Tag Archives: family sayings

Remembering your roots

Ther informant talks about her family saying that has been passed down from generation to generation of the family-owned lumber mill would tell to their children using very philosophical views to teach.

Informant: In 3rd grade, my grandfather came to stay with me when my parents went to Japan for 2 weeks. I heard my grandfather singing, when I went to compliment his singing, he scolded me saying that it was poetry. And he said my education was a disgrace, and he decided to teach me Tang poetry. He was incredibly well educated and opened his own school. They taught a lot of famous philosophers and martial arts. He began instructing me how to pronounce this poetry, but it was incredibly difficult for a little girl like me to learn.

he told me a story from Zuangzi 莊子, everyone should know their own ancestors and such. Just like the trees that our lumber mill production. We would cut the trees and put it into a river and pick them up downstream. However, when you put the tree in the river, you had to put the tree in the right way, the tip of tree trunk pointing upstream. This is so that it would go down smoothly if you don’t do it properly, then the tree will be confused. Even the trees know where their roots are, so all human beings need to know their roots/ancestry. As a tutor in traditional Chinese, everything with him was didactic, loaded with right vs. wrong, good and better, righteousness and all those Confucius values. This is a story that has been told by our family for the past I think 6 or 7 generations.

Just like trees, us humans need to know our roots and continue the legacy.


This was interesting, learning a little about my one’s ancestry and family teachings that have been passed down for many generations and knowing that using very philosophical views from a very famous philosopher in ancient China to be applied to a family that used to produce lumber in the past 2 centuries is somewhat amazing for me. I feel like the message that was mentioned really is important to not forget one’s ancestry and roots.

Chinese philosophy told by my grandfather

The informant talks about her grandfather teaching her a well-known philosophical passage and somewhat like an idiom

Informant: Then he would tell ma another story about being ambitious, or living out to your full capacity from Zhuangzi again. “If you are a bird, you should be the biggest bird in the sky, 大鵬鳥. They are so big that when they spread out their wings, the occupy half of the sky.” I would challenge him “It doesn’t make sense. Then there would be only 2 birds in the sky because 2 would cover the whole sky!” Then he would tell me that “If you are a fish, then you should be the biggest fish in the sea. The big one that’s called the whale.” I would tell him, “No, sorry grandpa, whale is not a fish, it is a mammal!”

But then when I went back to Penghu, where my grandpa lived for 10 years of his life since he came to Taiwan with his father when he was 11, I finally realized how come he was so strict and serious all the times. We got off the bus at the community center where they were offering the elderly a luncheon that day. All elders sat up straight listening to the head of the village talking, no one was walking around, no one was talking, they all sat up straight listening. Then we went to a small park. The decoration at the park was red lantern with 三字經, another didactic passage telling us how to behave well, to be loyal to your emperor and filial to you parents and stuff. They got a grant to refurbish a section of the village where no one lived there many more. They made ceramic plates on the house, again with all didactic passages like honor your words, work hard, don’t be lazy, be polite and kind to others…

Growing up in Taiwan, I knew the phrase 慎終追遠, which means to know your ancestors. I probably used it hundreds of time writing essays and stuff, but I never really felt what it meant. This is the sad part of the modern day education, we learn many things as a knowledge, the meaning of those words literally, but not really felt it. You would have to really spend the time to talk with, live with, go back to the environment he grew up, then you would really understand how and why he was the way he was. I thought I knew my grandfather, but I always hope he would not be so dead serious. But it only took me 10 minutes setting foot in the village he grew up with, then I understood why he was so serious, then I really understood the meaning of 慎終追遠.


This is a very important part of the chinese culture, displays of filial piety is incredibly deep-rooted in our culture and it is something that is taught to toddlers in the east still practiced today. This is something that is quite lacking in the west, except for Hispanic culture as I am told. That aside, growing up in America, I rarely see filial piety being practiced. After hearing this story it really is interesting that coming from a Taiwanese family as well, although my parents do not feel that I must be obligated to be filial to them unlike they have been taught all their lives, it is something that is very eye-opening to me.

Kutchky’s Army

The source’s mother grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Most of the families on her street didn’t have more than three children.

When she was growing up, her mother and a lot of the other people in the neighborhood had a saying, if they have a lot of something, they would say they have enough for Kutchky’s Army. So if they had a lot of food, for example, they’d say “We have enough food to feed Kutchky’s Army.” Growing up, the source’s mother always assumed it was a reference to a real army in a war.

However, it was really a reference to the one Polish family on the block that had at least ten children.

Now, neither the source, nor the mother live in Chicago, but its been adopted as a common saying inside the family, and their friends from back home in Chicago.


Chicago has been, and still is one of the most segregated cities in the country. I think the saying reflects the tension between established ethnic groups in certain neighborhoods, and newcomers from different ethnic backgrounds. The saying probably started as a way for the established Italian families in the neighborhood to playfully separate themselves from the Kutchky’s, who they probably saw as Polish interlopers.

Texas Ranch Safety

“When I go to my, my dad’s ranch. In southwest Texas. It’s about 45 miles from the, from the border to Mexico. Um, and when I bring, uh, when I bring friends down there, to the ranch. He’s huge on safety. Because of rattlesnakes that are out there, and coyotes, and just other animals, and sharp plants that can, that’ll be, detrimental to your health. So he brings all my friends together, and he like, makes us be silent. And he goes, ‘Alright boys, I want you to know, that in all these 800 acres, anything out there can either bite ya, sting ya, prick ya, or even kill ya. And he basically scares all my friends before we, we go out.”

The speech the source’s father makes changes, except for the one saying that is always constant. “Alright boys, I want you to know…” Click here for an audio clip of that saying.

To me it’s important to note a piece of irony with this safety speech, because a big part of Texas ranch culture is shooting guns.

“He, he warns us about the plants and animals, and then we go, shooting animals with guns”.


As someone who lived in Texas for ten years, to me this really just reflects Texas culture, especially West Texas. It shows a profound respect for the environment, while at the same time maintaining the idea that Texans have a right to shoot everything in it.