My grandmother was first told this story by her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, roughly fifty years ago. The account is actually about my great-grandmother and how she met her husband, my great-grandfather. Ever since she heard the story, she has retold my aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and other relatives as a piece of interesting family history. With this entry, my goal is to illustrate the “telephone effect,” or alteration of the original story, that can occur after only three generations by interviewing my grandmother and my brother. My brother has heard the story from both my grandmother and my mother, so his version is expected to be different from my grandmother’s.
The story as my grandmother tells it goes like this:
“Your great-grandmother, Mitsuno, was born in Hiroshima and was the eldest child in her family. Because she was the eldest, she was responsible for her younger siblings, so she stayed at home while her siblings went off to school everyday. One day, when she was in her twenties, she heard about an opportunity to go to the U.S. and meet a husband. She was probably eager to experience life outside her hometown. She was given a picture of her husband-to-be and took a ship to Los Angeles. He was from Hiroshima too. It was common back then to marry within your region of Japan… It was frowned on to marry outside your city… But anyways, when she got off the ship… Boy, was she surprised! He was much older than the picture! So… she got right back on the ship and went back to Japan. Well, your great-grandfather, Sakuichi, went all the way over to Japan, found her and convinced her to come back to the U.S. with him. She eventually did, they got married and lived in Los Angeles. But it certainly wasn’t a happy marriage!”
When I interviewed my brother, the story was altered a bit and also condensed:
“I don’t think I’ve heard that story in a couple years or so… I interviewed Grammy for one of my Asian-American classes. Um, I don’t really remember who it was or how we’re related to her, but it happened during the early 1900s, when there were early forms of ‘mail order brides’… Basically I think she wanted American citizenship, so she blindly traveled from Japan to the States to meet her husband. When she got off the boat, she took one look at him and convinced the boat crew to take her back to Japan. I guess he didn’t just take that lying down, and he sailed to Japan to bring her back….”
The two versions of the story present the same plotline, but are noticeably different. My grandmother offers more information and descriptions, while my brother omits specific names and also adds some other details. My brother seems to put it into his own context becuase the last time he said he heard the story, he used it to relate to an Asian-American Studies course. These contrasting stories are expected though, since my grandmother knew my great-grandmother and learned the story first-hand. Yet, still, my grandmother’s version may be very different from my great-grandmother’s account, and that account may be very different from my great-grandfather’s account. After just three generations since the original story was told to my grandmother, only the “punch line” of the narrative has survived. The case study demonstrates the multiplicity and variation that commonly defines folklore and how stories are transformed over time.