As a child, my father was frequently given warm milk with honey mixed in as a sleeping aid when he was feeling ill. I asked him to describe his experience of this folk medicine:
“That was a sleeping aid and of course my—I mean, again, it’s a combination of the personal and the impersonal. When, when my Mom gave it to me, it was unbelievably precious, even then it was unbelievably precious. You would be awake, you would be taken downstairs sometimes, you know, in other words, it would feel very special and private. And the memory brings back the light. In other words, the 50’s—the 1950’s lightbulb—they were just different from what we have. And it brings back the softer light and all that kind of thing.”
My informant is my father, a 62-year old English professor in New York City. He was given this remedy during his childhood, but rarely gave it to my brother and I. Recalling warm milk with honey brought this thought to his mind:
“But there was a double sense. There was a sense that this is the way things are done in your house but that they’re going on all over the place too. And that you’re part of a larger world that does this. And it always surprises me that milk and honey is not in everyone’s lives.”
I think my father enjoys this folk medicine because it brings up memories of his mother, who died 25 years ago. But I find it really interesting that he did not pass it down to me. I imagine some folklore is so tied to specific people that it feels more like a treasure shared with him or her rather than something to be passed on. In this case, warm milk with honey may have been something my father wanted to preserve as a special thing between him and his mother. It may not have even occurred to him to pass onto his children, because it was so connected to the child within him. After all, it is milk and honey, two of the sweetest, most nurturing substances fed to baby. They tap into the baby within us all. So, this may be a piece of folk medicine that taps into only the baby within my father, and not the parent.