Nationality: Italian American and "mix of other ethnicities"
Occupation: General Surgeon
Residence: San Diego, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 3.23.12
Primary Language: English
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.