USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘mother’
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
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 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

 

 

 

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Treat Your Mother with Respect

The informant is a graduating senior at the University of Southern California, studying Creative Writing and Social Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. She was born in Egypt and originally held Egyptian citizenship, but moved to the United States when she was quite young and is now an American citizen.

This piece is an Egyptian proverb about the importance of respecting your mother. The informant recounts her and a friend’s experience with Yo Mama jokes (jokes that insult another person’s mother: ex. Yo Mama’s so fat she rolled over twice and ended up in Africa) and how that reminded her of an Egyptian proverb.

“In Egypt you also cannot make Yo Mama jokes. You will get beaten up. A friend who went there, who grew up here but he was Egyptian, and he went there one summer and he made Yo Mama jokes cause we were in middle school and that’s what we did; everyone’s an asshole in middle school. And um, I think he got punched in the face by his cousin for making that kind of joke.

No it’s just like, the biggest insult you can say to somebody is to insult their mother. It’s like, especially to guys cause it’s like their pride and joy, like “You always treat your mother with the deepest and fondest respect.” So, that was a big proverb. And culture shock when I came here in middle school and everyone was in the Yo Mama phase and I was like, “That is appalling.” But like, I don’t know. Like Yo Mama So Fat jokes, it was just very strange to me.”

Analysis:

While the proverb itself is fairly standard, demonstrated the cultural value of the mother figure in Egyptian culture, it was fascinating to see the conflict that arose when members from both cultures, such as the informant and her friend, participating in or witnessed jokes that directly opposed what they had learned from that proverb.

general
Musical

Tadpole Song

I think I’ll eat a tadpole,

maybe even a bug.

I’ve got some worms down in the garden

that I recently dug.

You said you didn’t love me,

you told me it was true,

so darling this is really, really,

what I’m gonna do.

 

I think I’ll eat a tadpole,

then I’ll lay down and die

and you’ll be sorry,

oh so sorry,

that you told me goodbye.

 

So if you really love me,

just tell me with a hug

before I eat a tadpole or a bug.

I really mean it,

before I eat a tadpole or a bug.

 

The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. The song is one that his mother used to sing to him and his siblings when they were little. The informant says his mother had a beautiful singing voice and would either sing hymns or songs like this before the children would go to bed because she was always in charge of this activity. He says it is interesting to him because “it must have come from some popular pop music of some age” and he “almost suspect[s] that it’s a fragment, but it was passed down to us as a whole,” “almost a vignette.” He also heard it from his older sister as she was learning to sing it for her children. He performs it because it reminds him of his mother, but also because “it’s just, it’s the cutest concept of a song . . . you know, it’s a child’s concept of love combined with a child’s concept of mortality. Uh, you know, you left me, I’m gonna basically hold my breath and die if you don’t come back. You know, and eating a tadpole is going to kill you, you know, it’s just all, I just love the construction and the cuteness of it.” He sees it as a way of teaching children that breaking somebody’s heart is a big deal. He also admits that the whole thing is “a little twisted.”

 

This song was collected while I was home for Spring Break and performed in my living room. It was interesting to me because my father also used to sing it to me and my sister when we were children. It’s a song with a nice tune that seems harmless, but it has lyrics that are actually pretty dark. I remember it as being sad when I was much younger, but looking at it now it strikes me that the subject of the song is suicide, even if the narrator is not going to die from eating a tadpole. I think the song is mainly meant to be cute and entertaining, but I also agree somewhat with the informant’s assessment that the song is about teaching children the effect their actions and words can have on another person.

 

A version of this song was performed and released (“I Think I’ll Eat a Tadpole”) by Sue Thompson in 1966. Thompson’s version has the above version as its chorus and additional verses. While the chorus is recognizable as the informant’s version, many of the words have been changed and the overall tone of the song is different. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHnlZfJAHT0

Thompson, Sue. "I Think I'll Eat a Tadpole." The Country Side of Sue Thompson. Ridgeway Music, 1966. CD.
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Proverbs

“You step on a crack, you break your mother’s back.”

Information about my Informant

My informant grew up in Hacienda Heights where he went to high school, and received his bachelor’s degree from USC. He is a game designer and is currently working for a social mobile gaming company based in Westwood.

Transcript

“‘Stepping on your mother’s back,’ we heard that a lot in the playground. Um.”

Collector: “I haven’t heard that one; what is it?”

“Stepping on a–uh, you step on a crack, you break your mother’s back. So you don’t wanna do that.”

Collector: “So like just…”

“Avoid the cracks in the ground.”

Analysis

This sounds like a classic superstition spread on the playground. According to my research, the origins of this rhyme/proverb had a different variation in the second half. Instead of “break your mother’s back,” it’s rumored that the original rhyme was “your mother will turn black,” which indicated that stepping on a crack would result in your having a black child (which would taint your whole family line with “black blood”). My informant did not know anything about these origins or even why stepping on a crack would break his mother’s back. In my opinion, there is no real fear being played upon here, but it’s more of a children’s game, where the desire to not want to break one’s mother’s back leads to the child hopping around on the sidewalk, enthusiastically trying to avoid stepping on any crack in the pavement.

[geolocation]