USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘story’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The House Across the Street

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story (which he learned from his father) from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“Back in Ireland, there’s this house across the street with an old man — and he’s a rat bastard — he’s a piece of s***. He used to be an IRA [Irish Republican Army]. He would beat his wife — his kids… and one day he was arrested and sent to prison. The day he got out, his whole family celebrated (as they do) with lots and lots of alcohol. So everyone’s drinking and he pulls out a Ouija board and someone in the room is like, “witchcraft it’s evil.” [the informant backtracks] Oh, and the guys name is Patty. [Back to the original story] He said, “no, no, no. It’s fun we used it in prison and it’s just a nice, fun game. Let’s try to see if we can contact our grandmother.” And so they they use it on on the table and they contacted his grandmother, whatever — and the grandmother was was also just a huge b***h when she was alive. Also abusive and terrible. And then someone across the room holding a beer says, “alright, well it’s been nice talking to you we got to go now. We’re praying for you.” But then he follows it with: “I don’t need your prayers where I am.” And everyone in the room s***s their pants. They scream they run. And after that, Patty was a much more secluded guy. He never really talked to anyone. One of his sons (that was never in) was there that night he went crazy. And they lived in the house next door because they’re connected houses over there. The son got up to go to the bathroom one night. And as he was going over to the bathroom he saw this ghostly white figure come across the hallway and he was a little disturbed… but, like, it’s Ireland so you kind of don’t really pay attention that much to that. And then his wife was in the room and she goes, “honey, who’s there? I just saw someone walk across the doorway.” And the husband says, “oh my God! I just saw someone walk across the hall. That’s really creepy.” And so they sort of, like, bless themselves, and go to bed. And this was in the house directly next to it [the Ouija board event] — because the houses are connected. the figure would come out of the wall that that they shared with the other house. And, you know, ever since since that day when when they used the Ouija board legitimately the sun doesn’t shine on on that house on the street. Like I said: hardly ever.”

 

My informant added that his dad told him this story first, and then he went to see the house from the story. He says it’s true that the sun doesn’t shine on the house. Even on days where the sun is fully illuminating the houses around it, this house is still shrouded in shadow.

 

Analysis:

Because my informant did not share his belief in the dark magical curse the Ouija board left on the house, he probably sees it as a legend attached to the house. His story takes place in the real world, but the events may or may not actually be true. I personally find it to be a fun story to tell at a social gathering. I can picture my informant being told the story by an active bearer (his father), and becoming a passive bearer until he shared the story with me when I interviewed him.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Narrative

Chimney Sweeps are Good Luck

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories and poems is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“So one Christmas, we had a chimney sweep come over. We called him and asked him to come over to clean out our fireplace. And he comes over — and our door bell has not worked in and years. Like since I’ve been at my house, the door never once worked once. Like the wires are cut, you know, like it was significantly broken. So, the chimney sweep presses the doorbell and it rings. It fully rings! And we were all very confused so we just kind of sat there for a hot second. And then we heard it again– and it rang again! And we were like what is going on? And my mom was like, “Oh my God! It’s a chimney sweep!” And she asked him how he rang the doorbell, and he responded– he was just like, “I just pressed it and it rang.” And then my mom pressed it– and it worked one more time and then after that it stopped working again. And it hasn’t worked since– but it worked when the chimney sweep came over. So that’s really weird.”

 

Because this story is from his personal experience, I asked him to explain how he knew about the folk belief that chimney sweeps bring good luck:

 

Killian: “It came up a lot. It’s pretty much common knowledge in Ireland. I don’t remember a specific person it came from.”

 

I then asked my informant if he knew where the folk belief came from or when it developed:

 

Killian: “I mean, there’s not much rhyme or reason to Irish superstition. I dunno, maybe it’s good luck because they clean out your fireplace so your house doesn’t burn down?”

 

Analysis:

I have never heard of this folk belief, but I think it fits with my other knowledge of Irish folklore. This collection is also fascinating because it comes with a story of personal experience that fits within the folk belief. To me, it’s similar to a ghost story but it fits with Irish legends rather than local legends.

 

general

Alexa Tells A Joke

BACKGROUND:

In recent years, Amazon has launched a produce called the Amazon Echo. The AI “personality” that the Echo conveys is even given a familial name, Alexa. The device is used to serve as a home assistive device, with the capabilities of setting timers, controlling lights, and even convey bits of folklore. Because Alexa has access to a massive database of different bits of information, the device can retell a joke it “heard” from someone else. I decided to test this and ask a device to tell me a joke. In return, I was told a joke that started out sounding like a historical fact (a function the Echo is often used for) and flipped my expectations by ending it with a pun.

“INTERVIEW”:

My “interview” with my source and artificial storyteller, Alexa, went as follows:

Me: Alexa, tell me a joke.

Alexa: As the old story goes, someone sees a reflection of the moon and mistakes it for cheese… un-brie-lievable!

MY THOUGHTS:

Due to the fact that this is a machine with no actual purpose other than to serve its users, I concluded that this source’s identity did not need to be kept anonymous. There is no legal obligations that a user needs to serve Alexa given that its personality is based off 1’s and 0’s, not actual emotions. I still find it extremely fascinating that this device is able to convey bits of folklore, just like a human can. I wanted to explore this concept and see what would happen. I felt like a joke was a good place to start. I’ve heard a version of this joke before but never told like this. I love the way it plays off the fact that it is a machine, in that it starts to convey the joke as a fact, much like it normally conveys facts, and then turns it around and ends with a punchline. This variation of the joke is a fun way in which modern technology can influence the world of folklore.

Narrative

Tree story, India

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me a story that her grandfather used to tell her whole family when they sat in the front porch of their house.

 

She told me that there is a really big tree which was always barren in front of her house, and her grandfather said that the only time this tree was in full bloom was when it had a nest in which a mama bird had 4 babies. One day, a snake climbed up the tree and ate the babies, and the mama cried and cried until all the leaves fell off and the tree has never bloomed since. She says this story brought a flavor of fantasy to her locality which in turn gave her a sense of wonder ever since she was a child.

 

This story reminded me of the stories I used to hear from my own grandparents, and I think it is a really nice way to increase that sense of wonder and turn something seemingly ordinary into something that brings the family together.

Legends
Narrative

Witch house, India

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in New Delhi, India and is 20 years old. She told me a rumor that was started when she was younger about a house in her neighborhood.

 

She told me that she had never the house’s owner up until a few years ago. She had only seen 30-40 cats that went in and out of the house. She is not sure about how it started, but all the kids in her locality were scared of looking at the house for more than a minute at a time because somebody started a rumor that the evil witch inside would throw kids into a well inside the house or eat them for dinner. She says it became a fun little test among her friends for seeing who was the bravest by making people stare at the house. Looking back at it now, she thinks it was probably a parent who started this rumor so that the kids would come home right after it got dark.

 

It looks like this is one of those stories parents use to scare children into behaving and not leaving their house at night, like Mexico’s La Llorona or Panama’s La Tulivieja. I like that children turned it into a fun game instead of being scared of it. All of the Indian people that I’ve met are very playful and not easily scared, so that reaction makes sense to me.

Narrative

Creepy Clown Story

Informant is USC sophomore born and raised in Amherst, NY.

He tells me the story of a “deranged clown” he and his friends came across in the summer of 2016.

He tells me:

“Yeah, we were walking in the forest by my house. I was going to shoot some pictures and my two friends were with me. It was like noon, a perfectly normal day.

So I was going to take some portraits and then we were going to go see a movie. It was so normal, but as we’re walking down the path in the forest— it’s behind the school, we went all the time so this was no different— I saw this color out of the corner of my eye.

And this was happening right around the time when all those clowns were showing up in videos. So my first thought was “oh god, a clown.” And so I turned and there he— it— was, a clown standing in the forest. It looked like he was holding a knife, I saw a glisten which could have been a knife, but also maybe a phone or something. A watch glistening or something, but I’m pretty sure it was a knife.

He wasn’t looking at us but immediately I had a flash back to a video I saw where a clown started chasing someone at like, full speed. So I wasted no time and we high tailed it out of there.

Usually I don’t believe in this kind of stuff. Honestly I thought those clown videos were just all faked. But when you see one yourself, and you think that somebody’s crazy enough to go stand in the forest dressed like that, you don’t care what’s faked. You get the fuck out of there!”

Personally I’m also skeptical of this “killer clown” thing. It seems a little too “Hollywood” to be true to me, it kind of taps into this scary movie fear we have as a society. I don’t know if I actually believe he saw a clown, or if he even believes he did. Part of me thinks he’s just playing off of the trend and wanted to have a creepy clown story of his own.

I also wonder about the “scary clown” thing— why is it true? What’s so scary about clowns, or as a society did we choose to make the clown scary because it’s a better narrative?

general
Narrative

Tanbouri’s Shoes

Abu Al Kasem Al Tanbouri used to live in Baghdad, and he had very old shoes, which he used to patch up every time when it breaks. The shoe became a collection of patches, and it was known for everybody. One day, his friends insisted on him to get rid of these old shoes, so he threw it in the dumpster, and he went back home. On his way home, he passed by the market, and he saw these nice, colorful glass bottles. But he thought these are too expensive and he doesn’t need them. Then he passed by a place where they sell perfumes, and he thought this expensive perfume deserves to be in one of these beautiful, colorful glasses. So he went back, and he got one glass bottle, and then he got the perfume, and put the perfume in the glass, and put it on a shelf in the house.

Meanwhile, a man was passing next to the dumpster, and he saw the patched shoes, and he recognized them. So he thought, it’s impossible for Al Tanbouri to get rid of the shoes, and I need to take it back to him. When he knocked on the door, nobody answered (because Al Tanbouri was out), and he saw an open window in the house. So he threw the patched shoes through the window, and hit the glassed perfume, which broke, and the perfume spilled out of the glass.

When Al Tanbouri came back to the house, and he recognized what happened, he cursed the shoes, and he took them angrily, and he threw them in the river. After a while, a fisherman found the shoes in his net, and he recognized them. He thought that he needed to take them back to their owner, so he went to Al Tanbouri’s house, and he told him, “I found your shoes in my net.”

Tanbouri took the shoes and put it on the roof to dry. A cat thought the shoes were a piece of meat, and started to chew on it. So Al Tanbouri followed the cat, trying to get it to leave the shoes alone, but the cat put the shoes in his mouth, and started to jump over roofs. All of a sudden, the shoes fell from the cat’s mouth, and it hit a pregnant woman, and she fell down on her back, and miscarried the baby. So her husband went to the judge, accused Al Tanbouri with killing his unborn baby, after he recognized they were Al Tanbouri’s shoes. So the judge ordered him to pay blood money.

Al Tanbouri got very angry, and he started cursing the shoes, and thought, “I need to throw it in a place where no one will find it.” So he threw them in the sewers. In two days, the sewers flooded. When the workers came to check the reason of the flood, they found the patched shoes, and they recognized who the owner is. They took him to the judge again, and the judge ordered to send him to prison.

After he was done with his sentence, they gave back the shoes to him. Again, he cursed the shoes, and he thought, “I need to bury it in a deep place.” When he started to dig, the neighbors thought that thieves were digging through the fence, so they went to the police, and the police came and took him to the judge. Al Tanbouri asked the judge to write a document that he has nothing to do with the shoes anymore, and no matter what trouble they are causing, he has no connection to it.

Al Tanbouri’s shoes were famous for their bad luck.

Background information: The informant learned this from a friend of hers and thought it was entertaining and funny. It is a Middle Eastern story.

Context: The informant told me this in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I thought this was a funny story – the fact that a pair of beaten-up shoes, nothing really important, can have serious ramifications on Al Tanbouri’s life is pure comedy, as well as the fact that the shoes inadvertently followed him everywhere. He tried so hard to get rid of them following well-meaning advice from his friends, and they caused so much trouble for him. I don’t recall any stories I’ve heard that are similar to this, so it was quite interesting and entertaining to listen to.

For another version of this story, see The Tanbouri Shoes (My Auntie’s Stories), published by Asalah (2008). ISBN-10: 9953488851.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Narrative

Juha’s Nail

Juha had a house he liked very much. But, he needed some money so he had to sell it. For him, to keep a connection to his house, he put in the contract that he is selling all of the house, except a nail on one of the walls. After a week, Juha knocked the door, and when the new owners opened, he told him “Excuse me, I am here to check on my nail.” And he kept doing this almost every day and especially during lunch or dinner time, to be able to share the owner’s meals. After a while, the owner was so tired of Juha’s visits, he left the keys with him and departed. The phrase “Juha’s Nail” stayed as a expression for when you use an excuse to keep coming back for something you are attached to.

Background information: This is a piece of folklore read about in school in the Middle East. The informant found the story for the phrase, “Juha’s Nail,” particularly funny. Juha is a recurring character in many Middle Eastern stories.

Context: The informant told me about this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I think it’s so cool and interesting to have a metaphor used in language that started as a story/joke. I have not learned about Arabic metaphors, so it’s fascinating to learn about the origins of one of them.

Humor
Narrative

Juha and His Sheep

Juha had a white, cute, chubby sheep, and he used to love him a lot. Juha’s friends wanted to trick him, and to slaughter that sheep for them for dinner. They told him that the end of the world will be tomorrow, and there is no point of keeping his sheep, and that they should their last picnic and enjoy the meat next to the river. So Juha slaughtered the sheep, and he started a fire to grill it. His friends went to swim in the river, and they were laughing and joking about him. He got upset, and he threw all their clothes in the fire. When they came back, they were upset at him, and he told them: “Why do you need their clothes if tomorrow is the end of the world?”

Background information: This is a traditional story heard throughout the Middle East. Juha is like Charlie Chaplin in a sense – he always does funny stuff and gets into funny situations, and is a recurring character.

Context: The informant told me this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: It’s interesting to see the amount of stories and jokes that revolve around this Juha character. To have one main character seems to make it easier to relay jokes and stories – no background information or context is needed, since it is always Juha. He gets into funny situations all the time, so it makes sense that these things happen to him. I feel bad for the sheep, though – getting it killed for something to laugh about is a cruel joke! Juha definitely and rightfully got back at his friends.

Narrative

Panchatantra = Indian comic book

Main piece:

“Panchatantra is a folktale comic book for kids created to teach morals and important life lessons. In one of the stories, there is a god/deity, who is disguised as a poor female street beggar. She goes to a rich family household and asks for food and money. They say no, so then she moves on to the village and goes to a poor couple’s house. The couple has like no food or anything but she asks for food and water. They give her one roti (which is like tortilla/bread) and water even though they had none for themselves. So then when the rich family and poor couple wake up, their lives are switched.

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant said she got her Panchatantra from her aunt on her 4th birthday as a gift but it was very common and every kid owned it. Informant said that the story shows that no matter how much you have- a lot or a little- you should share with people. It teaches people to not be selfish and greedy.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is read by kids as a comic book in India.

Personal Analysis:

The Panchatantra is like Aesop’s fables. It is a good way to combine something fun and educational. It is not education in a literal or academic sense, but it is one way that India teaches kids how to be generous. It shows the values of the nation that cares about giving rather than receiving.

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