Author Archives: Sarah Powell

The Bad Lady

I collected this piece of folkore from a co-worker who grew up in Tampa, Florida. He told me about a common story that was used to scare children into behaving. His learned it from his parents, who would tell him the story in order to make him behave. Nowadays, he finds the story amusing, but when he was a child he took it very seriously and was very scared of it.

“Sometimes she’s referred to as “the bad lady” other times she’s referred to as “the swamp lady” The common theme of the story and the story I was told as a child was that there was a woman who would live in the swamps in the Everglades who was kind of like a witch who would have whole groupings of gators that would live on her property in these swamps, that she would be very close to and have a deep-seated connection to, like she could speak to them, control them and if you were bad your parents would threaten to drive you into the swamp and she would put you in a cage above the gators and depending on how bad you were she would lower you farther and farther into the lake and you’d have to try to survive with these gators. If you were really bad, your parents would just say “put him in” and you would be thrown to the gators and she would control them to whether or not they were going to kill you or how they were going to go about it based on her judgment of your crime.

So, I remember when I was five years old, I really didn’t want to go to church, and I knew I wasn’t allowed to go to church if I didn’t have shoes on, so I told my parents ‘I’m not going to put my shoes on. You can’t make me go.’ And they threatened to take me to the bad lady and leave me there with a ‘he goes straight to the gators’ thing and I very quickly put on my shoes and went to church. I was devastated when I was a little bit older and I realized there was no woman who would do this, that was against the law! But, I don’t know, it was a really common thing growing up, I would talk to my friends and be like ‘Did your mom tell you you were going to go to the bad lady?’ and they were like ‘Yeah, she’s real’. It was like Santa Claus”

This piece of folklore feels very specific to the location it comes from, since swamps and alligators don’t exist outside of a specific geographic region. So, it makes sense that the swamp lady would be in Florida, and that this specific story probably wouldn’t exist in a different state. It’s also interesting that children learned the story from their parents, and not from other children.

Birthday Pan Dulce

My mother told me about this piece of Mexican birthday folklore from her family. Her father is from Mexico (Zacatecas specifically), and her mother is Caucasian, so she learned this tradition from her father (who learned it from his parents) This folklore is very important to my mother, because it’s a connection to her father’s heritage and is also a fun family tradition.

Every birthday, the birthday person is woken up by the other family members in the household by playing the song “Las Mananitas” (the morning song) The family members start the music while entering the birthday person’s room with a bed tray of Mexican sweet bread (pan dulce), Mexican hot chocolate, and presents. The pan dulce can be purchased from a local bakery (panaderia) or made at home, although the process of making it can take a long time, because the bread dough has to rise twice. So, having homemade pan dulce was always a very special occasion.

Because this only takes place within the family, it has become one way to indicate who belongs in the family. For example, after my cousin got married to her husband, when it was his birthday, my cousin’s family came into his room playing the song and holding pan dulce. It was surprising to him, but it was also an unofficial way of welcoming him into the family.

 

Heal, Heal Little Frog

My roommate told me about a Spanish rhyme that her mother would say whenever she or her brother got hurt. She knows the rhyme originated in Puerto Rico, but she isn’t sure if it came directly from her Puerto Rican mother or another source. She has fond memories of hearing this rhyme, because even though she was hurt, it was very soothing to hear and could make her feel better.

“My mom, when me or my brother would get hurt as a child, she would…it’s kind of like kissing the wound better, but a little more intricate, because she would rub above it and go ‘Sana sana colita de rana, si no sana ahora, sanaras manana’  Which, the English translation is ‘Heal, heal, little frog. If you don’t heal today, you will heal tomorrow’ I guess the interesting bit is that it was always my white mother who would say this to me, even though my other mother was Puerto Rican… She might have learned it from my other mom or my abuelita, but she also lived in a lot of Spanish-speaking areas so it’s possible she picked it up from somewhere else”

Indian Joe

My roommate grew up in Houston, and she told me a piece of folklore from her time at a Girl Scout camp in Texas. She participated in the production of the folklore while she was at camp, but it is not something she believes is true now.

“I went to this girl scout camp, Camp Agnes Arnold, which is a little bit outside of Houston, kind of in the Conroe area. But we had a marker that everyone assumed was a grave for Indian Joe. And you always had to give the grave a very wide berth on your way back to the cabins, because if you stepped on it, it was going to rain for the rest of the week and your entire week would be spoiled because you stepped on Indian Joe’s grave”

Q: Who told you about Indian Joe?

“I…think it was probably a camp counselor at first. Either that or one of the older girls, because I had been going to that camp since I was eight or something, so I don’t necessarily remember the original source. But I remember I would warn other girls to stay away from Indian Joe’s grave so that we would have nice weather”

Q: Did anyone know who Indian Joe was?

“I want to say… I don’t think it was anything more than the basics. He was an Indian who had settled in the area and it was his land and then he had eventually died and been buried in that area, and it was just one of those things, like, show respect for the Indian grave”

In areas where Native Americans once lived, the foklore seems to come from two things: fear and respect towards the Native Americans. In this example, stepping on the rock will result in something bad (the stereotypical “Indian curse”) but it also seems to stem from a desire to be respectful to the grave, perhaps to make up for the past.

Crow Cawing Outside a Window

My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that it’s an important part of her culture and something she thinks about from time to time.

She told me about a belief she learned specifically from her grandparents in India:

“A crow cawing outside your window means expect a guest. This was something that my parents never said to me. It was my grandparents.When I was in India looking out the window and you hear the ‘caw, caw’ my grandparents would be like, ‘Oh, there should be a guest coming'”

Q: Did you hear other people say the same thing as your grandparents?

“I would say I knew other people who believed it, but no one ever was like, ‘ah, I hear a crow, a guest is coming’ But it’s one of those, like, ancient things that I guess, turned into a saying.”

This folklore is not necessarily a proverb, because it’s not a fixed phrase statement. It could be considered proverbial speech. It could also be categorized as a folk belief, since a crow is considered to be a sign that someone is coming.