USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘father’
Folk speech
Proverbs

“The Best Construction”

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. I think that this proverb reflects the down-to-earth and positive nature of the subject’s father. I haven’t encountered the exact version of this proverb anywhere else, but similar sayings exist sharing the theme of ‘seeing the best in other people’.

Main Piece

“My dad would always say, like, if we would complain about another person and say they were really mean he would say “Put the best construction on everything” so you don’t know, maybe they had good intentions, so think the best of other people.”

 

Material

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.

Legends
Magic
Narrative

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.

 

Myths
Narrative

REBUILDING THE HARDWARE STORE

ABOUT THE INFORMANT:

My informant is a mother of three who lives just outside of Boston with her husband of over 30 years. She is originally from Cape Cod, the part of Massachusetts that is full of beaches and is a world known tourist destination. She is a lover of all thing water; she has worked extensively in water policy and water pollution as an environmentalist.

EXAMPLE:

“So basically the summer I was 16…well, my dad had a country hardware store on the Cape {Cod} that burnt down when I was 14. And there was no insurance on the building. My parents had a piece of land in Orleans that was once where the building stood.

It was this terrible fire. I remember in eighth grade cooking dinner for my siblings while my parents were down there. My parents were watching the fire, watching their store come down.

In fact, for the four days of Thanksgiving break we had a fire sale. We pulled out of the store what we could after the fire. All the smoky, gross items. And we set up on the driveway next to the burnt down business. It was like a flea market. All of us were working. Just to get any money to pay off the items in the store because we still owed money on them, you know? We hadn’t paid back the people we bought them from.

So we had no money. But we did have this piece of land. So my dad started stockpiling lumber. It was actually bargain lumber, like cheap lumber he could find, all in our yard. So after a year, no after a couple of years, he got all of the lumber he needed. So he built a new store. All by himself. One summer, everyday he would work on it. I would ride by on my bike everyday and see him, building it. “Hi, Dad.” I worked as a chambermaid at a motel nearby. Then I would ride back every night and see him, still working.

He built it all by himself. One day he hired one guy so that they could raise the steel beam in the middle, for structural support, but that’s it. He was out there everyday, by himself that whole summer. And I would pass by him everyday.”

COMMENTS:

“That’s something we often talk about. We remember how even when we had nothing, we literally rose from the ashes. He rose us from the ashes. We tell that story a lot in my family. He went on to own five successful hardware stores. That was the turning point. We all learned about struggling and not giving up from him there.”

ANALYSIS:

This story hits on a couple of different elements. Even though it itself is true, or at least as true as a story can be when someone tells it, with no real fantastical or folkish elements to it, it contributes heavily to this family’s folklore.

This family cites this as a moment when their fortunes and fate began to change. This is kind of a liminal moment in a way, in that it is the part in between utter devastation and financial success. When they talk about her dad, and the stores for that matter, they talk about this moment. The moment of rebirth, and “the turning point.”

It also adds to the lore of her father, a very highly regarded figure in her family. She is filled with pride when looking back at him, single handedly rebuilding this family’s hope. While the story may be grounded in reality, it adds to his legend. He would go on to be talked about and looked upon as this amazing figure in her and her family’s world. This is one of those moments that would be talked about repeatedly in this family, as his lore grew with it.

Lastly, I feel as though this informant attributes this as a lesson or a trait she inherited from her father. Seeing him at work everyday, after such a terrible thing happened, not giving up, had a lasting impression on her. I feel as though she uses it to learn the importance of hard work and resilience; that it helps keep her fire going.

Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

The Sexist Doctor Riddle

The following is a riddle my informant told to me:

A man and his son were driving down an icy road. When they took a corner, the car flipped. After a while, two ambulances came, one took the father to a hospital in the west, the other took the son to an hospital in the east. The nurses rushed the son into surgery, because he was losing a lot of blood. The doctor entered, and after looking at the boy exclaimed: ” I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son!” How can this be?

Answer: The doctor is the boy’s mother

My informant told me that he tells this riddle often at parties or to his kids’ friends. Half of the time people guess the answer right away, but the other half of the time it completely stumps them.

When I first heard this riddle from my informant I could not figure it out. I thought it had to do with the sun rising, or another meaning of the word: “son”. As it turns out, it just reflected how the term “doctor” is still associated more with men than with women. I believe that this riddle is important because it pokes fun at the sexism of American society.

Proverbs

Turkish Proverb

“Denizden babam ç?ksa yerim.”

“If the sea my father comes out of I will eat.”

“I would eat my own father if he came out of the sea.”

The informant is a 23-year-old from Istanbul, Turkey. I met her when we were working right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park one summer. I heard this proverb first from some mutual Turkish friends that I fell out of touch with. She agreed to help me by translating it and tell me what it means to her over facebook – as she has since moved back to Istanbul.

The informant uses this proverb to mean, “i adore seafood, no matter what i have in my dish, if it includes seafood, i would eat it absolutely!” The first time I heard this proverb I had a few Turkish friends visiting me in Los Angeles. They were living in Colorado at the time and had been for a few months. When I told them I wanted to take them to eat Chinese food (they’d never tried Chinese food before) they told that was fine but they wanted seafood too since they were near the coast again. They said that they didn’t think I understood how much Turks love seafood and used this proverb as evidence.

More than just a love of crustaceans is at play here I think, though. When I was dropping them off at the airport we had some extra time so I drove by the ocean and they were just silent until it was out of view again. Of all the things we saw in Los Angeles, this was the only thing that made them speechless. I think this proverb encapsulates not only Turks love of seafood, but also their love of the sea. The proverb itself almost makes it sound like it’s possible that their father could come out of the sea – they are that close to it.

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