“Well, so my mom used to complain about how big my feet were for someone so small, and my grandmother would tell me that, ‘The good Lord put a strong foundation on precious things.’ . . . So that was the saying that made me feel better.”
The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. The informant learned this proverb from her grandmother (known in the family as Me-Ma) and the informant thinks she learned it from her own mother (the informant’s great grandmother).
The informant says that her grandmother used this saying “in that moment because I was feeling bad about how big my feet were and it made me feel special.” She thinks it means “that you should be happy with what you have and things will change and you will be fine. At least someone’s looking out for you ahead of time and you don’t even know.”
This proverb sounds right in line with the things that would be said among that side of the family. What I mean by this is that my mother learned a lot of similar sayings that sound like they might come from the Bible, but actually do not. The reason for this might be that religion was a really important authority in this group of people, and making something sound like it is entrenched in that way of thinking gives it legitimacy, even if it’s something silly. Additionally, it is interesting that such a strong proverb was used to make a little girl feel better about her big feet. This might be because a child would be more likely to believe something, even if that something was as substantial that she should accept her herself, if it came more formally phrased.
Context: It was Halloween night at USC’s New Residence Hall, the perfect time and place to tell a ghost story. When I first asked my friend [the Informant], if he would be willing to share one of his numerous family ghost stories he was hesitant. After much coaxing, the Informant finally decided to open up and share with me a part of his haunted heritage. I quickly grabbed my camera and sat him down in a chair, as a small group of friends gathered around to listen in on the story. This was Halloween, and of course who could resist hearing a good ghost story? What follows is the story as it was presented to me:
Informant: “Okay, so this is not my ghost story, this is my family’s ghost story… uh I heard it from my dad, who heard it from his mother… uh, it has been passed down for a couple of generations. So, I guess that makes this my story as well. But my dad’s great Uncle John, okay so he bought this house on the kind of like wrong side of town, well back in that time it was still the good side of town, but you know how cities develop, now it’s in the bad part of town… uh this is Kansas City Missouri by the way. So he bought this house on the wrong side of town but, the nice side of town then…I’m sorry if I’m being confusing.”
Me: “It’s alright, continue. I get you.”
Informant: ”So it’s an old house… and uh, he moves in with his family and all of a sudden he starts complaining about like weird experiences there, but no one believes him because he kind of had a reputation for being crazy… uh, in fact… uh when his mother was dying in the hospital, because of some argument he had had, he refused to see her and she died before he could get there… uh to visit her and I don’t think he had any intention of visiting her… uh so she died and… uh a couple of weeks after she died, Uncle John started claiming that he had been visited by her spirit, and that she was tormenting him for uh… never saying goodbye uh… but he was crazy. The family actually had him committed and no one really thought much of it or of the house that he had purchased. And had complaints about occurrences inside of it…uh a family tradition of mine is that usually the house uh my family has this tradition of moving into other relatives homes once they are gone. So… uh, Uncle John’s son who was also named John, John II. My family also has a habit of passing on names along with houses, but now I’m going off topic, but uh…So John II moves into his dad’s home, after his dad’s been committed, and one day, this is a couple of weeks after they have moved in, uh he’s throwing a birthday party for his little girl…and…all the kids are up in the attic playing, and they all come down for cake and ice cream. And there’s this one kid in the group who’s really freaked out, and no one knows why, and so John (II) asks the kid, ‘Hey what’s up’ and the kids like, ‘Where’s that other kid?’ like there is someone missing from the party. And John II says, ‘No there isn’t’. So they do a head count of all the kids and they aren’t missing anyone, but this kid swears to God that there is another kid who is missing. And they ask this kid, ‘What did this other kid look like?’ and he explains that it was a little girl with ghostly pale skin…and since that…uh, John (II) and his family kept seeing this little girl in their house from time to time amongst other weird ghostly visitations. It was never malevolent in any way. It never did anything bad, it was just kind of there…so…”
Me: “I understand. Okay. Now when did this happen? Were you alive at this point in time?”
Informant: “No, this was far before I was born.”
Me: “So this pre-dates you?”
Informant: “Yeah, this pre-dates my dad. Because my home, the house that I live in which is also a relative’s home…that was built in the 1950s, and that was my dad’s other great uncle’s house…so I assume this happen around the 40s.”
Me: “Alright. Have you ever been to the house personally?”
Informant: “No, I’ve never. It passed out of family hands.”
Me: “Okay, I see. So it’s someone else’s problem now. Any ideas as to what you think it was?”
Informant: “My family is Irish Catholic, so… we were always kind of a superstitious bunch. And I would personally like to believe in the ghost story…uh…my family kind of treats it with this weird pride, so they can say, ‘We once owned a haunted house!’, so yeah…
Analysis: This story, as it was presented to me, appears to have more validity then a typical FOAF (friend of a friend) story due mainly to the fact that this is a supposedly true story that continues to be passed down from generation to generation. The thing that really convinced me of this story’s potential credibility was, perhaps, not so much the story itself, but the way it was presented to me in context. While the Informant told us his story, he seemed distanced and quiet, very different from his typically energetic attitude. Whether he was simply setting the tone for his story or he was just expressing a deep amount of reverence towards his family’s home remains to be unknown. While I have heard this same type of story before, the playful child ghost appears to be a popular motif present throughout ghost belief, this should not be used to discredit the story in any way. In my opinion, the story is probably just a family tradition that continues to be told from person to person.
The storyteller was a USC student from the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, near the larger city of Phoenix. She grew up in Scottsdale and before that, Minnesota, and is from a European, Caucasian background. This ghost story was collected around sunset, in my bedroom.
Me: So where did you hear this ghost story?
K: Uhm, from my friend who came back from one our school trips. She told me at school. *Long pause*
Me: Ok, you can go ahead and tell the story now.
K: Oh, ok….uhm, so, every year my theater club, we take a trip downtown for a convention and we stay in this old historic hotel.
Me: Downtown where?
K: Phoenix. Yea, its called the Hotel San Carlos and it was built in like, the late 20s? And it was this really nice hotel for stars to come if they came to the desert, like Marilyn Monroe has a room named after her and so does Clark Gabel….and all that jazz. But, uhm, I guess, a year, like, according to legend, a year after it was built one of the hotel workers, Leone I think it was? She was “pushed” out the, I think, I don’t know what story but it was pretty high up. She was pushed out, died, and so apparently her ghost wanders the halls of the hotel. And yea, and there’s also apparently this little girl who will go around and nobody knows what her story is but guests will say that she comes into their room and they hear this little girl crying. And you can see her sitting at the edge of the bed or in a chair in your room. And apparently, they think that she is a ghost of a kid that used to go to a school that was on the property before the hotel was built, who probably died in this huge flu epidemic. So my friend was staying there and she told me that both nights they slept in the hotel, she would wake up in the middle of the night and she would hear people getting ready in her room, and she’d hear voices. So she turned on the light and all of her roommates were still sleeping, and nobody was there, so she went back to sleep. Then she heard it again, so she went to the bathroom, and their bathtub was running. So she freaked out, turned it off, and went back to bed. And the second time it happened, the water started running again, and so she woke up her friend, and they both went and checked it out and turned it off. And they stayed up a long time, waiting for the ghosts. But they didn’t see anything, they just kept hearing these noises, and then I thought when I stayed there that something would happen, but nothing did…so….
Me: So do you think it was a ghost?
K: I don’t know, I don’t believe in ghosts so I really don’t know. Uhm yea, that’s about it.
This ghost story falls in one of the classic categories of ghost stories, in which the ghosts’ motives are driven by their untimely or un-respectful death. Leone and a little girl supposedly haunt because of the way they died, unfairly and untimely. The storyteller claimed that she didn’t believe in ghosts, yet she stated that she had thought she would see something when she stayed at the hotel. She didn’t clarify whether she expected to see ghosts, or some sort of optical illusion. Had she been told the story in a different setting, rather than at school in a casual setting, she might have a better chance of believing the story to some extent. Also, if she had told me the story in a darker, later setting she might have had more belief and enthusiasm in her tone.