Sunday night the moon was so huge and the sky so clear that if I’d kept the drapes open I could have read a book by moonlight. As the moon rose and a moonbeam began to cross the living room floor through a window above our front door, I paused to marvel at its intensity and beauty. Then I stepped back abruptly. Why? Because I remembered some old folk wisdom I learned from the Delany Sisters. When they were children in the 1890s, their father had warned them of the mythic dangers of moonlight. “Don’t let the moon shine on your face,” he told them. “It will warp your features!”
A hundred years later, when the centenarian sisters told me this story, they thought it was funny that this admonishment came from their beloved Papa, of all people. After all, their father was the Rev. Henry B. Delany, later to become the first black person elected Bishop in the Episcopal Church USA. He was, also, the vice-principal of St. Augustine’s School (now College) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Like everyone else who has ever lived, however, he was a product of his time and upbringing – in his case, a Georgia plantation where he was born into slavery in 1858. One never entirely lets go of folk wisdom learned as a child, no matter how much one achieves and even when it’s not in keeping with your true beliefs as an adult. I believe this tells us something about the power of stories, especially those passed on from one generation to the next.
Readers, did your family share folk wisdom when you were a child? Perhaps a story that may seem a little silly to you now? Were you told that eating an apple would make your cheeks rosy (something I was told all the time)? I love these stories! Please share.