Monday, May 20, 2024

THERE ARE CERTAIN SUPERSTITIONS I STILL BELIEVE

 

I like to think I’m not a superstitious person, but I guess the truth is, I really am.

There are some superstitions that don’t bother me, such as Friday the 13th. If it truly were a day of bad luck, then everyone on the planet would have a crummy day, which seems highly unlikely to me. In fact, I know a lot of people who consider 13 to be their lucky number. My late husband was one of them.

I’ve also never been concerned about walking under a ladder – unless there’s a guy perched on top of it and he’s holding a bucket of paint. Picturing him losing his balance and dousing me with a heavy coating of “sunshine yellow” usually is enough to make me walk around a ladder.

And I can remember back when I was in grammar school and one of the kids told me about, “if you step on a crack, it will break your mother’s back.”  I was horrified. As I walked home from school that day, I looked down at every crack on the sidewalk, and was very careful not to step on any. Alas, my big foot finally landed on a crack and I burst out crying, thinking I’d arrive home to find my mother lying immobile and in agony on the floor, all because I’d stepped on a crack. Fortunately, my mom was just fine, so that immediately dispelled that superstition.

But there are three superstitions that always have made me feel ill at ease.

First, there’s the superstition that if a black cat crosses your path, you’ll have bad luck. Well, years ago, one of my neighbors adopted a black cat and it crossed my path nearly every time I left the house...and my luck that year was pretty rotten. It got to the point where whenever I saw that darned cat coming toward me, I’d either run (or drive) in the other direction to avoid having it walk directly in front of me. 

“If the cat has even a few white hairs on it, then it’s not considered a true black cat and doesn’t cause bad luck,” one of my friends informed me. “Have you ever checked under its chin or on its chest? If it has any white hairs, that’s where they’ll most likely be.”

So I sat out on my front steps one day and lured the cat over to me by waving some chicken at it. Then, as the cat came over to take the bait, I held the piece of chicken up high so I could get a good look at the cat's chin and chest. I saw three distinct white hairs standing out against the black and breathed a sigh of relief. The cat wasn’t a genuine black cat after all, so I was safe!  I never avoided the animal again after that, even though I did realize there was the remote possibility those three white hairs might have fallen out at some point and transformed him into an official pure-black, bad-luck cat.

There also was the superstition about spilled salt causing bad luck. But in that instance, the bad luck supposedly could be prevented if you immediately threw a pinch of the salt over your left shoulder to, according to legend, blind the invisible devil lurking behind you and waiting to pounce.

Well, over the years, I probably spilled enough salt to fill a shaker the size of a trash barrel. And every time I spilled it, I’d toss a pinch of it over not just the left, but both of my shoulders, just to be doubly safe. I mean, how could I be sure which side of my back the invisible devil might be lurking?

The problem was, I once spilled the salt in a restaurant and immediately flung a pinch of it over both shoulders...at the precise moment the waitress was right behind my chair and leaning forward to refill my water. I'm lucky I wasn't sued.

But the superstition that actually has brought me ongoing bad luck and has been the bane of my existence for years is the one with the longest bad-luck curse…breaking a mirror.  It's a well-known fact that any poor sap who has the misfortune of breaking a mirror is doomed to face seven long years of torture.

The whole mirror superstition is based on the ancient belief that your reflection in the mirror actually is your captured soul. Break the mirror and basically, you also wreck your soul, which, according to ancient beliefs, then takes seven years to renew itself. Thus, seven years of bad luck follow…until your poor, damaged soul becomes whole again.

I’ll never forget the first time I broke a mirror. I was just entering high school and had signed up for a co-ed judo class at the YMCA. As I was rushing to get ready for the class one evening, I quickly grabbed my small mirror from my purse so I could check my hair. The next thing I knew, the mirror was lying on the floor and I was picking up the pieces.

During the class that night, the judo instructor taught us the basic moves of throwing and falling. Seeing there were only three females in the class, I was paired up with a guy, a big kid who was about six feet tall and 190 lbs.  When it came to the "throwing" part of the class, he flung me so hard, I went airborne…and landed with all of my weight on my right big toe. I think people out on the street heard it crack. When I looked down at my bare foot, there was no doubt my toe was broken...because the bone was sticking straight up out of it.

I learned the true definition of the word “humiliation” that night when I had to sit, still wearing my judo outfit, in the emergency room at Sacred Heart Hospital. Even worse, the doctor turned out to be a comedian.

“So, Kung Fu!” he greeted me, shaking his head and chuckling. “How did you break your toe?”

I wasn’t amused.

Thanks to the broken mirror, my luck got only worse after that...the inevitable seven years of torture. For one thing, I had to learn how to manipulate crutches on the 10,000 stairs in my high school because nothing was handicapped accessible back then. Also, while I still was recovering, I happened to witness a crime and was subpoenaed to testify in court…on the day of my mid-term exams. 

Oh, and the guy who invited me to his prom stood me up.

I hadn't known back then there actually were antidotes to remove the seven-year curse, such as burying the broken pieces of the mirror outside beneath a full moon, or pulverizing the pieces into a powder so they never could reflect anything again. If I had, then maybe I wouldn’t have needed two more surgeries on my toe over the next four years, which forced me to hobble around on crutches once again and inevitably caused me to lose my first full-time job as a Girl Friday, an errand “runner” in a big office building. Or maybe I never would have found out that my boyfriend of two years had been cheating on me for 23 months (on second thought, maybe finding that out wasn’t such bad luck after all).  

Anyway, even to this day, I still feel my pulse quicken whenever I'm holding a mirror, for fear I'll drop it. I'd rather climb up onto the bathroom sink and look into the mirror on the wall when I need to see something close-up. At least I can't drop that mirror.

But considering how hideous my reflection has looked lately, I truly believe it’s only a matter of time before I end up cracking it.


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Sally Breslin is a native New Englander and an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net


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