Author Archives: Christina Oti

“Thank You For All The Useless Things You Have Given Us.”

My family members on my dad’s side of the family have a tendency to poke fun at each other, especially my dad and his siblings, and when someone does something that the others can make fun of them for, they hold it against them for as long as they can. One example of this is a story about my dad when he was little. My aunt joyfully told me the following story about her brother:


“My father (your Abuelo) [my grandfather], was a Doctor in Cuba. At times he would have to visit his patients on horseback—many of them lived in the country, and it was just more accessible that way. On one occasion, he took your dad to visit a family that needed treatment. When they arrived, he told José [my dad and her brother] to be still and behave—something that a four-year-old would have had a problem doing, but he really looked up to Dad. He knew that he was a very important person, doing a very important job. When Abuelo was finished, the family was so grateful to him, they wanted to pay him, but they had no money. Abuelo told them not to worry about it—they were poor. So they offered him things from the garden: a dozen eggs, a chicken, bread, and some vegetables. Abuelo was very gracious. He asked them to give it to his son, as he folded up his stethoscope packed up his doctor bag. He then turned to José and said, “What do you say?” José said, “Thank you for all the useless things you have given us.” Bringing up children is never easy…. [sighs].”

Sarah Kingamen

Subject: Family Legend


Informant: Talitha Barkow


The following narrative is a story told to me by Talitha Barkow about someone in her family. The story dates way back to the time when an ancestor far down the line moved to the United States. The story has been passed down in her family for generations, and by now, as Talitha told me, she isn’t quite sure how accurate the whole story is, and it is missing significant details that have been lost as the story has been passed down again and again. However, the narrative is an important one to her and her family, as it tells them where they came from, and how their family got to the United States, where they reside now.


“I’m part Irish, but it’s a very small part compared to my German ancestry. But I do have one Irish ancestor who came to America when she was eighteen years old. She came on a boat alone.


She went to Canada on the boat, and then went down to Minnesota—I’m pretty sure it was Minnesota, but we don’t really know anymore.


Her name was Sarah Kingamen.


And then from there, in Minnesota, she met—this is such a German name, you’re going to need me to spell it for you—Reinard Barkow—and Sarah and Reinard got married.


She wasn’t even five feet tall, and I’m five foot ten! She also had really, really red hair—she was very Irish.”

Three Finger Joe

Subject: Retelling of a Camp Legend


Informant: Lauren Herring


Background Information/Context: Camp Mystic is an all-girls camp in Hunt, Texas. It was founded in 1926 by a coach at the University of Texas, and it is still an incredibly popular camp today. In fact, the camp is so popular that in order to enroll, your parents have to call the head of the camp and ask to put you down on the wait list no longer than a few weeks after you are born. Ideally, a spot would clear up for you by the time you are the age they accept campers, but this is not always the case. Lauren Herring, from Houston, Texas, was lucky enough to get off the wait list, and has been attending Camp Mystic since for twelve years–the past two years as a camp counselor. So Camp Mystic has been a huge part of her childhood, as she has spent each of these past twelve years attending the camp for one month during the summer. I asked her if she ever had any ghost stories or heard any legends from Camp Mystic, and this was her response:


“I don’t know who started this story, but it’s kind of always been a big thing at Mystic. So there’s this little shed near Chatter Box, which is one of the cabins. You live in Chatter Box your third year. And there’s this random little shed with a lock on it right next to Chatter Box, and no one knew what it was for, not even the counselors. It was kind of just there. And it was scary looking, like really old and falling down and stuff.


So there was a story that there was a man that lived in it, and at night he would come into Chatter Box and scratch your back, but he only had three fingers. You knew he had come into your cabin that night if someone woke up with three scratches on their back.


His name was Three Finger Joe. We were all really scared and paranoid, because we were like nine and really completely believed it. And I think some of us would lie for attention or to mess with the rest of us or whatever because people would wake up and be like, ‘Oh my God, I have three fingered scratches on my back!’”


I loved hearing this story from Lauren because it reminded me of when I was younger and would listen to similar stories at the camps that I would go to. Growing up, I loved hearing ghost stories, and this one really took me back. I could tell when Lauren was recounting the memory to me that she enjoyed this kind of reminiscing as well.

Abuela’s Black Beans and Rice

Abuela’s Recipe for Cuban Black Beans and Rice


The following dialogue is from my dad explaining a Cuban recipe for black beans and rice that his mother, my grandmother, used to make. She passed it along to her three children—my dad, my uncle, and my aunt—along with her secret ingredient for the dish.


“Soak a bag of black beans overnight. Chop an onion and about three cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of cumin, and then you put two tablespoons of olive oil, the onion that you chopped, the garlic you minced, and the cumin, you sauté that in the oil until the onions get soft. Then you add eight cups of water and the black beans that you soaked overnight. And the secret ingredient is one teaspoon of sugar, and you cook that—you bring it to a boil, and you turn it down to simmer and then you cook it under low heat simmering for two hours ‘till the beans get soft. Then you’re done, and it can either be served as a soup or over white rice.”


I’ve grown up watching my dad, grandmother, and other family members make this dish, and everyone knows the recipe—or the version of the recipe they’ve altered and like the best—so well that they do not bother with any kind of instruments to measure the ingredients. Instead, they add in what they estimate to be the best amount of each ingredient. While they are cooking, they frequently take a spoonful of what they have so far to taste, and adjust what they add into it from there. I’m not sure exactly how long the recipe has been in our family, or if it has remained the same, since everyone cooks the dish based on how it tastes throughout the cooking process instead of anyone ever writing the recipe down. We all refer to it now though as “Abuela’s arroz con frijoles,” or “Grandma’s rice with beans,” but it could have originated earlier than her.

Egg Ritual


Subject: Ritual, Superstition


Informant: Tye Griffith


Background Information/Context: Growing up, I had a nanny who helped raise me, and who had been working in my family since before I was born. Her name is Eva, and she is from Monterrey, Mexico. Eva also worked as a nanny for a close family friend of mine, Tye. Tye and I essentially grew up together, and had the connection of Eva, who I feel linked our two families together even closer. Recently, I was remembering how when I was little and my parents would be either out to dinner or on vacation, Eva would stay with me. But when it was my bedtime, Eva had a very specific ritual she would perform while tucking me into bed. I didn’t remember the specific details of the ritual, other than it involved an egg that she would hover over my head and recite some sort of prayer. I reached out to Tye, knowing that Eva had done this same ritual with her when she was also younger.


This was Tye’s memory of the egg ritual:


Tye: Eva would get an egg from the fridge downstairs and rub the egg in different patterns across the body while saying a bunch of prayers. And then she would crack it into a clear glass and put it under the bed. The egg would stay there all night while you slept, and in the morning, you would check the bowl, and it would be completely black inside the bowl. Like a black goop. Ew, that sounds really gross when you say it out loud [laughs]. But it would be black in the morning because of all the bad spirits that came out of your body during the night.


And then you had to throw the egg out onto the street in the morning. The room wouldn’t smell though.


Me: Wait, would the whole room not smell like a rotten egg in the morning? [laughs] How is that even possible?


Tye: Magic! [laughs].


Conclusion: I was happy that Tye remembered a little more about it than I did, and having her tell me what she knew really jogged my memory. I was still curious about what Eva was saying during the ritual, so I thought about it for a while. I finally remembered a line from the prayer she recited: “Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo.” So, I Googled that one line, and as it turns out, that was the first line to a Spanish prayer called “El Santo Rosario.” I read the prayer online, and it all came back to me. Eva would have me say the prayer every night when she was with me. The whole prayer reads,


Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo,

Santificado sea tu nombre;

Venga a nosotros tu reino;

Hágase tu voluntad en la tierra,

Como en el cielo.

Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día;

Perdona nuestras ofensas,

Como también nosotros perdonamos a los que ofenden;

No nos dejes caer en la tentación,

Y líbranos del mal.



The text of this prayer comes from an excerpt from the book Oración del Enfermo. However, in this book, the prayer is referred to as “Padrenuestro,” instead of “El Santo Rosario,” but it is the same text as the Santo Rosario prayer. Upon further reflection, this prayer is actually the Spanish version of The Lord’s Prayer, but I never connected the two, as I did not grow up in a particularly religious household. The only significant religious practices that I grew up with came from Eva, which were all in the Spanish language. I knew of The Lord’s Prayer in English, but I never made the connection until now, because the Spanish version was so much more prevalent in my life.


[1] Cadena, Alvaro Jiménez. La Oración del Enfermo: ¡Señor, tu Amigo está Enfermo! Bogotá: Ediciones Paulinas, 1991. Print.