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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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 September 25, 2014.