More from Barry McCain on faeries. I look forward his posts, and I like the way he introduces the idea of faeries and faerie lore:
After talking about the immigration of Ulster Scots to America in the 18th century, he says, “Some of the Faeries from Ireland followed these people to the Colonies. From the early 1700s into the early 1900s belief in Faeries endured. It was in the Southern Uplands and Backsettlements that these beliefs survived the longest and there are still a few people in these areas that see things and believe.“
My single memory about fairies comes from Aunt Betty, my mother’s sister. When I was growing up, I spent summers at her house, and other times of the year we visited fairly often. I say now that we went there for the weekend every 6 weeks, or so. Might not have been that often.
Anyway. Every night after dinner we’d clear the table and put the dishes in the sink, then take a break. Longer if there was company, shorter if it was just her family (and me). Then, Aunt Betty would say something along the lines of, “It doesn’t look like the fairies are going to do the dishes, so I’d better do them.” And she did.
Once in a while she would mention the fairies in another context, but the basic idea was always that the fairies were connected to chores. The “little people” might have done a particular chore, but they didn’t do it, or at least hadn’t yet done it.
Sometime in my teens Aunt Betty stopped making her jokes about fairies — after my mom made a joke about the word fairies not having the same meaning it had when they were growing up. Maybe Aunt Betty didn’t really stop saying it, but she stopped saying it around my mother.
I don’t remember either Mom or Grandma ever joking about fairies, or mentioning them in any context. I thought it might be that fairies were something Aunt Betty picked up when she was a nursing school. She went to a Catholic school in Idaho — St. Alphonse, I think — and came out with some sayings that no one else in the family has. Things like saying “Judas Priest” when she was exasperated.
I don’t know why Aunt Betty would adopt the idea of fairies from a Catholic college, but it doesn’t seem impossible. It took me a long time before I thought to ask Mom if they had this idea of fairies doing housework when she was growing up.
It seems they did, but I haven’t been able to get any good stories. The whole thing seems pretty vague. It must have been exactly the way Aunt Betty did it. Just something people say, but no sense behind it of anything more. Maybe connected to the tomte, a Swedish house elf, or maybe not. Maybe part of the same set of superstitions that include not sweeping the floor after dark. I can’t tell.
- Barry McCain, Faerie Lore Among the Scots-Irish (Oct. 20, 2019), at McCain’s Corner, visited Oct. 21, 2019.
- Justin Swanström, Second Sight (July 19, 2015), visited Oct. 21, 2019, citing Barry McCain, The Second Sight among the Scots Irish (July 15, 2015), visited Oct. 21, 2019.