Granny’s Old Wives’ Tales

As West Indians I am sure we can all identify with various folk lore tales, or as most people may call them “old wives tales”. Some of them my seem practical, while others may resonate in our minds as being utterly ridiculous.

My Granny over the years accumulated a potpourri of old wives’ tales, that not only made everyone chuckle but created amusement for the whole family.

For instance, Granny would say, “Don’t eat late at night because you will have night mares or talk in your sleep.”

If you happened to have the occasional midnight snack, then you needed to read a few verses from the bible before going to your bed, that way you would manage to outsmart the demons.

If one had the hiccups, Granny would advise you to take small sips of water and spell your name, if that didn’t work, then you were urged to stop breathing and hope for the best. These methods were fine if you were an adult, but can you imagine the plight of a toddler who has just learned to spell his/her name? The process seemed to take an awfully long time, and it was usually very frustrating.

The funniest old wives tale, I ever heard, Granny told me one day as we were passing a cemetry and I was pointing to some flowers. She said, “Mags didn’t you know that you’re not to point at cemeteries?”

I curiously answered “NOOO! Why Granny?”

“Well. if you must know, it is said that you’re fingers will fall off.”

I became very nervous, then responded “Uh…Granny, how long after pointing does it take for the fingers to fall off?”

“Hmm….I’m not sure, but there is a cure.”

“Granny! What is it? P-l-e-a-s-e tell me!!!!

“If you bite your fingers, and count them at the same time directly after pointing, that should stop the falling off process.”

“So, Granny do you think it would work minutes later?”

“Maybe, try wishing really hard.”

After an hour had passed I realized that Granny’s panacea for pointing at cemeteries had worked. However, it was such a stressful experience, that till this day I refrain from pointing at graveyards.

The funny thing is, after all these years I finally figured out that Granny was only being mischievous with me. But as most adults will tell you, some childhood experiences die hard.

Granny’s “Lord, sweetheart, your growth is going to get stunted,” was another interesting theory. It is said if someone passes over you while you are sitting down , then you won’t grow very much. Especially if you are a child. Granny also felt that if you drank coffee when you were too young it would stop your development and turn you into a “dum-dum”.

There was never any real data on a lot of these tales, however as most Jamaicans would say, the tales made for good conversation and plenty of jokes.

Once, my cousin kept asking her if she thought she would marry. So Granny told her to put a piece of wedding cake under her pillow, because that night she would dream of her intended.

It was amusing watching her flutter all over town trying to find a piece of Jamaican wedding cake. The funniest part, was that she was so excited about her anticipated discovery, that it took her a long time to get to sleep, and when she did. She had no recollection of her Prince Charming. She only remembered dreaming of the Bread Man, could it have been because she had cake on her mind?

If this folk tale didn’t work, there was always trying to catch the bouquet at the wedding. If you did manage to catch the coveted bridal bouquet, Jamaican folklore says, that you will marry within seven years. Granny was a staunch believer. She would practically toss all her single grandchildren out on the dance floor to catch the bouquet. Yelling , “Stretch! Dears, Stretch!”

For Granny this was an excercise in calisthenics.

I must admit many of us fell down “on the job” and sometimes required a little sugar and water to help us get our groove back. This is probably the most famous Jamican old wive’s tale. There is probably not a household in Jamaica that doesn’t swear by this. If you fall down, the first thing everyone runs for is a extra sweet glass of sugar and water to ease the pain and stop the bruising. Again, I have no evidence that this really works, but I do know that it gives you a sugar rush, which makes you experience a quick sense of euphoria.

Granny was an expert when it came to raising babies, therefore it wasn’t unusual for her tales to include a few anecdotes regarding the wee ones. For instance, If you cut a baby’s hair before he/she turns one, then the baby will take a long time to start talking. It wasn’t uncommon to find a few Rapunzels or Cousin “Its” in my family as toddlers. Then the Jamaican heat would become so unbearable that the babies’ hair would have to be trimmed. Guess what? They talked anyway. This is a story I never truly understood.

My Granny could recite some of these sayings as if they were mantras for the day. One of her most beloved old wives’ tale was, “If a man can get the milk for free, why buy the cow?”

This was Granny’s view on shacking up. She felt that if a woman made it too easy for a man to be with her all the time, then he would have no incentive to do the right thing. Granny always said, “He will stay around, but if someone else meets his fancy, don’t look for the ring.”

As usual Granny’s old wives’ tales seemed simple and thoughtless, but if you thought about them long and hard. They packed a great big whallop.

My Gran was very perceptive when it came to people. Most of the time she loved all people, but she also knew how unkind folks could be for no earthly reason, therefore she always preached to me, “If some people don’t like you, dem will give you long bag to carry with a hole.”

Think about this saying. It is pretty self-explanatory.

If a group of people dont care for you, there is nothing that they won’t stoop to, in order to bring you down, set you up, whatever it takes to discredit you.

That’s why it’s best to eat your rice when it’s cool. Meaning, revenge is best when the ills have been forgotten. Then you can serve up the element of SURPRISE!!!!!!!

Granny was not a new age guru or a sage, but she always had a tale to soothe every situation I was going through. Her advice was always most appropriate and had a beneficial outcome.

That’s why I could never say Goodbye to Granny because saying goodbye is too final. So I prefer to bid her eternal bliss, until we meet again……


Rest In Peace 11/04/96

About the author

Margaret J.Bailey