The web has over 470,00 citations related to urban myths. You can go to many of them and find out that some wild story you've heard is in fact bogus. But the ones on rural mythology deal more with literary matters and information about Norse gods, not crazy stories from the heartland. So I had no place to go to prove to my husband that I hadn't completely made up one of the classic myths of my childhood. I had to rely upon another source -- actual people, rural people.
"Don't cross your eyes because if someone comes up and hits you in the back of the head they will get stuck that way". When you're little the thought of people lurking around waiting to find someone with crossed eyes so they can make it permanent doesn't strike you as illogical. So, last summer at a 4th of July party, with my husband near by, I asked and sure enough, every one at the table back in my rural homeland had heard that one.
Then they began to offer other ones they had heard. Mostly passed along by older siblings and often created by older siblings. One woman shared that her older five siblings convinced the "little ones" that if you planted rabbit poops the Easter bunny would grow there. So the "little ones" did and watched every day for a fuzzy tail or floppy ear to emerge from their bunny beds.
My older brothers created more havoc with their mythology. One told me that if you picked a mole you would die. So as I scratched my little arm one day in the first grade, off came a mole and I went into a complete panic. I couldn't tell the puzzled nun why, but I insisted that I was very sick and they should call my mother right away. I didn't want to die without her. I also couldn't tell the nun why, because even at 6 I knew that there was a small chance that this, like the other 500 crazy things my brothers had told me, was not true. My mother came
and I don't even remember what happened after that. She probably explained things quietly to me and not so quietly to my older brother.
Some rural myth is regional and some familial and some just crazy stuff older kids make up to control the little ones. One from my oldest brother kept me out of his room. According to him there was something called white lead that he used with his oil paints and if you breathed it, it would dissolve your liver. As with much mythology there was a grain of truth in it, but to a 6-year-old it was gospel. And so when I even got near his room I held my breath and washed any skin that might have touched anything near his room.
Then one evening as my mother made divinity candy, I took a drink from a little glass, set it down and it foamed. Not realizing that this had been used to measure egg whites for the candy, I was certain I'd been poisoned and went into a panic (yes-another one). This time my mom, who was a nurse, thought that I was going into shock. So they rushed me to the doctor for a shot of something to knock me out. My brothers no doubt got another "explanation". And I grew up to become a child psychologist.
Lots of rural mythology had to do with health and the workings of the body. We didn't have as many sidewalks to worry about as our urban cousins, but even we heard, "Don't step on a crack or you'll break your mother's back". Certain members of the community were excellent at predicting the weather by the feeling in their joints. But usually we heard about their predictions after the weather event occurred, "Yup, I knew it was going to rain, my elbow was acting up."
I grew up with four older brothers and remember many dinners at which my father told the boys that eating the skins from the baked potatoes would "grow hair on their chest". Even as a little one I understood that this was a metaphor for being strong and healthy, yet I never developed a taste for potato skins.
My mother had her own brand of mythology. Some also had to do with health and appearance. But a lot of hers turned out to have more than a grain of
truth. She said that she thought she didn't have wrinkles because she didn't hold grudges. Notably, she lived to be 90 with a sweet, smooth face. She consciously tried to maintain a pleasant expression and with that pleasant expression often went the pleasant response, "That's nice." When my mother went on automatic pilot mentally, it was comforting the way she continued to say "that's nice" to information she could no longer process.
I'm afraid I have absorbed and passed on to my children some of this mythology. Not the part about crossed eyes, stepping on cracks or picking moles. But they have had to listen to my encouragement of a pleasant expression and positive response. They tease me about it now, but someday when I go on automatic pilot mentally, they will be glad that my smile and my pleasant response are also automatic.