Author Archives: Carla Frankenbach

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.”

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.


Hidden Razor Blades

“The idea was that Satanists, or people like them, were slipping needles into apples, or like, razorblades into apples, and poisoning candy, and whenever I got a pixie stick, my parents would make me pour it out, like if I got one for Halloween they would make me pour it out, saying ‘no, they could have put drugs in that, you can’t have that.’ And then if, ah, like, one year, and this was the only year they did it but the urgent treatment center was doing an X-ray where you could bring your kids’ candy in and they would X-ray it and be like ‘okay, no needles here ma’am, no razorblades in your apples’ My parents still believe this, even now.”

This urban legend affected many of the informant’s Halloweens, as his parents would “screen” his candy before he could have it. It also becomes part of the Halloween ritual in a way, because the “checkpoint” has to happen before the informant can have the candy. This urban legend was so widespread that the Urgent Care Center in his area actually allowed people to use an X-ray machine! This translation from legend to real life fear shows how pervasive urban legends can be. This fear also reveals who people were most afraid of at the time (the informant grew up in the eighties). Satanists were apparently the biggest threat, those who seemed most evil and likely to do something like this to innocent kids. Though the informant left this belief behind, it seems that his parents have not.

The Good Son (Annotated)

“My mom would tell me this story, she said it was an old Chinese story, but I’m not sure, about a little boy who would get in his mother’s bed every night before she did, and he would make it warm for her and that made him the best son in the world”

Informant Analysis: “I think my mom just told me this so I would do the same for her, she was always cold and I was always warm, so after she told me this story I would get in her bed to warm it up for her. But I think she just made it up.”

Analysis: I was actually interested if this story existed, because the informant seemed to adamant that her mother had completely made it up, so I did some research and her mom’s version is actually based on a real Chinese story, almost proverbs in themselves, one of the “24 Paragons of Filial Piety” written by Yuan Dynasty scholar Guo Jujing. The story itself is called “He Fanned the Pillows and Warmed the Sheets: Huang Xiang” in which a young boy, after the death of his mother, serves his father by fanning the pillows in the hot summer and warming the bed in the winter. After being such a good son, he is recognized and a verse is written in his honor:

In winter months he warmed the sheets just right;
And fanned the pillows on hot summer nights.
In knowing how to be a filial son,
In all these years, Huang Xiang’s still number one.

So I think in this case the informant’s mother’s only crime was changing the father’s role to the mother, possibly to make it more applicable. I told the informant all this, she was completely surprised! This story, along with the many others featured in the collection, make it clear that in order to be a good Chinese son or daughter, one has to take care of one’s parents and serve them well.