Author Archives: Lillian Anderson

The Man and the Snake

Context:
I had asked my friend if he had any stories or tales from his childhood that his family would tell. He comes from an area of Kansas City, Missouri that is traditionally an African-American community, and he told me a tale, a fable, that his mother used to tell him when he was growing up.

Tale:
This is a story that my mother reiterated to me many times during her lifetime and when I was a child. There was a man in Africa, walking up a mountain. Halfway up the mountain, it starts to get cold, even though it is hot at the bottom of the mountain. Halfway up the mountain it is kind of frigid. Halfway up the mountain, this man happens upon…a very sickly snake. And the snake is sitting there in this cold climate and its basically freezing and it looks up to the man and says, “Please, sir, please, will you carry me down the mountain?”
And the man is going down the mountain, and he looks at the snake and he says, “But you’re a snake. Not only are you a snake, but you are a very poisonous snake. If I pick you up you will surely bite me!”
And the snake says, “Silly man, now why would I do that? I – I need your help. If – if I stay here I will surely die. If you carry me past the peak of the mountain, and down to the warm foothills, I will not bite you. I will be forever grateful.”
So the man thinks about it. And being a good man, an honest man, decides to help the snake. So he picks the snake up and he walks toward the peak. And he starts to walk on toward the peak and as it gets colder, the snake gets very, very still. But finally they pass the peak and they slowly get down and the weather starts to get warmer and the snake starts to move around. And as they go down the mountain, all of a sudden the frost clears, there’s green foliage and the snake is slithering happily as the man is carrying it in his arms. And finally, they are almost to the foothills and the man feels a sharp pain. Bam! The snake has bitten him. And he falls to his knees as the poison takes hold and he looks at the snake and he goes, “Snake, I’ve helped you, I’ve saved your life, and you promised me that you wouldn’t bite me.” And he goes, “Why!? Why!?”
The snake slithers off, takes a moment to pause as he decides to answer. And he looks back at the man taking his last breaths, and he says, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” And he slithers off.

Analysis:
This tale is a fable that has a clear moral, like most fables, which is that you should not offer your help, your aid, to someone or something that you know to be dangerous. This tale is also serving as a warning to not trust the promises of a desperate man, and to be wary of those who might stab you in the back. This is the kind of tale that would be told, and is told, to children. After all, the informant’s mother would often tell this story to him when he was growing up. The fact that the informant grew up in a traditionally African-American part of the city he lived in, would suggest that this tale is African in origin.

Palm Frond Weaving

Context:

I was wandering down the main street of Lahaina, HI, when I saw two people weaving coconut palm fronds into fish, roses, and a couple of other designs. I stopped and asked the young woman about palm frond weaving.

 

Interview:

Me: These are really neat. Where did you learn how to weave palm fronds?

Informant: From my friend.

Me: Where did your friend learn, and why do you do it?

Informant: He learned in the Caribbean. Apparently it was a common art form there. Here, we do it for fun, mainly. And for the tourists.

Me: Do you know how palm frond weaving originally began? And why the fish, the roses, and the crosses?

Informant: I don’t know exactly, but apparently weaving palm fronds has roots in Christianity. You know, Palm Sunday?

Me: Oh? That would make some sense, I suppose. Given how palm fronds are associated with Palm Sunday, I can see how weaving palms became a tradition.

Informant: Yeah. Though it is not solely a Christian tradition. It is simply associated with Easter and Palm Sunday the most, which is why most of the designs that are woven are crosses – the most recognizable symbol of Christianity, especially during Easter, doves – a symbol for peace, hope, and the Holy Spirit, and the fish – which became a symbol of Christianity during the days that Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire.

Me: Ah. Interesting. And the roses?

Informant: That is not so much religious roots as it is more to express gratitude, or to be given to someone who has lost a loved one. You know, like how you would give flowers to someone as a gift? Palm frond roses are essentially the same.

Me: Okay. Makes sense, as roses do not have as much of a symbolism in Christianity, especially around Palm Sunday, as some of the other designs do. So how widespread is palm frond weaving?

Informant: People all over the world do it, as it has become a Christian tradition, as due to the European explorers and colonization, Christianity has been spread worldwide. Though my friend and I don’t do it so much for the religious aspects.

Me: Interesting. Well, thank you for talking with me.

Informant: You’re welcome, and I hope you do well.

 

Analysis:

I find it to be incredibly interesting that palm frond weaving has become a Christian tradition. Until this interview, I had never known of this Easter and Palm Sunday tradition. Palm Sunday celebrates the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. As he was entering the city, the people laid palm fronds down in front of him. To me, this practice of weaving palm fronds on Palm Sunday is rather like a kind of magic – using the palm fronds at that time and weaving them into such shapes is a kind of ritual that helps to connect the practitioner with his/her faith, as Easter is the most important holiday for Christians no matter their denomination. The cross is almost like a talisman, a reminder of how Jesus was welcomed into the city and how he was betrayed and killed not a week later. The dove is often a symbol of hope and peace, such as what Christ’s resurrection offers to Christians. The fish is a reminder of the persecution that the early Christians suffered as their Messiah suffered under the Roman Empire.

Christmas Sausage

My mother and aunt, when I was a kid, would make sausage at Christmas time. My mother would hang the sausage in her and my father’s bedroom for days and the smell would permeate the house. I asked my mother one day about the recipe and why she made it every year, as well as why she stopped when I was in middle school. Turns out that this was a dish that her mother, who was Swedish, would make around Christmastime. She did not know if there was any sort of name for it, so she and my aunt just called it “Christmas Sausage.” And when grandma got to old to make it, my mother and aunt began to make it every year. The reason that my mother hung the sausage in her bedroom was that it was one of the coolest rooms in the apartment that time of year, as a window was usually left open and the radiator turned off. Why my parents did that, I don’t know.As for why my mother and aunt stopped the tradition, wel, that’s because when my grandma died when I was in middle school, my mother and aunt stopped making the sausages, probably because it reminded them of their mother, and the grief was too fresh. My mother believes that this is a traditional Swedish dish, as “hanging raw meat out at ‘room temperature’ seems like the kind of thing you would only do in a cold climate.”

Recipe:

Cook 1 pound of barley with 1 chopped onion and beef broth
Add salt and pepper to taste.
When fully cooked, cool completely.
Mix the barley with 1 pound raw ground beef and 2 pounds raw ground pork.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff into hog casings.
Hang at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Walczak Family Remedies

Context:

I was discussing with my mother via skype about home remedies that she knew of, or that her mother used to do for her and her siblings when they were sick.

 

Interview:

Me: I remember you once saying that your mother had a couple of home remedies that she would use with you when you would get sick, yeah?

Informant: There were certain things –

Me: Yes?

Informant: M’kay. There were certain things that mom did when we were sick, especially when we were sick to our stomach. First of all, she would give us 7-Up.

Me: Okay.

Informant: Cause 7-Up she believed would settle our stomachs. To this day I despise 7-Up.

[Laughter]

Me: And, why 7-Up?

Informant: And another thing she did, was to put us to bed with a bath towel.

Me: Okay…

Informant: And the whole idea of that, well the idea behind that was actually quite practical because my bedroom was pretty far from the bathroom, and if I had to throw up and I couldn’t make it to the bathroom, mom wanted my to be throwing up into the towel. But, for me, that towel ended up being very very comforting; and I used to kind of snuggle that at night when I wasn’t feeling good and it made me feel better just having it.

Me: Is that where I got Magic Towel from?

Informant: That’s why you got Magic Towel.

Me: Huh.

Informant: From my memory.

[Laughter]

Informant: Because when you were little, you had an upset stomach one night and I didn’t have any medicine that either you would take or I could give to you. And so I gave you that towel and I told you that it was a magic towel and that if you hugged it real, real tight all night then you would feel better in the morning.

Me: Hm.

Informant: And the next morning, you felt better and you looked at me and said, “I have a new B.” ‘Cause that’s what you used to call all your blankets. And you put it at the bottom of your bed and Magic Towel stayed with you longer than any other B.

Me: Despite having lost it multiple times and having to replace it.

Informant: Well you’ve only lost it once I think

Me: No, it was more than that. I think it was at least twice.

Informant: Could be. I remember that it got left in the Dallas airport once.

Me: Yeah, I remember that one.

Informant: Not on my watch.

Me: Not on mine.

Informant: It was daddy. Daddy help – let you forget it. So does this help?

Me: Yeah, mama. Thanks.

 

Analysis

When hearing this story, and especially about the taking the bath towel to bed, I realized that there is a reason why these folk remedies are passed down. It is because they work. Whether they are born from practicality or herbal medicine, if they work, then they are remembered and passed down to the next generation. Now, 7-Up, like many other sodas (including Coca-Cola), was originally created as a medicine, and it is highly likely that my grandparent’s generation believed such sodas to actually do what they were advertised to do. With the bath towel, though born of practicality, it was the belief that my mother had that it would work to cure an upset stomach that made it work. It is an example of the placebo effect. Also, the fact that my mother used this remedy for me, and that it worked, shows that such remedies, over time, can become family traditions, or traditional remedies within a family. I still sleep with magic towel, and I have never gotten sick in bed since my mother first handed me a towel. We may have had to replace the actual towel a couple of times, but it wasn’t the towel that was important, it was the concept of the magic towel and the belief that it worked that mattered.

Anderson Family Legend

Context:

My parents and I were lounging around in our rental house over Spring Break, and we got to talking about family. My father is from somewhat rural Kentucky, and has told a few stories about his family to me before. So I asked my father if he knew of any family legends, and my mother, overhearing the question, suggested to my father, who was trying and failing to come up with something, to talk about the family silver.

 

Interview:

Me: Do you know of any family legends or anything like that?

Informant: Family legends…family legends…

Mother [in background to informant]: The silver. Your silver.

Informant: Ah. I’ve got a family legend for you. Yes. You know the silver we have at home? For when we have company?

Me: Uh…vaguely?

Informant: Okay. You know that the initial that is on it is an H, not an A?

Me: Okay…To be honest, I’ve never noticed an initial on it before.

Informant: Well there is an initial on it, because part of the custom for having stuff like this is to have a family crest or family initial on it. And the initial on this one is H, because this came from my Uncle Charlie. Charlie Hatfield.

Me: Okay. As in Hatfield and McCoy?

Informant: Yes. As in Hatfield and McCoy. And the story is that…um…let’s see…where did I get this silver from? Ah, yes, I got this silver from my grandmother, my mother’s mother, whose husband, my mother’s father, was first cousin to somebody named Nelia who was married to someone named Charlie Hatfield. Kay? This would have been back in the late 19th century. And I think Charlie Hatfield was a successful merchant. So cousin Nelia…

Me: And how do you spell that?

Informant: N-E-L-I-A. Probably from Cornelia. Her name was probably Cornelia. Acquired this silver that is inscribed with an H, as in Hatfield. And part of the story is that in Kentucky, everybody is related to either the Hatfields or the McCoys in some way. So we are apparently related to the Hatfields in some way. How I don’t know. Kay? And it may be no more than just the coincidence of the name. But in Kentucky, this would be the story of how we’re related to the Hatfields. So cousin Charlie, which is what my grandmother called him, because he was the cousin by marriage of my grandfather. Write this down.

Me: Yeah.

Informant: Cousin by marriage of my grandfather may have been related to the Hatfields. And that’s the story of the family silver.

Me: And what is the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys?

Informant: It’s a kind of Romeo and Juliet story. The Hatfields and the McCoys were two families from Eastern Kentucky in the mountains where people are very family proud and they had some kind of enmity between them. But a boy from one family and a girl from the other family either ran off or got it together in some way. Or he may have abducted her, I don’t know. But this started a feud, a shooting feud.

Me: Oh.

Informant: Kay? And so lots of people got killed in the conflict between the Hatfields and the McCoys. But Kenucky is not a very big state, so it is possible that Uncle Charlie was somehow related to the Hatfields of Eastern Kentucky although Uncle Charlie was in Western Kentucky. But most of the people in Western Kentucky came from one of two places. One is people with English names like mine came from Virginia. They came from across the mountains mostly after the Revolutionary War to steal land from the Indians, because part of what the Revolutionary War was about was opening up the West, as the British prevented the colonies from expanding Westward. So the Andersons came that way. Basically through West Virginia, the Cumberland Gap, through Tennessee . Kay? And into Western Kentucky. So it is entirely possible that someone named Hatfield from Western Kentucky could be related to someone named Hatfield in Eastern Kentucky because these are English names. How’s that for a family legend?

Me: That’s good. Thanks, Dad.

 

Analysis:

This family legend is, like all family legends, about both people and stuff. The people are Charlie Hatfield and Nelia. The stuff is the family silver that my father inherited from his grandparents. The Hatfields and the McCoys are famous names in Kentucky, and everyone in Kentucky is said to be related to either the Hatfields or to the McCoys. Whether Charlie Hatfield was truly related to the Hatfields of Eastern Kentucky or not is unknown, but he shared the name, so it is possible. Thus, this legend may or may not be true, and my father and I will probably never know if “Uncle Charlie” was a relative of the famous Hatfields, but the possibility of this being true is what makes this legend compelling. As it stands, I am set to inherit this silver, and I will certainly want to keep its history alive and tell my kids, when I have them someday, this legend. It is a compelling story, and connects my family to one of the most well-known names in my father’s home state.