Author Archives: Carla Frankenbach

Rat Chihuahua

“Somebody goes to Mexico on vacation, right, and they buy the cheapest Chihuahua in the world, and they’re so excited, they’re like ‘wow this is a pure bred Chihuahua let me buy it’ and they’re gonna buy it and bring it home to whatever Suburban town they’re from. And they have the thing and they’re like it looks weird but whatever, and then one day, grim turn, they find that it’s like attacking their child in the night and they take it to the vet and he’s like ‘this is a shaved rat’ and it’s a terrifying huge city rat brought into your home and now you have rabies and like whatever else the rat has.”

Informant Analysis: “It was always somebody’s cousin or somebody’s second cousin or something went to Mexico. We just accepted it completely because we were little kids who, when we imagined Mexico, it’s just a place that isn’t here and of course a scary thing like that could come from there. And I thought it was true until I read this book “scary stories to read in the dark” and the story was there and I was like oh, that’s it, it’s just a story.”

Analysis: This urban legend serves as a way to somehow relate to or understand a place that otherwise seems exotic to the informant. The legend uses something familiar–a chihuahua–and makes it something scary as a result of being bought in Mexico. The legend not only makes Mexico seem like a dangerous or untrustworthy place based on the transaction, but it also makes the family who was fooled by the trick seem a bit stupid for having believed that a rat was a dog. The informant also points to the fact that the story was somehow always personal because it “actually” happened to a relative or a relative of a relative, and this “five degrees of separation” idea is the case with many urban legends, so they can seem more plausible or realistic when in fact somebody random probably just made them up. That could be why the informant believed the story for so long past childhood.

 

Christmas Bags

“So in my family instead of wrapping Christmas presents in wrapping paper or newspaper, we put them in cloth bags that we reuse every year, and we save all the old tags so every Christmas you can look back and have a reminder of the presents from the years before that have been put in that same bag”

The informant says this ritual was initially a way for her family to be more environmentally friendly, but as the years have gone on it becomes a fun game every Christmas morning to guess what was in the bag the year before based on the note. The informant’s parents always write personal notes with each gift, so there’s a dual sense of excitement and fun in opening a new gift while communally trying to guess what the gift was there the year before.

AIDS Needles

“Whenever I went swimming, if I stepped on something in the water, I thought it was an HIV infected needle. And all of my logic would be like ‘no, it doesn’t exist in the air that long, it’s really hard to do that…all this stuff. But all my friends would talk about it, how these needles were everywhere and they were gonna get us if we weren’t careful”

Informant Analysis: “The AIDS needles thing scared the crap out of me, and the idea still kind of does, which is insane, because like, I’m old enough now to know that one, that is impossible, that’s not how transmission occurs, and two, even if you get infected somehow, it is nothing like a death sentence the way it was back then. But I’m still enough of a child of the 80’s that it resonates with me”

Analysis: The fact that this urban legend had such an effect on the informant is a good indication of the culture in which he grew up. When he was growing up, AIDS was much more publicized and controversial, so this particular belief would have had more of a foothold in society, especially among kids. Even though he understands it better now, and knows it can’t be real, it still resonates with him. These kinds of “threatening” Urban legends and superstitions, when told and reinforced in childhood, seem to have a particular hold on those they are told to, even as adults. The element of this particular legend that makes it seem real is the reality of the disease, something that overshadowed much of the informant’s childhood politically and socially. Growing up now, we know about AIDS, but we aren’t seeing it on the news everyday and we are not being given as much misinformation as they were speculating about at the time. This urban legend seems to have taken advantage of the uncertainty surrounding the disease at the time, so people would more readily believe and fear the elusive “needles.”

“You aren’t able to die in your dreams, so if you dream that you’re dead then you are actually dead”

“You aren’t able to die in your dreams, so if you dream that you’re dead then you are actually dead”

The informant said that he heard this growing up, and so of course he developed this fear about having a dream that he was dead. He probably did at some point, whether he remembers or not, but regardless he thought this was a fact for much of his childhood. I found this belief strange, but the more I thought about it I realized in most of the nightmares I can remember I was trying to escape death or run away from something, but I had never actually died in a dream (that I can remember). This belief shows the interest we have in dreams as a society. We often try to interpret them or analyze them to get answers, so it makes sense that they would also indicate our demise.

White Spots for Lies

“You know those white spots under your nails? My mom told me that I would get one of those for every lie I told.”

The informant was told this constantly by her mother, and it was obviously a way for her mom to scare her into always being honest. She said she also felt a sense of guilt because she had some white spots under her nails (actually due to a calcium deficiency) so she felt like she may have lied without knowing it. Obviously when she got older she realized this wasn’t true, but she says that everytime she looks down at her nails she’s reminded of it, so in a way her mother is always there to remind her to be honest. This reminder, even when she is old enough to know the original statement isn’t true, shows the insight her mom must have had in telling her this and instilling this semi-fear into her at a young age. Many parents say things like this, like my mom always said my nose would grow if I lied, so it makes sense that every parent comes up with their own version of it to instill honest values in their kids.