Category Archives: Old age

Retirement, seniority, death, funerals, remembrances

Mexican Adult Riddle

Informant: My informant is my Mexican dad who grew up in Puebla, Mexico.

Original Piece: Bajamos los calozens y chupame lo que tengo  que soy? Mango

Transliteration: We lower our pants, suck what I have. What am I? Mango

Translation: Lower by pants and suck what I have. What am I? Mango

Context: This is said to child at a gathering or to an adult. My dad said he first heard it when he was in Mexico, and when he was a small child. He heard it again when he was a young adult and understood that this was a riddle that was meant for grown people. Inside joke sort off

Analysis: This is definitely a riddle that was meant to be sexualized because the mind of an adult can go directly to the part of man. However, this is said to child because they don’t know what sex is. Therefore, pointing out how much a child can be innocent, and how much an adult’s mind is developed when they first experience what sex is. When someone first heard this, their mind goes to well a man’s private part or a womans. Again, this is all an inside joke between adults and adult humor

Wigilia – a Polish Christmas Eve (Polish-American Christmas)

Main Performance:

The informant, JK, and their full extended family (as many as can come, usually ~40) gather for a big feast and a host of different rituals for Christmas Eve. An extra place setting with food is traditionally set for “the unexpected guest” to celebrate hospitality and community, but this practice is not present at their Wigilia anymore. Instead, to avoid food waste, the family invites friends and boyfriends/girlfriends over to join for the big dinner and night of celebration, serving a similar symbolic purpose. At this feast, you are also not supposed to eat any meat and stick strictly to fish and vegetables.

Background:

The informant, JK, is my dad and also one of the figure heads behind putting together this gathering every year. He too has been attending Wigilia every year of his life and is part of a long line of family who keeps this gathering going. In our conversation, he noted other rituals that I was unfamiliar with that he grew up with for Wigilia. One of these practices being attending a midnight mass at the Catholic church.

Context:

Our conversation took place over the phone, where he recounted the history of the holiday and explained the different practices within the ritual time. As this post is the broad-stroke of the tradition, I will dive into the minutia in separate entries.

Thoughts:

The general practice of Wigilia is far more religious in explanation than I had ever known it to be, as it has become much more focussed on the simple act of gathering for food and a toasting ceremony. But the Catholic roots are very present in the metaphorical significance of community, sacrifice, and family. There is also a great emphasis on the passing over into the New Year, that despite not being directly correlated to New Year’s, the time spent at Wigilia is stressed as setting a precedent for the coming year (i.e. if the community fights during this time, it will be difficult times ahead).

Reference:

There is another piece on Polish Yuletide that is in the Folklore Archive that I have linked below:

http://folklore.usc.edu/polish-christmas-eve/

Slovenian Grandma Song

This is a song that was collected from H, a freshman whose family has Slovenian roots on his dad’s side. This song is one that they used to sing to their grandma as kids, as did their grandma to her grandmother before them.

Granny’s in the cellar

Lordy can’t you smell’er

Cooking pancakes on a dirty stoooove

Her eyes are full of matter

And it’s dripping in the batter

THERE’S A LONG THING HANGING FROM HER NOSE

From her noooose

to her tooooes

there’s a long thing hanging from her NOSE!

This is a goofy song that talks of a grandma cooking pancakes in a dingy cellar, presumably while she is sick with crusty eyes and snot dripping from her nose. Although it picks fun at a grandma, it also fosters a bond between them and effectively eradicates the barrier between an elderly person and a child. As Slovenia is a country with many stories of witchcraft, this song could also be referencing a witch cooking some food or brewing potions, though adapted to be more kid-friendly.

Personally, I find this song quite endearing, as did H’s family, since they continued singing the song after it was passed down to him from his grandma. Instead of painting witches in a negative light or viewing grandmas as old and crippled, this song familiarized them for the children and helped dispel the negative stigmas that usually surround witches by poking fun at their physical appearance.

The Foolish Old Man

Context:

Y is my other parental figure of mine who grew up in China and is currently living in California. 

This conversation took place over a weekly phone call with my parents after I asked them about stories that they knew from China. 

Text:

Y: The Foolish Old man removes the mountain – the story goes, this story became famous after Chairman Mao used it in his speech or writing. 

The story goes that in old times, there was an old man who was 90 years old. He lived near the mountains called the Tai Ha Sang and Wang Mu Sang, the two mountains. Basically, he was angry because the mountains blocked his view and he wanted to move them. He wanted to dig up the mountain. Because the mountains are kind of far away, even though they look near, when you go to them it’s pretty far. It takes about a year to, basically it takes time to go to the mountains and he can’t really dig up the mountain because he can only dig up some rock and dirt each time. So people laugh at him and say you’re so old with limited timee left, and you can only remove a little bit of dirt and rock at a time. How can you remove the mountain, its impossible. And he said, Oh, although I may not be able to accomplish in my lifetime, my kids can continue it and my kid’s kids, my grandkids, can work on it after. So if I have generations working on it, eventually we can succeed.

Me: mhm.

Y: yeah. So generations and generations continued to work on it, working on removing the moutanins. Eventually the gods heard about it and were impressed by his perseverance, so basically the gods seperated the mountains.

Me: Ohhh, they did it for him.

Y: Yeah so the gods separated the mountains. 

The moral is that if you are determined to do something, the perseverance will eventually help you succeed.

Reflection:

This story focuses again on the morals in Chinese culture to persevere, as well as to respect the wishes of your ancestors. It is also a direct example of advising to respect your elders because those who told the old man that he was too old were proved wrong as his legacy persisted past his lifetime. This long line of families all follow the wishes of the original protagonist before the gods reward them for their actions. I think it is also interesting that my informant remembered it because of a speech from Chairman Mao. Mao notoriously appealed to the lower class and therefore I think it is telling that he references this folktale in order to appeal to this audience. This fable also gave way to a figure of speech that references the hardship of the old man.

“The Foolish Old Man Moves a Mountain – Xu Beihong – Google Arts & Culture.” Google, Google, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-foolish-old-man-moves-a-mountain-xu-beihong/VwF2EURLdtUNww?hl=en.

Pulling Feet from Beyond the Grave

“When I was younger, Lolo Nani would sit me down almost every day during when I would eat my snacks after school before we did my homework together.  He always would remind me to visit and clean his grave once he died.  He said that if I didn’t, he would come back to pull my feet while I was sleeping.  That sh*t was so scary dude, I would barely be able to sleep at night because, like, all I could think of was what it would feel like, or if he was gonna pull me hard or where he would take me.

It’s a pretty messed up way of getting a kid to regularly clean or visit your grave, but honestly… it makes sense now.  Even before he died when we would go to, like, other people’s funerals I would look at stones that had grass growing over them and it just looks lonely.  I don’t know, maybe that’s what he wanted me to see then.”

Background: The informant is a 19 year-old college student whose grandfather was his primary caretaker after school before his parents would come home from work.  He would feed him after school, teach him his homework lessons, and ensure that he took naps.  The grandfather passed away in 2018, but the informant regularly heeds his request to clean and visit his grave often.

Context: This superstition was shared with me over FaceTime.

The mentioned relative in the story often used scare tactics against children in order to keep them in line growing up.  He used to tell me that if I kept a towel on my head for too long after a shower, all of my hair would fall out; in reality, he just didn’t want me to catch a cold.  Using superstition as discipline happens often in our culture, and preserves family dynamics that the older people in the family see as valuable.  The informant’s grandfather also told him as a child that he had eyes in the back of his head that could see whenever he was doing wrong at school, which contributed to his continuing obedience.  Such beliefs instilled in children, like cleaning and visiting their graves or adhering to adults’ wishes even when out of sight, preserves the power dynamic between parent and child.  The child trusts in the truth of the parent’s words, and cultivates a sense of respect that persists even after death.