Author Archives: Caitlyn McMahan

With a sweet tongue and kindness, you can drag an elephant by a hair

Background: My informant, O, is a 19 year old male consulting over text with his 60 year old Persian aunt. He recalled hearing this proverb from his great grandparents and grandparents growing up.

In Farsi  بلسان حلو ولطف ، يمكنك جر فيل بشعر.

O: So this one has a lot to do with charisma, which is a very Persian thing because everything is very personable and negotiable, like, Persians do not really do things by the book. You can talk your way out of a lot of things in the culture, and that’s accepted, but this is sort of saying how you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to do it gently and kindly in order to get what you want.

My thoughts: My informant really emphasized this aspect negotiability of Persian culture with me, which I found really interesting. He told me that his aunt got upset at the pharmacy once because she couldn’t negotiate a copay. I think that contrasts a lot of our western expectation of equity, where of course, everyone is supposed to follow the same rules and be entitled to the same goods and services, whereas in this culture it may be viewed as more transactional, and based on mutual respect that things are done. Favors for favors are common and commercial rules are not as strict. 

Is money just leaves to a bear?

Background: My informant, O, is a 19 year old male consulting over text with his 60 year old Persian aunt. He recalled hearing this proverb from his great grandparents and grandparents growing up.

مگه پول علف خرسه in Farsi

O: This one I kind of had to think about. At first I thought it meant more that money is a social construct, because I forgot that the proverb is asked in a questioning way, like, “IS money just leaves to a bear?” It really means that money is more important to us than leaves are to a bear. Money is worth more than leaves… *laughter* So it’s just a reminder that we can’t just expect money to be everywhere like leaves are everywhere in a forest, we can’t treat it like toilet paper. Do bears use leaves as toilet paper? Do they eat leaves?

Me: I don’t think they do. Maybe they eat leaves…

O: The sentiment is the same I think. We need money like bears need leaves, but we need to respect our money more than bears need to respect leaves. Leaves always grow back.

My thoughts: This proverb is essentially the Farsi version of “money doesn’t grow on trees”, in the sense that it’s meant to remind the audience that money shouldn’t be wasted on frivolous things because it’s something that one has to earn. 

The Saticoy Waterplant

Background: My informant is a 19 year old girl from Calfornia with Mexican heritage and a large family that often share stories together.

Me: Who is this story about? 

S: My mom’s best friend’s father. He worked at the Saticoy water plant in California during the night shift. He was tasked to make sure different machines used during all hours of the day were working properly. He would drive his truck around the property to get to different areas of the plant to check different piping systems. He claimed that he would often hear drunk teenagers running into the orchids to hide from cops or explore the property. One night as he was getting back into his truck after checking a pipe that had recently been malfunctioning, he heard the sounds of rowdy kids. He was so used to this that he ignored it and just got into his truck and began driving away. As he was driving he looked into his rearview mirror and noticed a young girl sitting in the back of his truck. He stopped the car and got out to yell at her, but when he went out no girl was there. He blamed this on being tired and got back into the car, but he saw the girl in the rearview mirror again, this time much closer to his back window. He tried closing his eyes and opening them again, thinking he was hallucinating from lack of sleep, but the figure was still there. He moved the rearview window completely upwards and drove home without once looking back again, and he quit the night shift that same night. 

My thoughts: I like this story because I know about this particular waterplant in my area and have heard a few strange things about it but this is the most concrete account of anything paranormal happening at this particular place. A similar place with a haunted reputation also in Ventura county is the Scary Dairy, which has an entry which can be found here

The Floating Lady

Background: My informant is a 19 year old girl with Mexican heritage. She describes this paranormal experience that happened to her great grandmother in the 1970’s and again years later. When her grandmother tells this story to the family, everyone becomes a little uncomfortable. 

S: In the early 70’s, my great grandmother lived on a lemon tree farm that she had used to provide for her family. She says that the farm was vast, there were certain places on her farm where you could look and see nothing but tall lemon trees. One night when my grandmother was playing outside, she came back inside crying to my great grandmother about a lady standing in the orchard and staring at her. My great grandmother went to the front door of the house and looked out to see what my grandma was talking about. She saw a lady standing outside staring into the house. My grandma says that this would not have been strange usually, as where she was located in Mexico got extremely hot and it was not uncommon for people to go to her orchard and cool off under her trees. But she noticed that this lady had been levitating a couple inches off of the ground and says she became terrified. She saw the same lady many years later a second time when she had immigrated to California. My mother had been very young at the time and was helping my great grandmother babysit her cousins since their parents went out for the night. The babies had all fallen asleep so my mother went to her room to go to sleep herself. My great grandmother was leaving the kitchen to go to her room when she noticed a figure standing over one of the babies. She initially thought it was my mother messing with babies, so she started yelling at her to stop. This yelling made the figure turn around and she saw an old woman staring back at her. My grandmother then says that woman went to the living room window, opened it and crawled out all while my great grandmother was screaming at her. She had thought she was dealing with a kidnapping situation at first, until she reflected on the events and she recalled that the lady had been slightly floating off of the ground just like the lady she had seen many years ago in Mexico. My great grandma, she’s no stranger to paranormal events. She even claims that one night when she was washing dishes, she felt someone roughly tap her shoulder twice, so rough that it made her drop the dish she was holding into the sink. But when she turned around nothing was there. My great grandmother is now in her eighties and tells the story with just as much fear as she did when she was young. 

Me: Is there any reason why she thinks this happened to her?

S: She thinks it could be a bad omen. My grandma, the one who first saw the lady outside when she was a girl, got into a really bad car accident and she’s had schizophrenia ever since. And when she appeared the second time, the cousin she was looking over ended up losing his future baby when it was barely a month old. So my grandma believes that the floating lady’s appearance signals that something bad will happen to them. 

My thoughts: It appears to me that many times, paranormal superstitions and omens, especially ghosts, may be localized to a small folk group, especially the familial level. It’s not uncommon both through the grapevine and in the media that there are cases in which a specific entity follows a person or family around and can latch on to them, sometimes over generations, and sometimes localized to a specific town or house. This speaks to the belief that ghosts may exist outside of time but are made real through their liminal connection to the living world. I believe that stories with ghost attachments are common in cultures that emphasize familial bonds such as Mexico because they are more likely to perceive connection as something important and real that can transcend the boundaries of the living realm, as evidenced by the tradition of El Dia de los Muertos. Even if the supernatural connection is a negative thing, such as in the story above, the paranormal experience still serves as a form of wisdom and warning to those who can perceive it.

The Hapless Waterskier

Background: This is an urban legend from the American South as told by a 20 year old boy, G, who lived in Florida in his youth and still has family in the area. He was first told the story by his father, but he has heard of different versions of the story from other people who say it happened in a different place. He recounted this legend to my boyfriend and I one night.

G: Ok so, back in the 1990’s, a boy and his dad were going water skiing on a lake in Seminole, Florida. I believe it was called uh… Seminole Lake. It’s a small lake next to the interstate in St. Petersberg county. So, he was water skiing and his dad was pulling him, and y’know, he fell, as you do when you’re water skiing… and when he fell in the water, y’know his dad has to turn the boat around. Oftentimes in Florida there’s obstacles in the water so you have to take like, a long turn-around. So he takes this wide turn and he comes back around and he sees that his son is waving his hands in the air, and he’s like, screaming. And so he pulls up next to his son, and his son is crying out that he’d fallen in barbed wire–because, I mean like that area of Florida is not very nice. It’s actually right next to a warehouse where they sell water equipment like jetskis and boats and stuff, so it wouldn’t be uncommon for that kind of stuff to be in the water. So he was crying out that he was getting torn up by barbed wire, and when his dad finally pulled him out, he had over a hundred snake bites on him. He had gotten tangled in a nest of water moccasins. And uh, well he’d been bitten 40 or 50 times so he had about a hundred holes in him. And he died.

Me: Oh wow. And that’s real? You believe that really happened?

G: Oh yeah. I think in 1990 something. I actually looked it up once and found a very similar story that apparently happened in Alabama. It was on Snopes. So I guess it’s just kind of an urban legend to people around here. Texas, Alabama too. But I think it definitely happened.

Me: Do you think people use it as a kind of cautionary tale? Like, “don’t go in the water, don’t fall in, there’s snakes!”

G: No. I mean like, it never stopped me from water skiing. Maybe I just wouldn’t go to Seminole Lake.

My thoughts: I think this story isn’t so far-fetched that it’s unbelievable, so that probably contributes to its appeal and its tendency to continue to spread around and shock people. I think Floridians especially like to milk the stereotypes about the crazy dangers of the Florida swamp. I’ve heard it called the “Australia of America” because of its reputation for scary creatures, and it’s my guess that this legend probably hammers that nickname in for people when they hear it.