Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Glurge: Aged grandfather whose shaking hands cause him to drop things is banished from the family table to eat from a wooden bowl.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2000]
The story continues to surface as a current folktale in a variety of cultures, as evidenced by this Hispanic version collected in the American Southwest:
A woman disliked her old father-in-law who lived with her family, and she insisted he be removed to a small room outside the house. One winter day the old man, who was suffering from hunger and cold, asked his grandson to bring him a blanket. The boy found a rug and asked his father to cut it in half for the grandfather. "Take the whole rug," the father said. "No," replied the boy. "I must save half for you for when you are as old as grandfather." The man quickly restored his old father to a warm room in the house, and from that time on he took care of his needs and visited him every day.Similarly, the "give him only half a rug/blanket" fable turns up in Irish lore.
The fable can be interpreted in a number of ways and will be said to mean different things by different people. Its current Internet-driven popularity is perhaps due to the identification of many with its "plight of the elderly" element. With more of us fated to live longer, a stronger incentive to think ahead and picture those days exists now than ever did before. The dependent grandfather banished from the family table becomes a symbol for where we ourselves might end
Others pick up on the "do unto others" admonition, a reminder that depends little upon the age or infirmity of the one wronged in the tale; it merely requires that someone be mistreated in a manner that could later befall the one doing the wronging. The injustice is thus perceived as such only when another very innocently offers to do it to the oppressor once the tables are turned.
Yet others will perceive this fable in a "and a little child shall lead them" light, seeing it as an example of how wisdom falls from the mouths of babes. The adults in the story fail to recognize the heartlessness of their actions until a child unwittingly points it out, proving that the young and unspoiled often have a clearer view of the world than the grownups around them.
Still more will see it as a "little pitchers have big ears" warning, taking it as an example of how easily small children will learn what they see and will grow up to repeat parental acts in their own lives. Bad behavior is thus discouraged in parents who might otherwise feel free to let loose and "be themselves."
Others will take it as a "people versus material goods" tale, a reminder that those we love are infinitely more valuable than any possessions, no matter how prized. Does a dropped bowl or a dirtied floor matter so very much when measured against the worth of a cherished member of the family?
The continued popularity of this fable likely derives from this multiplicity of interpretations
Barbara "the story's got more legs than a bucket of chicken" Mikkelson
Last updated: 11 March 2007
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