In Old Wives’ Tales, I Believe
I believe in old wives’ tales.
Foils to sound reasoning, some say.
Lately I have learned different, as the many expressions of my Irish mother that laced her communication during my childhood –pop to mind like bulbs in a long planted garden peaking green spikes in early spring. Because I am in the time when all the threads of sorrows and delights, disappointments and regrets, loves and losses weave into a story that is more than my own. A story that only old wives – always the gatekeepers between generations – can tell.
I believe in the metaphors that pepper the language of life’s small moments.
A woman’s work is never done.
When milk is spilled, don’t cry over it.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
I believe in the family tales told on the front stoop at summer dusk – bare legs outstretched, reds and oranges pooling at the etched line of husky green horizons – when mother would issue forth – swaying in the verdant dappled shadow. We knew they were messages for us – her youngest – her daughters.
“Looks are the first to fade.” She scolded as we whined in adolescent vanity about our unruly hair and freckles.
“A woman must always be prepared to take care of herself.” She advised, as she listed the familiar roll call of great aunts that had made bad marriages and were left struggling.
“Watch how men treat their mothers, it will tell you how they will treat their wives.” She hoped we would make smart choices in men.
“Age comes before beauty.” She begged our patience for the surly grandmother or the cranky neighbors who complained of the errant balls in their yards.
“Consider the source.” She lifted our dignities after bullies had pestered us the long walk home from school.
“Lose control of your temper and you lose control of the situation.” Always – she warned us against our hot Irish blood.
And the dry seasons of withered dreams and broken hearts yielded her impossible hopefulness: “Don’t ever give up because you never know what’s around the next corner.”
We didn’t know we were listening.
Though my mother urged the virtue of patience, “the impatience of youth” sometimes led us astray.
But that too is part of the story of old wives.
“Youth is wasted on the young.”
Now 81, back bowed from all the lives she has shepherded, my mother is an old wife; she has become the metaphor.
Her daughters take care of her.
“A daughter is a daughter all of her life.”
In her tales and in those that came before and in those that will follow, I believe.
Pearls of wisdom glistening across the seasons of life, across time.
Old wives keeping sentinel.
Their tales whispering of all things.
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