Do you recall the stories and legends you heard in your childhood? Some were probably scary, some were funny, some were true (at least at some point), while others let your imagination fly. Folktales by definition are stories of tradition and culture usually passed down by word of mouth. Fables are also passed down as short stories to make a point or teach a lesson. These are the stories our grandparents and parents told us that we pass on to our children.
Some have been retold so many times that the original point has been lost, but we share them anyway. Like the story you may have heard about the young woman preparing her first big family dinner, who, before putting the ham in the oven, cut off the end and discarded it. When someone asked her why, she said that was the way her great-grandmother, her grandmother and her mom always fixed ham. Come to find out, her great-grandmother only cut off the end so that the ham would fit in the oven—a necessity that became a tradition.
One of my Dad’s favorites was the tale of the guy who had a flat tire late one night on a country road. He had to walk a long way to find a house where he planned to borrow a jack to fix the car. Along the way he kept thinking about whomever he’d have to ask and how they’d probably be irritated at being waked in the middle of the night and probably wouldn’t let him borrow their jack. By the time he got to a house and knocked on the door, he was in a fine state. When the homeowner answered the door, he bellowed, “Are you going to lend me that jack or not?!”
Some cultures pass down traditions through storytellers who share important heritage information on special events. In some cases, the only record of the culture is through the spoken word. Those who keep the stories and share them are revered members of the community and are held in honor. It’s their responsibility to pass the traditions to the next generation.
Some folklore is intended to scare. Sitting around a campfire is fun, but when someone starts to tell ghost stories, we gather close and listen. Inevitably, someone screams, which is the point and the fun. Ghost walks in historic areas are a fun way to learn about legends of the area and, with a good storyteller leading the way, can really raise the hair on the back of your neck. I recall one walk when in the middle of a murder tale, thunder and lightening lit up the sky—perfect timing for a murder mystery.
Some tales have over time transitioned into the fairy tales and fables we love as children. The Little Engine That Could taught us to keep trying and trying; the Tortoise and the Hare taught us that just keeping on, no matter what, could get you to the finish line; and of course, the early bird gets the worm.
So, when you hear someone say, “Tell us that story about the time. . .” pull up a chair and share. Enjoy that special time and it’ll take you back to the days of your youth as well. Why else would I still remember the story about the jack?