Tag Archives: Family Legend

A Slice of Pie from John Dillinger

“My grandmother, when she was a little girl living in, uh, this really small town Geneva, Indiana. Her parents were farmers. Um, her and her brother were in the soda shop there, the town soda shop, and uh, John Dillinger and a couple of his, uh, running mates, as you can probably see in, the, you know, Public Enemy movie, uh. And they walked in and, and, uh, they. I don’t know if they robbed the place, but they certainly bought her and her brother a slice of pie and a milkshake. To share. And, um. Also-alls that she could say about him was that he was a very nice gentleman, that carried himself, very nicely. And, um, yes.”

Audio Clip

I asked him who normally tells the story.

“My Grandmother”

When does she tell it? In front of the whole family?

“OH, no it’s more of the, thing that- she’ll- you know, it’s- when- (sigh). When she’ll take like a grandchild aside, or like a great-grandchild aside, just to seem, like, and now I bestow upon you this, bit of my life, that you might not know. We- we don’t tell a lot of stories at like, big family dinners, and stuff like that”

Does it come with a moral?

“Oh God no. No no no. No not at all. Uh i-i-it mainly started coming about when John Dillinger became a hot topic again because of the movie. Primarily”


There’s no real way to find out if this family legend is true or not, but it’s extremely plausible. For one, the source’s grandmother is giving a first hand account, not relating a story told by someone else. Also, this story reflects much folklore about John Dillinger, who is generally painted as a gentleman, and sort of Robin Hood figure in Indianapolis.

For more info on the American Bank Robber John Dillinger, click here.


The Piano Box Burial: Family Legend

Family legend of the piano box burial as told verbatim by informant (C. stands for a name to be kept confidential):

“My Great Grandpa C., who before people were really morbidly obese, Grandpa C. was morbidly obese. It’s like nowadays you see people that are three and four-hundred pounds all the time. But supposedly Grandpa C. was about 300 pounds, 350 pounds. (wife interjects and he answers) Yeah he was only about 5 foot tall. And uh he also, I’m pretty sure, also had congestive heart failure which means his body retained water. So not only was he obese but he retained a lot of water and you know at the end of his life he really could only sit in a chair and he could hardly walk and his legs would get massively swollen because of his bad heart. And uh the legend is that you know when he finally died, of course, he died sitting in a chair cause he couldn’t walk and he couldn’t lie down because he would get too short of breath when he would try to lie flat, um and so they had to lift him up, you know a bunch of guys lifted him up and he was way too big for any kind of casket so they had to bury him in a piano box.

My father told me that story. Usually when he took us out to dinner, to an Italian Restaurant of course. (chuckles) It’s it’s a family legend, you know. ‘We’re gonna eat a lot of food tonight but you know don’t make it a habit to eat or you’re gonna end up like Grandpa C.’ (laughs)”

Despite the fact that this family legend has an element of humor, the warning is very real. Since the informant’s family is Italian, a culture known for its obsession with food, by telling the story of the family member so sick and so fat that he had to be buried in a box meant for a piano, the pleasure of eating becomes an affliction—something to be wary of. Of course, that the informants father told this to his 8 children before dinner-out is a clever way of controlling their intake, and thus the bill. However, coming from the informant, who is a surgeon, the story took on a slow, somber note as his understanding of the poor health his great grandfather was in likely made it much more vivid. So, his telling had a naturally health-conscious air to it.

Stealing Trujillo’s Horse: Family Legend

A family legend as told verbatim by informant:

“My stepfather is Puerto Rican and when he was a young boy his family moved to the Dominican republic in the time of the dictator Trujillo who ran the country for many years and Trujillo imported beautiful Spanish horses to the Dominican Republic and he had an incredible stable of incredible horse flesh that was worth a lot a lot of money. And my stepfather, was very good friends with the dictator Trujillo’s brother and he was young like in his, maybe 18 or 20, and there was a woman, the woman from his town he was infatuated with and she left the town to go somewhere else and he decided he wanted to see her again. And so he had no way of getting to her and so he decided that Trujillo had a stable full of beautiful horses—and my stepdad was an incredible rider, he could ride beautifully, horses. He decided to grab one of Trujillo’s horses cuz ‘what would he care’ and he would go visit this woman that he was infatuated with and in fact he did. But while he was gone, Trujillo found out through his stable hands that my stepfather had stolen, had taken one of his horses and there was a hunt for him. And he came back not knowing this and they brought him in and he said to me, ‘I knew that that frivolous act was going to be the death of me because Trujillo was ruthless’ and he knew he loved his horses. And as it turned out, in the end he was thrown into like a cell and he was worried like ‘Oh my gosh what’s gonna happen to me’ because he realized what he had done was just a stupid thing that a young man who’s in love does, and he got out only because his brother, Trujillo’s brother, BEGGED for mercy because he was one of my stepfather’s best friends. And my stepfather was bit of a Troubadour he was a poet and he sang and he was just a charming man and somehow by the grace of god and a lot of good luck they let him off the hook. But Trujillo has killed, had killed people for less that that. So that’s the story, the true story of his encounter with Trujillo.

I tell this story when I want to tell about my stepdad in his youth and how adventurous and kind of free he was and just really the incredible life he led because he was a young boy there his mother died when he was young and he had an older brother that he adored and that’s the reason he was in the Dominican Republic and not Puerto Rico, his older brother brought him there so he could be close to him and uh he lived this really this like rapacious, I mean he was just a rascal he was charming and a kind of bon vivant and uh just lived this crazy incredible life um as a young man. He had a lot of women and he had a lot of experiences and… he was just uh like a wild child, but wonderful he’d give his shirt off his back for you, but that was just one of the stories of his life. And it’s just like, I don’t know many people that could walk away from a dictator, one of the most ruthless dictators in history and just, you know, just kind of get away with that. Because he was a very lucky man and I like to tell that story because my stepfather’s a very charming and very interesting man who’s lived a very long life. So I like to tell that story.”

A lot of family legends follow some incredible story from the very distant implausible past, but the fact that this story is about a living man is a really interesting place to hear it from. I think that the story is true, given not only the sincerity in the way it was told but the compassion and love my informant had when she spoke about her stepfather. She told me that he is one of few men that truly lives life to the fullest, and thus is full of stories and wisdom because of it. She says she always tells stories about him and does so because she in many ways admires how he’s lived his life the way most people wish they could, with radiance and curiosity and adventure and risk.