folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 980
about old people who are saved
by their grandsons
translated and/or edited by
D. L. Ashliman
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was King of Benares, there was in a family of a certain village of Kasi an only son named Vasitthaka. This man supported his parents, and after his mother's death, he supported his father as has been described in the introduction. But there is this difference. When the woman [Vasitthaka's wife] said, "Look there! That is your father's doing! I am constantly begging him not to do this and that, and he only gets angry!" she went on, "My lord, your father is fierce and violent, forever picking quarrels. A decrepit old man like that, tormented with disease, is bound to die soon; and I can't live in the same house with him. He will die of himself before many days are out. Well, take him to a cemetery, and dig a pit, throw him in, and break his head with the spade; and when he is dead, shovel the earth upon him, and leave him there."
At last, by dint of this dinning in his ears, said he, "Wife, to kill a man is a serious matter. How can I do it?"
"I will tell you of a way," quoth she.
"Say on, then."
"Well, my lord, at break of day, go to the place where your father sleeps. Tell him very loud, that all may hear, that a debtor of his is in a certain village, that you went and he would not pay you, and that if he dies the man will never pay at all. And say that you will both drive there together in the morning. Then at the appointed time get up, and put the animals to the cart, and take him in it to the cemetery. When you get there, bury him in a pit, make a noise as if you had been robbed, wound and wash your head, and return."
"Yes, that plan will do," said Vasitthaka. He agreed to her proposal, and got the cart ready for the journey.
Now the man had a son, a lad of seven years, but wise and clever. The lad overheard what his mother said. "My mother," thought he, "is a wicked woman, and is trying to persuade father to murder his father. I will prevent my father from doing this murder." He ran quickly, and lay down beside his grandsire.
Vasitthaka, at the time suggested by the wife, prepared the cart. "Come, father, let us get that debt!" said he, and placed his father in the cart.
But the boy got in first of all. Vasitthaka could not prevent him, so he took him to the cemetery with them. Then, placing his father and his son together in a place apart, with the cart, he got down, took spade and basket, and in a spot where he was hidden from them began to dig a square hole. The boy got down and followed him, and as though ignorant what was afoot, opened a conversation by repeating the first stanza:
No bulbs are here, no herbs for cooking meat,
No cat-mint, nor no other plant to eat.
Than father, why this pit, if need be none,
Delve in Death's acre mid the woods alone?
This his father answered by repeating the second stanza:
Thy grandsire, son, is very weak and old,
Oppressed by pain from ailments manifold.
Him will I bury in a pit today.
In such a life I could not wish him stay.
Hearing this, the boy answered by repeating a half stanza:
Thou has done sinfully in wishing this,
And for the deed, a cruel deed it is.
With these words, he caught the spade from his father's hands, and at no great distance began to dig another pit. His father approaching asked why he dug that pit, to whom he made reply by finishing the third stanza:
I too, when thou art aged, father mine,
Will treat my father as thou treatest thine;
Following the custom of the family
Deep in a pit I too will bury thee.
To this the father replied by repeating the fourth stanza:
What a harsh saying for a boy to say,
And to upbraid a father in this way!
To think that my own son would rail at me,
And to his truest friend unkind should be!
When the father had thus spoken, the wise lad recited three stanzas, one by way of answer, and two as an holy hymn:
I am not harsh, my father, nor unkind,
Nay, I regard thee with a friendly mind.
But this thou dost, this act of sin, thy son
Will have no strength to undo again, once done.
Whoso, Vasittha, hurts with ill intent
His mother or his father, innocent,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In hell for his next life undoubtedly.
Whoso with meat and drink, Vasittha, shall
His mother or his father feed withal,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In heaven for his next life undoubtedly.
The father, after hearing his son thus discourse, repeated the eighth stanza:
Thou art no heartless ingrate, son, I see,
But kindly hearted, O my son to me.
'Twas in obedience to thy mother's word
I thought to do this horrid deed abhorred.
Said the lad, when he heard this, "Father, women, when a wrong is done and they are not rebuked, again and again commit sin. You must bend my mother, that she may never again do such a deed as this." And he repeated the ninth stanza:
That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Let us from out our dwelling far expel,
Lest she work other woe on thee as well.
Hearing the words of his wise son, well pleased was Vasitthaka, and saying, "Let us go, my son!" he seated himself in the cart with son and father.
Now the woman too, this sinner, was happy at heart; for, thought she, this ill-luck is out of the house now. She plastered the place with wet cow dung, and cooked a mess of rice porridge. But as she sat watching the road by which they would return, she espied them coming, "There he is, back with old ill-luck again!" thought she, much in anger. "Fie, good-for-nothing! cried she. "What, bring back the ill-luck you took away with you!"
Vasitthaka said not a word, but unyoked the cart. Then said he, "Wretch, what is that you say?" He gave her a sound drubbing, and bundled her head over heels out of doors, bidding her never darken his door again. Then he bathed his father and his son, and took a bath himself, and the three of them ate the rice porridge. The sinful woman dwelt for a few days in another house.
Then the son said to his father, "Father, for all this, my mother does not understand. Now let us try to vex her. You give out that in such and such a village lives a niece of yours, who will attend upon your father and your son and you. So you will go and fetch her. Then take flowers and perfumes, and get into your cart, and ride about the country all day, returning in the evening."
And so he did. The women in the neighbor's family told his wife this. "Have you heard," said they, "that your husband has gone to get another wife in such a place?"
"Ah, then I am undone!" quoth she, "and there is no place for me left."
But she would inquire of her son. So quickly she came to him, and fell at his feet, crying, "Save thee, I have no other refuge! Henceforward I will tend your father and grandsire as I would tend a beauteous shrine! Give me entrance into this house once more!"
"Yes, mother," replied the lad, "if you do no more as you did, I will. Be of good cheer!" And at his father's coming he repeated the tenth stanza:
That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Like a tamed elephant, in full control,
Let her return again, that sinful soul.
So said he to his father, and then went and summoned his mother. She, being reconciled to her husband and her husband's father, was thenceforward tamed, and endued with righteousness, and watched over her husband and his father and her son. And these two, steadfastly following their son's advice, gave alms and did good deeds, and became destined to join the hosts of heaven.
Some time after, this hard-hearted man began to beat his father because he could not find the pot, whereupon the little boy called out, "O father, don't beat my grandfather, for I have taken away the pot and hidden it. You know after I have become a great man I shall not buy any other pot for you."
Hearing this the man was ashamed, and from that day he provided every needful comfort for his father.
Thereupon the son exclaimed: "Don't beat grandfather, for it was I who took it away and hid it, thinking that when I grow up I might not be able to get another potsherd to feed you with."
Upon this the rich man was covered with shame, and ever afterwards kept his father in comfort.
The grandfather was an old man of one hundred and twenty-five years. He was so old, that the help of his housemates was needed to feed him. Many a time, and especially after meals, he related to his son and his grandson his brave deeds while serving in the king's army, the responsible positions he filled after leaving a soldier's life; and he told entertaining stories of hundreds of years gone by.
The father was not satisfied with the arrangement, however, and planned to get rid of the old man.
One day he said to his son, "At present I am receiving a peso daily, but half of it is spent to feed your worthless grandfather. We do not get any real benefit from him. Tomorrow let us bind him and take him to the woods, and leave him there to die."
"Yes, father," said the boy.
When the morning came, they bound the old man and took him to the forest.
On their way back home the boy said to his father, "Wait! I will go back and get the rope."
"What for?" asked his father, raising his voice.
"To have it ready when your turn comes," replied the boy, believing that to cast every old man into the forest was the usual custom.
"Ah! If that is likely to be the case with me, back we go and get your grandfather again."
When the grandson noticed what his father had done, he took some tools and went down under the house. There he took a piece of board and began to carve it.
When his father saw him and said to him, "What are you doing, son?" the boy replied to him, "Father, I am making wooden plates for you and my mother when you are old."
As the son uttered these words, tears gushed from the father's eyes. From that time on, the old man was always allowed to eat at the table with the rest of the family, nor was he made to eat from a wooden plate.
One rainy morning the husband was forced by his wife to send his father away. He called his son, and ordered him to carry a basket full of food and also a blanket. He told the boy that they were to leave the old man in a hut on their farm some distance away. The boy wept, and protested against this harsh treatment of his grandfather, but in vain. He then cut the blanket into two parts.
When he was asked to explain his action, he said to his father, "When you grow old, I will leave you in a hut, and give you this half of the blanket."
The man was astonished, hurriedly recalled his order concerning his father, and thereafter took good care of him.
Now this wicked man had a son of his own who felt very sorry for the ill treatment his grandfather received, and going one day to his father, he said, "Father, buy me a cloak."
His father answered, "Have you not good clothes; what do you wish with it?"
"I shall keep it," he rreplied, "until you are old, and then I will give it to you, and do to you as you do to your father, who begot you and nourished you, and gave you all he had."
"Why did you cut it in two?" asks his father.
To which the little one responds that he is keeping the other half for the day when he, too, will show his father the door.
Whereupon the unnatural son repents, and full amends are made to the old man.
But in these present days, which are evil, men grow slothful, wherefore now the gentle minstrels will venture little; for know ye of a sooth it is no light thing to tell a goodly tale.
Now will I show you an adventure that befell some seventeen years agone, or twenty mayhap. A rich man of Abbeville, well garnished with goods and gold, departed out of his town, both he and his wife and his son, because he had come into dispute with folk that were greater and stronger than he, and much he feared and dreaded to abide among his enemies.
So from Abbeville he came unto Paris. There he lived peacefully, and did homage to the king and became his liegeman and burgess.
Now inasmuch as the good man was discreet and courteous, and his dame of good disport, and the lad showed himself no wise foolish or discourteous or ill-taught, the neighbors in the street wherein they came to dwell were full glad of them, and often visited them and did them much honour. So many a one with no great endeavour on his part may make himself well loved, and by mere fair and pleasant speech win much praise of all; for whoso speaketh fair, getteth a fair answer, and whoso speaketh ill or doth ill, must perforce win evil for himself again; even so is it ofttimes seen and known, and the proverb saith, "Ye shall know the master by his works."
So for seven years and more the good man lived at Paris, and bought and sold such goods as came in his way; and he so bartered here and there that always he saved what he had, and added somewhat more thereto. So he traded prosperously and lived plenteously until he lost his companion, whenas God wrought his will in the wife who had been his fellow for thirty years.
No other child had they save the youth of whom I have told you, who now at his father's side was all woful and discomforted; often he swooned for grief and wept, and sorely he lamented the mother who had reared him full softly.
But his father comforted him, saying: "Fair son, now thy mother is dead, let us pray God that he grant her pardon. Wipe thine eyes and dry thy face for nought will tears avail thee; know of a sooth we must needs all die, all must pass by the same road; none can thwart death, and from death there is no return. Yet is there comfort for thee, fair son, for thou art growing a comely youth, and art near of an age to marry; whereas I am waxing old. If I can compass for thee a union with persons of high estate, I will part with good share of my havings; for thy friends are afar off and no wise speedily couldst thou come by them at need, none hast thou in this land and if thou dost not win them by thine own might. Now if I may but find a dame well born and rich in kindred and friends, who hath brethren and uncles and aunts and cousins germain, of good lineage and of good estate, I would help thee to win that which would profit thee, nor would I forbear on the score of my moneys."
Now, lordings, the story telleth us there were in that same land three knights who were brethren. On both father's side and mother's side they came of high parentage, and they were of much worship and honour in arms, but all their inheritance had been put in pawn, lands and forests and holdings, that they might follow tourneys; three thousand pounds at usury had they borrowed on their inheritance, whereby they were sore tormented.
Now the eldest had a daughter born of his wife who was no longer living, and from her mother the damsel held a goodly house in Paris, face to face with the dwelling of the burgess of whom I have told you. This house did not pertain to the father, and the friends of the mother took good heed that he put it not in pawn, inasmuch as the rent thereof was reckoned at forty pounds of Paris, nor had he ever been at any pain or trouble for the ingathering of this sum.
Now because this damsel, by reason of her kin, had friends and power, the good man sought her in marriage of her father and friends.
The knights questioned him of his goods and havings, how great they might be, and readily he answered them: "What in chatel and what in moneys I have of pounds one thousand and five hundred; I were but a liar and if I boasted me of more, and at the most I would add thereto one hundred pounds of Paris; honourably have I come by my fortune, and the half thereof am I ready to give over to my son."
But the knights made answer: "This we may not agree to, fair sir; for if you were to become a templar or a white monk or a black monk, anon you would leave all your havings to the temple or the monastery; wherefore no such covenant will we make with you; no, sir, no, in faith, fair sir."
"What other covenant then, tell me now I pray you."
"Right gladly, fair, dear sir," quoth they. "Whatsoever ye can render, we would that you should give your son outright, that you should make over all to him, and that he should be so invested therein that neither you, nor any other, may in any manner dispute it with him. And if ye will agree to this, the marriage shall be made, but other wise we would not that your son should have our daughter and niece."
The good man bethought him for a space, and looked at his son; still he pondered, but little good did his thought bring him, for soon he answered them, saying: "Sirs, whatsoever ye demand even that will I fulfil, but it shall be on this covenant: let my son take your daughter to wife, and I will give to him all that is mine, and since ye will so have it that I withhold nothing, let him receive all and take it for his own, for with it I endow and invest him."
So the good man stripped himself bare, and before all the folk there gathered, disinvested and disinherited himself of all that he had in the world; so was he left bare as a peeled wand, for, and if his son did not give it him, he had neither chatel nor denier with which to buy his bread. All he gave him and declared him free of all; and when the word was spoken, the knight straightway took his daughter by the hand and gave her to the young man, who forthwith espoused her.
So for two years thereafter they lived content and at peace as husband and wife, at which time, meseemeth, the lady bore a fair son to the young master; heedfully was he reared and cherished, and the lady likewise was dearly cared for, and often went to the bath and enjoyed much ease. And still the good man abode with them, but he had done himself a mortal hurt when he stripped himself bare of all that he had to live at another's mercy.
Yet for twelve years and over he dwelt in that house, until such time as the child was well grown and of wit to see what passed about him. Often he heard told what his grandfather had done for his father who thereby had espoused the dame his wife, and ever the child kept it in his memory.
Meantime the good man had waxed in years, and age had so weakened him that now he must needs support himself with a staff; and right liefly would his son have bought his winding sheet, for it seemed to him the old man had tarried over late above ground, and his long life was grievous to him.
And the wife, who was full of pride and disdain, could not let be, but held the good man always in despite, and bore him such malice that she could not withhold her from saying to her lord: "Sir, for love's sake I pray you send hence your father, for by the faith I owe my mother's soul, so long as I know him to be in this house, no morsel shall pass my lips, for full fain am I that ye drive him hence."
"Dame," said he in answer, "even so will I do."
So, for that he feared and doubted his wife, he went to his father and said to him forthright: "Father, father, now get thee gone, for I tell thee here is nought to make or mend with thee or with thy lodging; for these twelve years and over hath meat been given thee here in this hostel, but now rise up and that speedily; go seek other lodging, wheresoever else ye may find it, for so it must needs be."
At these words the father wept full sorely, and often he cursed the day and the hour in that he had lived so long in the world. "Ah, fair, sweet son, what sayest thou? For God's sake do me so much honour that ye suffer me to abide within thy gates; no great place do I need for my bed, nor will I crave of thee fire or carpet or rich coverlet, but let there be spread for me a few handfuls of straw beneath the pent-house without there. Never cast me out from thy house for reason that I eat of thy bread; that my bed be made without yonder irketh me not, if ye do but grant me my victual, but nowise should ye deny me wherewithal to live; and soothly, if thou shouldst wear the hair, thou shalt not so well expiate thy sins as if thou dost some comfort to me."
"Fair father," quoth the young man, "sermon me no sermons, but make haste and get thee gone, lest my wife goeth out of her wit."
"Where would ye that I should turn, fair son, I that have not so much as a farthing in the world?"
"Go ye out into the city wherein there are a good ten thousand that seek and find whereby to live; each one there abideth his adventure; great mischance it were and if you likewise did not find sustenance; and many a one that hath acquaintance with you will lend you hostel."
"Lend me, son? Will chance folk so do, when thou thyself deniest me thine house? Since thou wilt give me no comfort, how should those that are nought to me grant me anything ungrudgingly, when thou that art my son, failest me?"
"Father," quoth he, "no more can I do herein, and I take upon me all the burden; know ye that this is my will."
Thereat was his father so in dole that his heart was near to bursting, and weak as he was, he riseth and goeth out of the house, weeping.
"Son," said he, "I commend thee to God. But since ye are fain of my going, in God's name, give me a fragment of a strip of thy coverlet -- no very precious thing is that -- for in truth I am so scantly clad I may not endure the cold, and it is from this I most suffer; wherefore I ask of thee wherewith to cover me withal."
But his son, who ever shrank from giving, made answer: "Father, I have none; this is not the season of gifts, and none shall ye get at this time, and if I am not robbed and pillaged."
"But fair, sweet son, all my body is a-tremble and greatly do I doubt the cold; do but give me such a covering as thou usest for thy horse, that the frost may do me no hurt."
And the young man who was fain of his departure, saw that he could not be quit of him and if he did not grant him somewhat; so, for that he desired to be rid of him, he bade his son give the old man what he asked.
The child sprang up when he was called, "And what is your will, sir?" asked he.
"Fair son," quoth the young master, "I would that if ye find the stable door open, ye give my father the blanket that is upon my black horse; give him the best, and if it be his will, he may make of it a covering or cloak or capuchon."
"Fair grandfather, now come with me," said the child who was ready of wit.
So the good man all in anger and sorrow departed with him. The child found the covering, and he took the newest and the best, the biggest and the widest, and folded it adown the middle, and as fair and even as he might, cut it atwain with his knife, and gave the half thereof to his grandfather.
"Fair boy," quoth the old man, "what would ye? Thy father hath given the cloak to me, wherefore then hast thou cut it atwain? Herein hast thou done a great wrong, for thy father had commanded that I should have it whole and undivided, so now will I go my ways back to him again."
"Go wheresoever it pleaseth you, for no more shall you get of me," saith the boy.
So the good man issued out of the stable. "Son," quoth he, "all thy sayings and doings are as nought. Why dost thou not chastise thy son that he may hold thee in fear and dread? See ye not, he hath kept back one half of the blanket?"
"Foul fall thee, boy," saith the young master, "now give him the whole thereof."
"Certes, that will I not," quoth the child, "for then how would you be paid? This half will I lay by for you, and no more shall ye get from me. And when I come to the mastery here, I will turn you out, even as you now turn him. And as he gave you all he had, so I would fain have all, and you shall take from me only just so much as you now give him. And if it so be that ye let him die in want, even so will I let you, and if I live."
The young man heareth him, and deeply he sigheth, and bethinketh and questioneth himself; great heed he gave to the words of the child.
Then he turneth his eyes to his father, and saith: "Father, come hither again; it was sin and the devil that laid an ambush for me, but please God, this shall not be; rather I will make you from this day forth lord and master in my house. And if my wife will not keep peace, and if she will not suffer you, ye shall be served elsewhere. Hereafter, pillow and rich coverlet shall be given you for your ease, and I pledge you by Saint Martin, that I will never drink wine nor eat a rich morsel, but you shall have a better; and you shall dwell in a cieled chamber, and keep a good fire in the chimney place; and garments shall ye have, like unto mine. For ye dealt fairly by me, sweet father, and if I am now rich and puissant, it is by reason of thy silver."
This tale showeth clear and beareth witness how the child turned his father from his ill intent. And moreover all they who have marriageable children should give heed to it. Do not after the manner of the good man, and when you are foremost, yield not up your place; give not so much to your son but that ye may recover somewhat again; set not your trust in him, for children are without pity, and speedily they weary of the father that waxeth helpless; and whoso falleth into the power of another in this world liveth in great torment. And he who liveth at the mercy of another, and looketh to another for his very sustenance, should be to you as a warning.
Bernier told this ensample that teacheth so goodly matter, and of it he made what he might.
His son, Vincenti, who was of an extremely avaricious disposition, finding his father continued to linger much beyond the period his covetous and ungrateful heart would have assigned him, and unwilling longer to support him, took measures, under pretense of obtaining for him better medical advice than he could at home provide, to have him conveyed to the city hospital.
Yet his affairs were then in a flourishing state; and everything that he possessed he owed to his unhappy parent, whose age and infirmities, whose tears and entreaties, he alike disregarded.
This unnatural son could not, however, contrive to conduct the matter so secretly as to elude the observation and the reproaches of all classes of people in the city. He at first tried to impose, both upon his friends and the public, by the false representations which he set on foot; but finding these could not avail him, he resolved, in order the better to disarm the popular voice against him, to send his own children with little presents to their grandfather.
On one occasion he gave to his eldest boy, about six years of age, two fine cambric shirts, desiring him, early the next morning, to take them carefully to his poor grandfather in the hospital. The little boy, with an expression of great respect and tenderness in his countenance, promised that he would do so; and on his return the next day, his father, calling him into his presence, inquired whether he had delivered them safe into the hands of his grandfather.
"I only gave him one, father," replied the little boy.
"What!" exclaimed Vincenti, with an angry voice. "Did I not tell you both were for your grandfather?"
"Yes," returned the little fellow, with a steady and undaunted look, "but I thought that I would keep one of them for you, father, against the time when I shall have to send you, I hope, to the hospital."
"How!" exclaimed Vincenti, "would you ever have the cruelty to send me there, my boy?"
"Why not?" retorted the lad; "Let him that does evil, expect evil in return. For you know you made your own father go there, old and ailing as he is, and he never did you any harm in his life, and do you think I shall not send you, when I am able? Indeed, father, I am resolved that I will; for, as I have said before, let him that does evil, expect evil in return."
On hearing these words, Vincenti, giving signs of the utmost emotion, as if suddenly smitten by the hand of heaven, sorely repented of the heinous offence against humanity and justice which he had committed. He hastened himself to the hospital; he entreated his father's pardon on his knees, and had him conveyed instantly home; ever afterwards showing himself a gentle and obedient son, and frequently administering to his aged parent's wants with his own hands.
This incident gave rise, throughout all Tuscany, to the well known proverb above mentioned, "Let him that does evil, expect evil in return" (Chi la fa, l'aspetta); and from Tuscany it passed into many other parts of Italy.
So a certain time the old man was set and kept the upper end of the table, afterward they set him lower, about the middle of the table, thirdly they set him at the nether end of the table, fourthly he was set among the servants, fifthly they made him a couch behind the hall door, and cast on him an old sackcloth.
Not long after the old man died, when he was dead, the young man's son came to him and said, "Father I pray you, give me this old sackcloth, that was wont to cover my grandfather."
"What wouldst thou do with it?" said his father?
"Forsooth," said the child, "it shall serve to cover you when you be old, like as it did my grandfather."
At which words of the child this man ought to have been ashamed and sorry.
For it is written: Son, reverence and help thy father in his old age, and make him not thoughtful and heavy in his life, and though he dote forgive it him.
He that honoreth his father, shall live the longer, and shall rejoice in his own children.
Not long after, the old man died; when he was dead, the young man's son came to him, and said, "father, I pray you give me this old sackcloth that was wont to cover my grand father."
"What wouldst thou do with it?" said his father.
"Forsooth," said the child, "it shall serve to cover you when ye be old, like as it did my grandfather."
At which words of the child this man ought to have been ashamed and sorry; for it is written, "son, reverence and help thy father in his old age, and make him not thoughtful and heavy in his life, and though he dotes, forgive him; he that honoureth his father shall live the longer, and shall rejoice in his own children."
After the deed of gift was made, awhile the old man sat at the upper end of the table; afterwards, they set him lower, about the middle of the table; next, at the table's end; and then, among the servants; and, last of all, they made him a couch behind the door and covered him with old sackcloth, where, with grief and sorrow, the old man died.
When the old man was buried, the young man's eldest child said unto him, "I pray you, father, give me this old sackcloth."
"What wouldst thou do with it?" said his father.
"Forsooth," said the boy, "it shall serve to cover you, as it did my old grandfather."
This, the author relates, pierced his heart; and, indeed, if this failed, he must have had the heart of a tiger.
The father asked the son to have a coat made for him. Instead, the son gave his father two ells of cloth and told the father to use the cloth to patch his old coat.
Now the son himself had a three-year old child who came crying to him and said, "Father give me two ells of cloth as well."
The father gave them to him. Then the child climbed into the attic where he hid the cloth. The father crept after the child to see what he was doing with the cloth.
He said to the child, "Why did you put the cloth up here?"
The child said, "I want to keep it until you are old, then I will give it to you to patch your coat with, just as you have done with my grandfather."
Then the son corrected his ways.
Some of them were once together in a meadow, when a boy came to them, who began as follows:
Hear me, children! I will tell you something. Near us lives old Frühling; you know how he totters about with his stick; be has no longer any teeth, and he cannot see or hear much. Now, when he sits at the dinner table, and trembles in such a manner, he always scatters much, and sometimes something falls out of his mouth again.The children sprang up, clapped their hands, and cried out, "That is very pretty. Did little Peter say so?"
This disgusted his son and his daughter-in-law; and, therefore, the old grandfather was at length obliged to eat in the corner, behind the stove; they gave him something to eat in an earthen dish, and that often not enough to satisfy him. I have seen him eating; and he looked so sad after dinner, and his eyes were wet with tears.
Well, the day before yesterday he broke his earthen dish. The young woman scolded him severely, but he said nothing, and only sighed. They then bought him a wooden dish for a couple of farthings, and he was obliged to eat out of it yesterday for the first time.
Whilst they were sitting thus at dinner, their little boy, who is three years and a half old, began to gather little boards together on the floor.
Young Frühling said to him, "What are you doing there, Peter?"
"Oh," said the child, "I am making a little trough, out of which my father and mother shall eat when I am grown up."
Young Frühling and his wife looked at each other awhile; at length they began to weep, and immediately fetched the old grandfather to the table, and let him eat with them.
"Yes," rejoined the boy, "I stood by when it happened."
Heinrich Stilling, however, did not laugh. He stood still, and looked down. The tale penetrated through him, even to his inmost soul.
At length he began: "I believe if that had happened to my grandfather, he would have risen up from his wooden dish, gone into a corner of the room, and, having placed himself there, would have exclaimed, 'Lord, strengthen me at this time, that I may avenge myself of these Philistines!' He would then have laid hold of the corner posts, and have pulled the house down about them."
"Gently, gently, Stilling!" said one of the tallest of the boys to him. "That would have been a little too bad of your grandfather."
"You are in the right," said Heinrich; "but only think how Satanic it was! How often may old Frühling have had his boy in his lap, and put the best morsels into his mouth! It would not have been wonderful if some fiery dragon, at midnight, when the first quarter of the moon had just set, had hurled itself down the chimney of such a house, and poisoned all the food."
In France an old king, weak with age, gave his kingdom and all his lands to his son, who in return promised to personally care for him. Soon afterward the son took himself a wife, who did not like the father.
Spitefully she said, "The old man is always coughing at the table until it takes away all my pleasure in eating."
So to please her, the son gave his father a place to lie beneath the stairs. For many years he lay there on a bed of hay and straw like one they would make for the dogs.
The queen gave birth to a son, who grew into a proud and virtuous lad. Recognizing the situation, he brought whatever food and drink he could find to his grandfather. One day the grandfather asked for an old horse blanket to protect him from the cold, and the virtuous youth ran off to fulfill his wish.
In the stall he found a good horse blanket. He took it from the horse and ripped it in two. Seeing him, his father asked him what he was doing with the horse blanket.
"I am taking half of it for your father's bed," he said. "The other half I'll save for you when you are sleeping there where you now have your father locked in."
Once upon a time there was an old man who could hardly walk. His knees shook. He could not hear or see very well, and he did not have any teeth left. When he sat at the table, he could scarcely hold a spoon. He spilled soup on the tablecloth, and, beside that, some of his soup would run back out of his mouth. His son and his son's wife were disgusted with this, so finally they made the old grandfather sit in the corner behind the stove, where they gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and not enough at that. He sat there looking sadly at the table, and his eyes grew moist. One day his shaking hands could not hold the bowl, and it fell to the ground and broke. The young woman scolded, but he said not a word. He only sobbed. Then for a few hellers they bought him a wooden bowl and made him eat from it. Once when they were all sitting there, the little grandson of four years pushed some pieces of wood together on the floor.
"What are you making?" asked his father.
"Oh, I'm making a little trough for you and mother to eat from when I'm big."
The man and the woman looked at one another and then began to cry. They immediately brought the old grandfather to the table, and always let him eat there from then on. And if he spilled a little, they did not say a thing.
However, not everything in the hospice met the old man's hopes. He asked his son, at the very least, to send him a pair of sheets so he would not have to sleep on bare straw. The son sought out the worst ones he had then told his ten-year old son to take them to the old grumble-head in the hospice.
To his surprise he observed that his son hid one of the sheets in a corner then took just one of them to the grandfather.
When the boy returned his father asked, "Why did you do that?"
"I'm preparing for the future," replied the boy coldly, "when I send you to the hospice."
What do we learn from this? -- Honor your father and mother, so that later you yourself will be well treated.
A young man's father became old, and he said to his father, "come with me. The time has come for you to be drowned."
The poor old man followed along and the son led him to a hill.
He was about to push him into the water when the old man said to him, "Son, don't drown me at this place, for this is where I drowned my father."
Hearing this, the young man thought, "He drowned his father just as I am about to drown him, and in the same manner my son will drown me."
Thus he forgave his father and did not drown him. The entire town heard what had happened to the old man and swore never again to drown their old men.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
See also Aging and Death in Folklore. An essay by D. L. Ashliman, with supporting texts from proverbs, folktales, and myths from around the world.
Revised March 23, 2020.