Tales of Old Wives

As I chewed deeper into Ann and Steve’s adventure on Receta, I couldn’t help but chuckle as Ann recounted conversations with the locals.

Conch (pronounced conk, which was news to me, who has always assumed that final ch sound was intended to be pronounced) is a Bahamian staple. Found in many a dish, eaten cooked or at times raw, Ann shares with her readers how powerful a cultural element this sea delight is in the Bahamas.

When they first arrived in the Bahamas, Ann and her husband Steve were delighted and also perhaps a little red-cheeked when it came to learning more about this fruit of the sea. Locals proclaimed it has “magical” properties; magic most commonly referring to destinations below the belt, if you catch my meaning. Fishermen lavished stories of how the conch was known to make a man “powerful” and “long-lasting”.

Steve and Todd bought the birthday conch from a small Bahamian boat that had pulled into Chub Cay…A dollar a conch, the appreciative divers tell Todd and Steve. “And it will make the dead rise,” one of them remarks, grinning.

Perry and Noel are their names and along with the conch come more – unsolicited – stories of its power. “My wife glad when I go fishin’ for a coupla days ’cause den she get a rest,” Perry says.

Men and women shared tales of a soup – cuckoo soup – that would keep a straying man from sampling other merchandise:

If a woman cooks if for you and you eat it, you won’t want to make love with anyone but her…

As in most things, surveys tend to give us what we really need to know about the matter:

Much later still, I have a chance to ask a trio of sophisticated, stylish Bahamian women for their opinion on the power of conch. Two of them dismiss it scornfully as just male rubbish. The third one smiles. “Anything you believe can work, can work,” she says.

But it was not only tales from the kitchen that found their way into the minds of our traveling Vanderhoofs. It’s well-known that for as long as there have been ships on the sea, there have been tales of epic voyages, mermaids, and sunken treasure. Ann and Steve have with them a book chock full of seafaring lore. And just as those of us on land, even travelers of the sea hold superstitions – when to sail, when not to sail, what to throw on the deck before a storm….

Recently, on YouTube, I was perusing various homemade tutorials on beauty tips including water-marble nail polish techniques, how to cut, grow out, and color your own hair (and let me tell you there are some common sense technique videos, some clever ones and some REALLY bizarre ones out there. Some so painful I couldn’t watch longer than a few seconds), and more. Becoming fascinated with the idea of trimming my own hair, I set to finding a good video to follow. I stumbled across one channel where I was fascinated by the various other techniques. After watching several, I decided I would try one that involved using Vaseline to grow and moisturize your eyelashes.

One evening after reading the last chapter or so of the Receta’s journey toward the Caribbean, I picked up my little jar of Vaseline and stopped. “Good grief”, I thought, “I wonder if this is actually something that is making my lashes grow or is this just another old wives tale?”

And just how many old wives tales do I prescribe to? How many more have I heard of and decided were too absurd or too drastic to follow thru on? How many of these tales are actually things that work? The fact is, whether we believe them or not, they are imbedded in our culture. Someone’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother gave advice she most certainly received from her mother who got it from her mother and so on, and it has been passed down, ignored or followed because it worked for someone or someone someone knows.

It’s like gossip but with advice or tips. It goes around and around. And then it turns into gossip when someone ignores said tip and things go awry.

For the record, here’s a list of old wives tales and superstitions I have heard myself, asked about or quite simply, looked up on the internet:

*Vaseline on your eyelids and lashes will make your lashes grow longer (Trying it. This girl’s lashes were long, figured why not since her hair trim tutorial was so spot on)

*Spill salt? Through some over your shoulder to counteract that bad luck. And while we’re at it, avoid walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, or letting black cats prance across your path.

*Step on a crack, break your mother’s back (I have stepped on cracks before and my mother’s back in still in tact, thank you very much….but I do avoid cracks if I’m paying attention to the sidewalk)

*An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

*There’s a poem about birthdays I remembered pieces of (and had to look up the rest…..I was born on a Wednesday, but this poem makes me sound like I should be in a permanent state of depression. Which is hardly the case.):

Monday’s child is fair of face;
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe;
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving;
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
is fair and wise, good and gay.

If you have more you’d care to share, I’d love to hear them!


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