Working Mother Ballad


N is a college student at the University of Southern California, she told me about a bedtime story her mother used to tell her when she was little. She tells me this story is sung as a ballad, but she no longer remembers how the ballad was recited, so she narrated the story instead. According to N, the melody of the ballad is very sad, therefore the story is better when preformed accurately. N and her mother are Korean but moved to America when N was a baby.


“The story is about a mom and her baby, who live on an island at sea. The mom had to leave her baby son home alone to go to work, where she collects limpets every day. The baby son would stay at home and miss his mom but couldn’t do anything other than sit by the sea and listen to the waves crashing, which would put him to sleep. The mom was working but would become worried over her son, so she would rush home with her basket half full and find her little son sleeping.


Some time ago, many mothers had to leave their children alone so they could go work because no one else could take care of them. It is believed that that is how this song originated. This ballad might be related to the war times, explaining the absence of a father in this story. It is evident that the quality and replication of folklore are better when performed by an active bearer; perhaps hearing the story from the informant’s mother might have been more insightful. It is often hard to collect folklore from a generation that does not actively bear their culture’s traditional folklore.