USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘mother’
Folk speech
general
Humor
Musical

Anti-Lullaby to Children

“Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll eat some worms. Short fat skinny ones, itty-bitty little ones, guess I’ll eat some worms.”

Context: The song was originally preformed by the mother of the collector when her child said that she was having difficulties making friends with children during elementary school. The collection is taken from a later date when asked to recite the song.

Informant Analysis Below:

The informant had grown up switching many schools, about 11, during her time from elementary through high school. She noted that because of moving around so much she often had difficulty making strong friendships. This song seemed to encapsulate the self-pity she once had as a child, and how she learned to become less emotional about such things.

Informant: “I honestly don’t remember when I first heard it, but I know it was definitely while I was still a child. It’s possible my mom also sang that to me too.”

Collector: “Do you have any idea of what it means?”

Informant: “I think it is saying, like, who cares if you feel unliked. Be stronger than that. The whole eating worms thing, to me, is saying that if you are gonna whine about not having friends, might as well eat worms while you are at it because the world does not care.”

Collector Analysis: Lullabies in themselves are supposed to be calming and reassuring to a child. This lullaby is rather odd because it does no such task. It seems to point out any amount of self-pity one may have for themselves and make light of it. In doing so, it can be seen as “tough love” and harsh in many ways. The concept of not being liked is a very common fear, not just for children, but for adults too. Perhaps when told to a child it not only is meant to teach children to “toughen up”, but also remind the adult to do the same. I believe this piece also has a lot to do with the drives in American culture of being self-sufficient. Starting at a young age, it would make sense to instill a sense of individualism by not caring what others think onto a child.

Folk speech

Chinese folk saying from kids

Main piece:

你妈的头,像皮球,一脚踢到四排楼

Translation:

Your mom’s head is like a ball; I will kick it to the Sipai Building.

Context:

This participant is born and raised in China. Growing up, she also absorbed a great load of Chinese folklore from her friends. This folklore piece is very interesting. According to her, this piece is mainly used among younger children, who often use this kind of rhymed saying to curse each other.

Analysis:

The theme of this swear is also related to the tarnishing of mothers. This piece is fascinating in the way that it’s rhymed, and that although the ballad seems violent, hearing this from a kid is very funny and childish, not violent at all.

Annotation: Her version comes from Hefei, but this ballad actually has many different versions throughout China and takes on different localization. For example, the version she gave me utilizes the local building name Sipai Building, while my city’s (I’m from Shenzhen, a southern city) is like “your mom’s head is like a ball, there are mountains, water, and rivers, just like the earth.” My another friend from Chongqing says that he has heard similar folklore when he was young, but his version was “your mom’s head is like a ball, I will kick it to the skyscrapers.”

 

Tales /märchen

The Seamstress

Main Text

Subject: I think the one that is…the details I remember most, is about…like, the mother daughter story? And I think my mom called it like, the seamstress or something?

Interviewer: Hm, okay.

Subject: But basically it was about a daughter who was like, leaving their home village to work, or something? And then the mother like, was really sad that she was leaving, and then, I think the night before she left, she ended up sewing this entire quilt that night? Uh…of like, memories, or something, something mystical. And then, and then like, the daughter like, brought it, away. And then I think she ended up like, not being able to come back, and then she just like, always had that like, quilt, as, like, a symbol of her mother’s love.

Background

The subject is a 22-year-old Taiwanese-American woman in her fourth year at USC. She was around four when she heard this story for the first time. She remembers her own mother telling her this tale as a bedtime story, and that it was so sad it moved her to the point of tears. Her mother had framed the story as an example of how a mother’s love was so deep, it could travel with you wherever you would go.

Context

This was the first item of folklore the subject brought up in a broader interview over folklore that the subject knew. As a child, the subject had a very literal interpretation of the tale. She thought her mother was literally going to make a her a quilt in the name of motherly love, just like the mother in the tale did for her daughter. As she grew up, she realized this interpretation was not grounded in reality, and that her mother had intended the tale to be taken no more literally than other folk stories she told at bedtime.

Interviewer’s Analysis

As a college student preparing to graduate this semester, the subject likely was thinking about reuniting with family again after an extensive institutionalized period of separation, much like how the daughter in the tale was extensively separated from her family by the institution of labor. Now, at a different stage in life, her identification with the daughter in this tale has become more literal, albeit in a way her four-year-old self had not considered.

Folk speech
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Chinoisms: Sleep

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

The subject’s mother’s response is cheeky and plays upon the pun created in the phrasing “How did you sleep?”. The question is rather contextual; if the question is taken literally (like how the subject’s mother does) it is results in a humorous answer.his reminded me a lot of classic “dad jokes”, or jokes that give literal responses to questions often with the purpose of irritating their children for a humorous result. The subject’s re-enactment of her mother’s gesture is also an important part of re-creating the joke, as the punchline of the joke is delivered physically rather than verbally.

Main Piece

“Almost religiously whenever my mom is asked “How did you sleep?’ she says “Like this!” and then she puts her hands next to her face, and, um, tilts to the side like she’s sleeping. [The subject put her hands in a prayer pose on the left side of her face like she’s sleeping on a pillow and tilts her head slightly].

Folk speech
Proverbs

“It’s Worth Doing Well”

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 especially reflects the down-to-earth and hard-working nature of the subject’s parents. I’ve heard similar renditions of this proverb (i.e. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”) from other sources throughout my life.

Main Piece

“My mom would always say “if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well” so, like that means don’t do a sloppy job or half-heartedly do something.


 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

“Worms in Your Stomach”

Context & Analysis

The subject used to swim competitively in high school and often had to deal with having wet hair. Her mother used to tell her the belief below to frighten her into keeping her hair down. Even though she recognizes that it is a folk belief, the thought of getting worms in her stomach was a deterrent to tying up her hair (and potentially damaging it). The subject stated that her mother most likely learned the saying from her grandmother, and she is uncertain if it is a belief that is shared by anyone outside of her family. I find it interesting that she continues to heed her mother’s warning despite not believing it herself.

Main Piece

“So my mom tells us that we’re going to get worms in our stomach if we tie our wet hair—not joking. Not joking. Yea. So when I was younger and started swimming I used to see all of the older girls in the locker room tie up their hair in really tight buns after swimming because obviously you don’t like the feeling of wet dripping hair on your back cuz it’s really gross. So I started doing it and my mom was like ‘[Subject’s Name] not only is this going to damage your hair, ‘cuz you’re going to rip it out—’cuz wet hair is weak hair or whatever— but you’re also going to get worms in your stomach’ and I didn’t believe her. But when my grandma was in town she started saying the same thing, and I thought ‘If this old lady is saying something, chances are she knows even more than my mom, so I probably shouldn’t tie it up anymore’ and I’ve never tied it up when it was wet since.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Chinoisms: Canning

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

This proverb seems to suggest that the subject’s mother came from a background that was very conscious of food waste. The reference to the process of canning also implies that this saying could have originated before the refrigerator was the primary method of preserving food.

Main Piece

When you—when we’re eating food and we can’t finish it we say “Eat what you can, can what you can’t” so like you can’t eat what you can’t eat, so like you put it in a can if you can’t eat it, so like you’re saving it.”

Folk speech
Proverbs

Vietnamese Proverb

RN is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: Do you know any legends, jokes, proverbs that you especially like?

RN: Proverb?

PH: Yeah

RN: Can it be in another language?
PH: Yes

RN: I’ll give you the English translation and you can just write [that it is a] Vietnamese proverb

PH: Do you know how to spell it?

RN: [says the proverb in Vietnamese]

PH: I’ll let you spell it.

RN: It means there’s nothing like fish and rice, there’s nothing like mother and child.

The actual proverb in Vietnamese is:

“Không có gì bằng cơm với cá, không có gì bằng má với con.”

Translations of this proverb vary, and this translation was off the top of the informant’s head. The informant speaks Vietnamese, as it is the language primarily spoken in his home, but not at an advanced level.

For another instance of this proverb, see Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.

 

Adulthood
Childhood
general
Life cycle
Protection

Ghost Mom and her Daughter: Car Guardians

Tim is a father of 3 children, and he currently lives in northern New Jersey. He went to Iona College in New York where he studied mathematics; after graduation, he worked for the family printing business before breaking off and starting his own. Now, he lives about 15 minutes from where he grew up, so many of the local legends he heard while growing up still apply. He told me this story while I was growing up.

——————–

Jack: “Dad, do you remember that road we used to drive down, the one that you said was haunted by a little girl and her mom?”

Tim: “Yeah, what about it?”

Jack: “Can you explain how that story goes again, and where you heard it?”

Tim: “Of course! So my dad actually told me and my siblings this growing up. The legend goes that this mom and her daughter were driving down that same road when suddenly their brakes gave out, but the problem was that the mom didn’t realize that until it was too late. When she got to the bottom of the hill and tried to brake, nothing happened, so they kept rolling into the middle of the road. Since it was early, there were some trucks going onto and off the highway, and one of them didn’t see the car so it smashed into it. The mom and daughter both died.”

Jack: “So how does the haunting come into play.”

Tim: “Oh, yeah. So the rumor goes that if you roll down that same hill, the mom and daughter will stop your car and hit the brakes for you, and if your brakes don’t work, they’ll just hold your car back. They’re basically trying to protect people from the same thing that happened to them. So these aren’t really your typical ghosts, I guess, because, you know, they’re nice. I guess ‘haunting’ is the wrong word. They’re more, like, lurking there and protecting the area or guarding the people that go there.”

Jack: “Can you see them?”

Tim: “I’m not sure about that. I haven’t seen them, but that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t.”

Jack: “So you said that they’re guarding the area and the people there. Do you still think that they’re ghosts, or do you think that they might be something else?”

Tim: “You know, I’m not sure. They could be ghosts, but they also might be guardian angels. But then again, they’re both just spirits, so how different could they be?”

——————–

This was one of the first stories I had ever heard about a ghost possessing or controlling some sort of machinery. Since I was young when I first heard this, it’s possible that my dad made the entire thing up just to scare me or give me something to believe in, but the fact that he mentioned his dad telling him the same story gives it a bit more truth/realism. Also, my dad and his father are both very religious, so I doubt they would lie and I also doubt they would make something up about ghosts until he really thought it was true. The parallel between ghosts and angels, however, was very interesting. It is true that they are both entities, and I guess both could be characterized as spirits, but it’s strange that they could both be categorized as this considering they both carry such different connotations. Angels have a positive and friendly connotation while ghosts have a malevolent and scary connotation, but as my dad said, not all ghosts are bad.

 

Customs
Gestures
Signs

A Catholic Tradition Honoring My Mother

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Spanish

Age: 20

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 13, 2017 (Skype)

 

Mike is a 20 year old man, born and raised in New York, who is a mobile phone salesman in New York City. He is a high school graduate whose family is of Puerto Rican Heritage.

 

Interviewer: Good Afternoon. You mentioned that you follow a tradition your Mom taught you. Could you explain please?

 

Informant: “Ya it is like I am Catholic you know you know and we really go by this Catholic thing like every time I do the cross. Every time I pass a Church, I do the cross. And I feel if I didn’t do the cross that I would feel different.”

 

Interviewer: You mentioned you would feel different, why?

 

Informant: “Like this was a thing, you know the do the cross, that I use to ah see my Mom do every time, you know, we were passing a Church. Like it ah didn’t matter if youse was on a bus or a car or like just walking down a street, um she would always cross herself.  Then… then I was, you know older then a little kid, ah every time she crossed herself you know and if I was wit her, she would stare at me if I didn’t cross myself.  So I guess, like um I would um feel different like I wuz disrespecting my Mother, you know.  So like , I am a Momma’s boy, she is very close. And um I don’t want to, you know give her anything that wouldn’t be very respectful. Does that make sense to you?”

 

Interviewer:  Yes it does. It is a very nice thing to do. Do you do the sign of the cross even when she is not with you?

 

Informant: “Of course, it’s like so deep in my bones and mind that it is like ya I am like a robot! When I see the church, like I have to stop and do my cross, you know.  It is so beautiful cause I see my Mom smiling a lot every time ah um I do that.”

 

Thoughts about the piece:  

Devoted Catholics worldwide have been making the “sign of the cross” since the 400s: http://catholicstraightanswers.com/what-is-the-origin-of-the-sign-of-the-cross/

Here is a demonstration of how to do this movement prayer properly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpRzqXG1dhc

 

 

 

 

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