The Turnip

Y is a 19 year old student at USC. She grew up near Chicago, with a mother that had lived in Belarus until she was roughly 25 years old.

Y and I were chatting about silly stories that we were told as children, and she relayed the story of “The guy and the turnip” to me. She originally learned the story in Russian, but can only remember it in english.

“There’s a turnip…there’s a farmer who plants a turnip, and then it grows, it grows, it grows and get huge and every member of the family pulls on it. Grandpa, grandma, mom, dad, the dog, the cat, and the mouse is the last to pull on the turnip and that’s when they’re all able to get it out. It’s a story about how everyone has to work together to accomplish something, even the smallest and insignificant individuals matter in the quest for the turnip. Everybody is important, and if you have big problems you need everybody’s help to work together…everybody pushed and pulled on the turnip, but it took everyone working together to get it out.”

When I asked her what the story meant to her, she said: “When I was a kid and I would…like not share or not want to work with someone, like normal kid stuff, teachers and my grandma would remind me of this story.”

“I just remember this story…it’s like in my head it was the first thing I thought about” [when we started talking about stories from childhood]

After hearing this story from Y, I was immediately reminded of an english proverb I’ve heard for as long as I can remember: “It takes a village.” One of the main qualifiers of folklore is that it has multiplicity and variation, and I can’t help but wonder about what these two versions of the same idea say about our respective cultures. As far as I can remember, there wasn’t any kind of story attached with the phrase, “It takes a village”; it was just something people would always say, whereas Y has a whole story in her heard about a turnip to remind her of that same idea.