Tag Archives: Childhood

How To Become a Mermaid

Mermaids are mythical creatures that are half human and half aquatic creature. They have a tail and fins with scales instead of legs. Mermaids are rumored to live deep underwater and have become a beloved character in fairy tales.

So the tiny town my mom’s family lived in was on Lake Ontario. I had a friend in this town, and both of us really liked anything to do with mermaids. She told me that some girls in this town had seen mermaids in the lake, which was VERY exciting for me! I told her to ask for more info, and a few weeks later she reported back that apparently, the mermaids have lived there a long time, and some girls were able to perform magic spells that transformed THEM into mermaids, and they left behind their normal life to live with mermaid society. We spent the rest of the summer trying to recreate the magic that would turn us into mermaids. Most of it was stuff from our imagination, but she would come sometimes with lists of spell ingredients or magic words that she found online or got from other kids. We created a whole system of magic elements that we deemed either helpful or useless in getting us closer to transforming, and kept detailed notes of it. sadly, we never figured out how to join the runaway mermaid kid society.”

Memorate: A Coworker’s Ghostly Encounter

Context:

Informant N is the collector’s supervisor in the technology department of USC SCA. He is 27 years old and grew up in Denver, Colorado until age 7, when he moved to Sandpoint, Idaho. His father’s family is from the “deep south,” and his mother was “an army brat” who lived mostly near the east coast. N’s family has been in the US “since the mayflower,” and his ancestry is mostly German, Northern English, and Welsh. He now lives in Los Angeles, CA and is a singer/songwriter, as well as an employee of the film school’s technology services.

Text:

Informant: “Okay so when I was a kid, my mom – in the first floor, this was like a three story house, the house was like a hundred years old if not more. Um, classic brick style home, it was in Denver. And there was a doctor who lived in the house with his um… I think she was a distraught person, probably back then. Like she probably had some mental illness that was untreated and you know, back then they kind of skewed those people into obscure…”

Collector: “What year was this?”

Informant: “Oh this was like 30s (…). So she was a well-known pianist at the time and she eventually committed suicide in the house and the house was also a historical site. So the house is old, there have been people who lived there who had some musical connection and there was the suicide and you know… There was a couple times growing up where I would hear the piano play and my sister would hear the piano play while we were upstairs and my mom wasn’t home playing the piano nor was my dad or whatever, or we had a babysitter at the time. So there was just a couple weird moments in that house where the piano would be playing and we’d go downstairs and it would stop playing so whether that’s true or not I don’t know but I remember it and my sister clearly remembers it and to this day it’s very bizarre to me and it makes me feel a little… (*informant trails off*)”

Collector: “How did you find out about the woman who died?”

Informant: “My parents – my mom found out about it after they bought the house. The history of the house.”

Collector: “From who?”

Informant: “I think from a neighbor’s family or something. (…) It was like a local thing so it was kind of weird. (…) The piano that was in the house was over a hundred years old at the time.”

The informant also mentioned that his sister, who was 8 or 9 at the time of the piano incidents, is “still perturbed” by them to this day. He also mentioned that he experienced what he called “typical ghost stuff” – that he would hear dogs barking at nothing, and that one of the room’s in the house (his sister’s room) was specifically colder than others. His family checked and made sure that “the piano wasn’t a player” piano (a self-playing piano), and noted that the music he heard was notably classical, and that the woman who had died was a classical pianist.

Interpretation:

N’s ghost story seems pretty typical upon first glance, but I find it interesting because of both his personal context and folkloric trends in memorates. For one thing, the informant seems to truly believe that all of this happened and that something supernatural was going on because his sister also experienced it. He mentioned her multiple times throughout the story and when he was providing more context, and we’ve talked a number of times about how people tend to believe what their peers, family, friends, etc do. What’s more, his family heard about the woman who supposedly died in the house from a neighbor, making this particular figure almost a local legend. While I wouldn’t label her a full-on urban legend for lack of popularity or name, the story about her being mentally unstable and her death in the house is legend-like. She has the traits of one as a woman believed to be mentally unwell and responsible for a haunted area. The apparent ghost is not necessarily true, but there is a negotiation of sorts about whether to believe it for the informant, his family, and his neighbors. This woman’s story lines up with a lot of what we know about ghosts – having unfinished business of some sort (to play music for others), hauntings that happen when things don’t go as they should (her suicide), and the idea that ghosts’ have property even after death (the piano). This story is definitely a memorate for the informant, who seems unsure whether he believes in ghosts entirely, but is fairly convinced that something happened in this house, and still finds it inexplicable and bizarre 20 years later.

Fox Day

‘Both of my parents went to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and every year they have a fox day. It is an annual tradition and festival that was started decades ago by the president of the University. So each year on a day in spring that was “too pretty to have class”, the president would put a fox statue on the lawn in front of campus and all the students on campus would get free buses to the beach. Since my parents went there, every year on fox day, when I was younger I would skip school and we would always go and take a picture in front of the fox and have a fox day celebration of going out to enjoy the weather.” – PH

PH’s parents would celebrate fox day every year in college, and continue to do so even when PH was a baby. He has countless baby photos of him with the fox statue, showing him grow up on the nicest spring days of the year. The biggest role this has had in PH’s life is that it has allowed him to hold a huge connection with his mom, and is something he will never forget. This ritual also feels like a superstition to him… Every spring day if the weather is beautiful out it could be fox day. It encourages him to take in the new weather and get excited for what’s to come.

Statue on Rollins’ Campus put out to symbolize Fox Day each year

Fox Day is a celebration and ritual that has been passed down through generations, obviously leaving a mark on many who celebrate, as PH always wonders on beautiful days if Rollins College is having their Fox Day. The annual ritual enforces a sense of tradition and significance for a community that is shared and celebrated throughout Winter Park, Florida, just as folklore intends. Additionally, the fox statue works as a symbolic figure, as it represents the tradition and allows the community to recognize what day it is! Also, in much a folklore, a strong motif is that of a fox, holding symbolic significance, and in this scenario, this fox signifies the beginning of beautiful weather and prompting the community to go enjoy their day outside. Fox Day embodies many folkloristic behaviors and contributes to a sense of community and tradition.

The Chief and the Singer

Main Piece

“It must’ve been before I was in 5th grade — over the course of a few nights, my dad told a story to me, my brother, and my sister. In hindsight, it was very obviously something completely made up on the spot, but I think we were too young to realize.

Back home — ‘home’ referencing Nigeria, where my dad is from — there was an evil village chief. He was a vicious conqueror that took people’s lands, stole from the poor, and amassed a massive amount of wealth. Accordingly, his house was gigantic, and sat on a huge plot of land. One day, the chief captured a princess.”

(Informant MN then noted that he forgot if there was a reason the chief captured the princess, and assumes the story had minimal exposition).

“The chief held the princess in another building on his property. He planned to have her killed the next day. That night, the king was in his bed when he heard the sound of someone singing. He was confused, unsure of where the sound could be coming from, but soon realized the sound was coming from the princess’ cell. While he usually would have put a stop to it, the king instead decided to listen to the song. In fact, he was so taken aback by her voice that when the next day came, he decided to delay the execution until the next morning.

Night falls, and the voice returns. The king, again, is obsessed with her voice–rizz god!–and the next day, delays the execution even further.

This goes on for a while, and to be honest, the details fall away past that point. I think the king ends up marrying the woman, and there’s a sort of ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.”

Interpretation

Informant Interpretation: MN notes that “Nigerian parents do this thing where they tell you nothing about their childhood” and have “no photos of their upbringing,” especially as it pertains to things that happened while they lived in Nigeria. Thus, “you end up forming this fantasy-like [imagination] of what home was like for them,” and stories like this “feed into the fantastical imagery I have of that time and place. As roughly patched-together and made up as that story is, it’s as real as most of the made-up details about my dad’s confusing ass life that I call true.”

Personal Interpretation: I drew connections between this story and “One Thousand and One Nights”–an anthology frame tale that I don’t know well, but I recall contains a similar story about a brutal king and a storyteller woman, who he permits to live night by night as she tells him stories. To me, MN’s story read as an oicotypical variation of this concept, underscored by the fact that he changed between referring to one of the primary figures as “chief” and “king,” and the other as “princess,” “singer,” and sometimes just “woman” (though some of these changes may be attributable to memory). I also think MN’s personal connection to the story, belief that it was entirely made up by his father, and its role in shaping his childhood understanding of Nigeria makes the story feel like more than a tale to me–not a myth as it’s not something he claimed to believe in, but something that shapes his beliefs about a place in the real world. In that sense, it felt somewhere in the gray area between tale and legend.

Background

Informant MN is a current student at USC studying Aerospace Engineering. He grew up in Redmond, Washington and lives at home with his siblings and Mom. He notes that this story was told to him a long time ago, and he has some “amount of amnesia about the particular details of [his] childhood.”

MN is Nigerian and male-presenting.

The Girls Bathroom, Home of Bloody Mary

Text:

“So when I was in 1st grade I hung out with this group of girls, and the main, like, ring leader girl always told us that um, that Bloody Mary lived in the girls bathroom and it was like a ghost that would put bloody hand prints on the wall and you could like summon her or whatever, and there was like these hand prints, they were probably just mud or whatever or paint or something but they like looked like dried blood like against the wall near the bathroom walls of one of the nearby buildings so everyone was like OMG bloody mary lives there and the ring leader girl was like OK so like why don’t we go in there and try some bloody Mary stuff. We’re like OK why not, so it’s during school hours it’s like lunch or something lunch recess we go in there and so we go in there right and I remember there being like twine on the floor like random pieces of like twine or sticks, I don’t know, but like for some reason we danced around them but I don’t think we put them there, I don’t know, but we all held hands and we danced in a circle and she said if we say bloody Mary three times like she’ll be here like OK so we do that and then we all get super scared once we’re done chanting. I mean nothing happens but once we’re done chanting we’re like Oh my gosh and we all run out of the bathroom right, so I’m pretty much last out of the bathroom and I run out the door and I’m stuck on something like caught on the door and the thing with the door is it’s a push door so it doesn’t have handles. It doesn’t have like a knob just kind of like push either way um and I’m totally, yeah, stuck on the door there’s someone like holding me, it felt like someone was holding me just for a split second there. Then I, you know, I could go and then I ran and I was scared and whatever but it’s like I was like held there for a second and I was like well I wasn’t caught or anything because there’s no knob on the door to like catch me so I don’t know maybe the spirits were mad at me and they’re holding me but yeah”

Context:

V is a 19 year old student from Orinda, CA, and she told me a story from when she was in elementary school. She believes in ghosts and spirits and explained that she always has believed in them. She believes in them because she says she “has no reason not to” and has had various experiences like that or known people who have experienced similar things with the supernatural.

Analysis:

While V says that she believes in ghosts and spirits, and pretty much always has, I think this is in part due to having experiences like these starting from an early age. Childhood is a huge part of developing beliefs in one’s life, and especially if they experience things themselves rather than just hearing about them. I think that this story/experience of the supernatural has had an impact on V’s belief in ghosts and spirits, as she does believe that some force was holding her there in that bathroom. I also think that Bloody Mary is an interesting gateway into believing in ghosts, as many young women, or just young people in general have been told the story of Bloody Mary at some point in their life. What I find most interesting, however, is that her story is extremely similar to one of my own. While I didn’t experience anything actually happening with a spirit, it was a common belief in my elementary school that one of the girls bathrooms was haunted by Bloody Mary, and for that reason girls were afraid to use that bathroom. I find it interesting as I grew up in Virginia, without internet or a way to have heard of it from across the globe, yet at the same time in California, other girls were having the same experience.