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Tale telling – the unusal stories parents tell their children

October 12th, 2008 · No Comments

To this day I am haunted by the stories my family told me whilst I was growing up.  Old wives tales, white lies, urban legend, superstition, folk lore.  Or how about we remove the sugar coating and call it plain old BS!

I am certain that everyone remembers being told a story or two from childhood that was later found to be not only untrue, but a down right despicable load of ‘I cant believe you told me that pile of baloney’.  For example, we were strictly instructed (on pain of a horrible twisted death)to not to eat before swimming because we would drown. Or that eating bread crusts make your hair curly, or how about if you crossed your eyes they would stay that way forever!

Unfortunately for me I had a dose of the more unusual stories feature during this aspect of ‘parental guidance’.

I clearly remember enjoying a nice juicy mandarin at the age of eight and couldn’t be bothered spitting out the pips when my grandmother cried out in horror.  “Oh my god, don’t swallow the pips!” She continued to rant and rave explaining that the pips were going to take root in my stomach, sprout, grow until eventually they would cut me open to find a good sized mandarin tree growing in my stomach. I was horrified.  This wasn’t the first time I had swallowed pips, was it too late for me?  How many mandarin trees were growing in my stomach?  Most kids can’t sleep at night because of the boogie man – that terrifying creature that lives under the bed or in the cupboard at night.  But not me, I was petrified of the mandarin tree growing in my stomach.

The stories get even better.

Chewing wads of gum was one of my favourite hobbies,  this involved  ongoing episodes of chewing different flavours of Hubba Bubba – grape, strawberry, orange, even the plain old original flavour would do.  How deeply satisfying it was to chew like a cow, blow bubbles, pop and snap my gum until the flavour disappeared,  the worn out piece would simply be replaced with a fresh one and  the cow chewing would start all over again.   I could always count on my grandmother to ‘burst my bubble’ by announcing that chewing gum was very bad because it sucked the blood right out of my body.  Can you imagine the visual image this creates for a child!

I am convinced my family were tag team tale tellers. My father was just as responsible for messing with my head – as if my mother and grandmother weren’t enough. During certain times of the year, large toadstools would appear in the garden.  This would coincide with the sighting of what I used to call ‘fairies’ – the seed from dandelion flowers that sometimes float through the air.    My father would warn me that touching the toadstools would lead to a certain death and that the ‘fairies’ were the guardian of the toadstools.   I started to fear the fairies and every time I saw the stupid dandelion seed float past me I would quiver with terror.  I mean there are some pretty strange fears that people have in life but to be frightened of a floating flower seed?!  My older cousin Steve took advantage of this and enjoyed gathering a collection of dandelion seeds whilst chasing me around the garden. To this day I feel a slight jolt of panic when I spy a dandelion seed or two floating by……

(sketch courtesy doug mcguire)

Looking back I wonder why I was told these things.  Did I have an evil family?   Were they hatching plans to turn me into an insane adult?  Of course not, like all fables or cautionary tales there is an ulterior motive.

Do you think I would have stopped the annoying snapping and popping of my gum if my grandmother had simply asked me to  –  absolutely not!  Granny had to get creative and find a better way to stop me and Hubba Bubba from eternal love.

Why did my dad tell me that the toadstool would give me the touch of death?  Because he obviously thought I was stupid enough to be tempted by the toadstool and take a bite while I was out playing in the garden with my barbie dolls.  As for the mandarin tree growing in my stomach, well I don’t know what my grandmother was trying to achieve there…

In fact, most fairy tales that we know today started in just the same way that they did in my family – either trying to keep young children safe from harm, or to manipulate their behaviour towards whatever then social norms of the day were. Many tales like Hansel and Gretel, and the Little Red Riding Hood are cautions about stranger danger or wandering off alone.

I think I got off lightly; the lies I was told kept me alive or prevented me from annoying my family.  I didn’t eat the mushrooms, I stopped chewing gum like a cow and as for the mandarin pips…..what a load of rubbish – actually come to think of it my stomach hurt the other day…….

Tags: musings

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