This is something I told my three children growing up — if they jumped as high as they could once the clock struck midnight, the tallest height they reached would be how tall they will grow up to be.
Background: The informant is a 60 year-old Filipina immigrant to the United States. She told me that her mother told her and her own siblings the same tradition growing up. While she does not exactly believe in its practical use, it was a harmless and fun way of ringing in the coming growth in the new year.
Context: This belief was told to me during a weekly luncheon that always follows our Sunday church services.
Probably my favorite pieces in this collection are the rituals whose origins can’t really be traced, so it’s unclear how or why they came to be. But used now, they are just a cemented given in family situations as part of their experience of the culture. It’s unlikely that there is any real basis in the idea of freezing heights in time beyond the general folk belief, but most people nowadays just do them for the sake of novelty.
Informant: “When [my children] were growing up, sometimes they would be upstairs, and I would be in the living room minding my own business, and suddenly there would be this frantic screaming from upstairs. And I would run up the stairs and I would go ‘what’s wrong?! is everything ok?! are you hurt?!’ and it would turn out that they just wanted to ask me a question or some little thing like that. And I would of course get mad at them because they just scared the crap our of me. And I would tell them this story about the boy that cried wolf and how they shouldn’t be yelling their heads off like there’s some emergency if there’s nothing wrong.”
Collector: And how does the story go?
Informant: “Well, the way I would tell the story is that there was this shepherd boy in this village somewhere, and he was in charge of watching the sheep. So he takes the sheep to the pasture and watches them, but he found it super boring though. So he says to himself, ‘I know, I’ll go run into town and yell “Wolf! Wolf!”‘, and so he runs into town and yells ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ and all the villagers run out to the pasture because there’s a wolf, only the shepherd boy bursts out laughing because he knows there’s no sheep. And he does the same thing the next day where he runs into town and yells “Wolf! Wolf!” and everyone runs out to the pasture and he starts laughing at them. Then the third day, there actually is a wolf, and when he runs into town to get help, everyone thought he was joking, and the wolf ends up eating all the sheep. And the moral was supposed to be that a liar can never be trusted. And I would tell this story to my kids and say that once they start yelling for no reason, I can’t ever trust them again. Actually [laughs] I remember I did exactly the same thing growing up, and my mother would tell me the same story.”
Informant is a middle aged mother of three who lives in the suburbs in the Midwestern United States. She identifies as of “American” heritage, which she bases on her admission that she never particularly looked into her family’s European heritage.
Collector Analysis: This is a relatively common variation of a well known story. In this case, it was used as a metaphor in order to teach a lesson the the informant’s children how to properly behave. These sorts of stories are important as they provide children with rules as to what to do and not do, they provide a memorable context for the lesson so that the children never forget, and they provide a clear depiction of the results of not following the moral of the story.
For an additional version of this story, see citation:
T. Ross, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 1991.
Baba Ghanouj is an Arabic dish that means “my daddy is spoiled.” It’s also known as Mutabbal in different regions, which means “it’s mixed up.” She said that it’s common for kids to make food for their parents after a certain age in her culture, and baba ghanouj was such a delicious and straightforward meal, kids would make it and say something like, “look, see how spoiled my dad is?” My informant ate it a lot growing up; she learned all of her recipes from her mom, because recipes were passed down in her family and her mother also inherited recipes from her stepdad’s mother, because he is Palestinian-Jordanian, so compared so Saudi food, theirs is a little bit lighter and distinct in her mother’s recipe knowledge.
This recipe, as well as many others, is significant to my informant, because since her family was poor growing up, her mother cooked cheap recipes like lentils stews (which are also used as a folk remedy for colds) hummus (which literally means “chickpea” in Arabic), and baba ghanouj with pita for her and her siblings all the time.
She also listed the cooking directions for me:
Burn eggplant skins on stove until eggplant juice is bubbling out, this is when they’re fully cooked
Let them cool & remove skin
Toss eggplants in bowl
Mash with fork
Place mashed eggplant in strainer over other bowl to remove excess water (save and use in soup or other recipe)
Return pulp to mixing bowl
Add smashed garlic (smash in wooden mortar)
Add salt and lemon juice
Add tahini 1 tablespoon at a time
Add Salt, Sumac & Olive Oil to taste
Top with sprinkled sumac, chopped parsley, tomatoes and olive oil
*Do your best to get all of the skin off. Don’t use any hard parts of the eggplant (usually the little bump at the bottom)