boer war my great grandmother (Dirkie Joubert) was a young married woman living on a typical farm of the time;  in the old Transvaal province of South Africa. It was the year 1900. The Anglo Boer war that started in 1899 had been continuing for a couple of years. This was the war between the British and the Afrikaners rebellion against British rule.

The men have all gone to fight on the battle field, leaving the woman and children behind, alone on the farms. As the woman continued with keeping the farms going they could supply the Afrikaner fighters with fresh supplies whenever they were in the area.

The British soon discovered this source of supply and started burning the farms, removing the supplies for self-use including the live stock.

My  great grandmother had a cow called Elsie. She was a very clever cow and very quickly caught on to what was happening. She became so smart that whenever she saw the dust from the approaching British troops she would run and hide and wait until they were gone to re-appear and help keep my family alive.”

Context:

The three items of folklore I collected from this informant were the only three out of all the items in my collection that were not a result of face to face interaction. The text above was sent to me, from the informant, via email. I also corresponded with the informant over the phone to receive the context behind her stories. That said, the informant’s  great grandmother lived until she was 94. The informant, who lived most of her life in South Africa (she moved to Dallas, Texas with her family in the 90’s), used to go her house after school. The informant had a very special bond with hear great great grandmother, and used to hear this story from her all of the time. Her  great grandmother had five children, and during the course of this war, she and four of her children were taken from their farm and put into a concentration camp. The oldest son went off to fight in the war. In the concentration camp, her four children died. It was not until she was older that the informant learned of this terrible reality; her great grandmother would never talk of the concentration camp.

Analysis:

That the informant’s  great grandmother would tell the story of Elsie the cow and not any of the darker stories of what happened during the war, show that it was a happy story for her. The story is a light anecdote that occurred during a very dark time, and whether or not it actually happened, it most likely helped her get through some very tough years after her traumatic experience in the concentration camp. The informant told the same story to her own kids when they were young, ensuring that this positive story from their family’s history would be passed down.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Narrative

The Curse of the Secret Flan Recipe

“Oh yeah so my mom has this secret recipe for flan… that… as I understand it you can make the flan in a third of the time as it usually takes, and it’s… considered the best flan anyone’s ever had… according to people who eat it, but I don’t like flan so I don’t actually know… um… and, yeah, she’s got this secret recipe and everyone she’s ever told this recipe to has like, vanished from our lives, and…”
[“Do you know the recipe yourself?”]
“Myself?  No.  I’ve glimpsed it but I don’t… I didn’t commit it to memory.  Yeah… everyone who’s… who’s read the memory, has been like friends who then move away suddenly, and we never talk to them again…  or like yeah, I don’t know, the worst was when she like… gave my girlfriend the recipe… and… and then yeah… and then she broke up with me.  Eheheheh.”
[“Does everyone in your family now, like, believe the recipe…”]
“I mean, we knew the curse before she told, but she’s like… ‘okay, it’s alright, this will break the curse, and it didn’t…”

My friend is an Interactive Media and Games major at the University of Southern California.  His father is from Colombia and his mother is from Spain.  He was born in Texas.

This story is about one of his mother’s recipes, and for him, the flan is significant not so much because of its taste or recipe, but for its effect on his family’s friends.  Thus, this is more about the folk belief than the particular foodway.

The curse of the flan does affect his family’s willingness to share the recipe.  Apparently, the times his mother has been willing to give out the recipe have significantly lessened.  But she does believe that there’s a possibility to break the curse.  As the attempt to give it to my friend’s ex-girlfriend demonstrated, however, the curse has not yet been broken.

While the giving of the recipe and the departure of friends might not be correlated, the fact that my friend and his family correlate them indicate that there’s some belief that divulging this secret can actually lead to broken friendships.  Since they believe in the curse, my friend’s family might not share as much as they could with their friends in order to maintain relationships.
One thought that I had while listening to the story is that it reflects a belief in distance for maintaining healthy friendships (not completely, but to some extent).

It’s interesting how my friend, who’s neither tasted nor made the flan, accepts that the curse exists through experience.  There’s no need to explain it with any other factor outside of the giving of the recipe.  Overall, it’s a humorous story and I wonder if the curse will ever be broken.

general
Narrative

Tale: Family Folklore

The informant’s uncle Blake Emerson , likes to pass down stories about his life.  He was the 11th of 12 children, raised in a very large ranch in Nebraska. As the 11th of 12 children he was not paid as much attention. He was good with snakes. When he was about 10 one of his chores was to go to the rocky part of the ranch to collect stones for building fences and the like. When he went out he found rattlesnakes. He would find baby rattlesnakes and collect them in a 5 gallon water bottle. He went into town with the bottle and met with combine workers. Combines are machines that are used to harvest wheat. Skilled workers would migrate around the country to follow wheat harvest. The informant’s Uncle would make a bet with the workers; if they could put their hand on the outside of the battle and keep their without flinching he would give them $5. If they failed they had to give him 50¢. If got a lot of money of this bet. He even got featured in the paper; the photograph from the paper is posted on the fridge.

The informants enjoys hearing stories from her uncle because it strengths their family bonds.

Family folklore is interesting because it shows people within the same family have different experiences. Its a good way to solidify family bonds between different generations.

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.

Narrative

A Direct Descendant of a Salem Witchcraft Trial Victim

My informant first heard about his blood relation to a Salem Witchcraft victim when he was about eight or nine years old.  Among stories of being related to pirates in the Mediterranean and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who killed Billy the Kid), my informant’s late grandmother, who was well read in her family history, also informed him that he was related to Samuel Wardwell.

Informant: “Well the story as I know it, or remember from what [my grandmother] told me, is that Samuel Wardwell, who I guess is my great-great-great-great-great grandfather… I don’t really know how many ‘greats,’ but he is my very distant grandfather… He and his wife were accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.  He was made to confess, I think quite forcibly… and he uh, later recanted his confession.  From what I know, he confessed to save his life – his wife was pregnant with one of my relatives… I don’t know if it was my great-great-great-grandfather or one of his brothers or sisters, but she was pregnant… And because she was pregnant, she wasn’t executed… That’s why I’m here today, because she wasn’t killed.  I also don’t know exactly why Samuel recanted his confession, but I guess that was the reason why he was put to death.  He was hanged for suspected witchcraft in 1692…  I’ve never been there, but he has a gravestone in Massachusetts that’s still there today…”

Interviewer: “How do you know for sure that you’re related to him?  You have so many crazy family stories, how can you be sure that they’re true?”

Informant:  “I look at it like, some of them may not be true…  but I know for sure, that the Wardwell story is true.  My grandmother’s maiden name was Wardwell, and she was told by her family about the Witch Trials…My family came over on the ship after the Mayflower… So they had a lot of time to do a crazy shit…  Oh, and I also remember my grandmother saying that the story of Samuel Wardwell was the influence of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible.’  I can’t be sure that that’s true, but it’s still pretty cool.”

My informant voiced that the some aspects of the Samuel Wardwell story may have been embellished, since the story has been passed down from multiple generations.  He says “The Crucible” influence especially may have be an elaboration, but at the same time, might also be true.  The character of John Proctor in the play follows the same general sequence of events: he and his wife are accused of witchcraft, his wife claims to be pregnant, he confesses so he can live and care for his family, but then retracts his confession rather than admit to witchcraft and is finally hanged at the end of the play.  The two narratives are so similar that it made me think that maybe the story of Samuel Wardwell was altered in order to fit the story in “The Crucible.”  However, I was quickly taken by surprise when I read Court Records of the Salem Witch Trials.  The records report the same basic story that my informant revealed and also add more details about Samuel Wardwell.

 

To learn more about Samuel Wardwell, refer to these sites:

http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ma/county/essex/salemvill/wardwell.htm

http://www.dixfieldcitizennews.net/genealogy/9004.htm

http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people?group.num=all&mbio.num=mb26

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