I wrote my first column regarding New Year’s Eve in 2003. Since then, I have written about many of the things we did in the past in preparation and celebration of the new year. Those who have followed my column for more than ten years may recall some of my fond memories of bringing in a New Year.
Did you read my column about those delicacies that were on the stove New Year’s Eve and on our dinner tables New Year’s Day? Have you carried any of these traditions into your lifestyle today? I am referring to serving specialties such as black-eyed peas with rice or collard greens with hog jowl. You may have them on your dinner table this Tuesday. Another specialty, cabbage, is referred to as a sign of money. That helping of potato salad and the famous yard bird, generally referred to as fried chicken, are definitely included in these New Year’s specialties. Will a plate of wrinkled steaks be on your dinner table to bring in the new year? If you must ask what wrinkled steaks are, you must have been born within the past 40 years; almost everyone from back in the day knows wrinkled steaks are chitterlings.
Besides plans to enjoy some of our ancestral delicacies, a number of you plan to participate in rituals that were so common in our communities in the past. How many of you will participate in Watch Night services? How many of you will attend one of those wild parties that were so characteristic of New Year’s Eve parties of the past? Attending one of those often meant awakening with a major headache the next day. If you plan to attend a party, I know you do not plan to return to your roots by drinking some Thunderbird, Boone’s Farm, Mad Dog or Purple Cow.
Are you already planning how to deal with those superstitions that were handed down from one generation to another? For example, will you plan in advance to make certain that a male, from outside of your household is the first person to enter your home on New Year’s Day? Have you made sure there will be no dirty dishes or dirty laundry when 2012 ends? Will your bills all be paid? I know you will heed your parents’ back-in-the-day words and make certain you have money in your pocket when the new year is rung in.
One major challenge will be resolutions, which back in the day received considerable attention. Do you have a list of resolutions for 2013?
In the past, we made major resolutions to change what we did and how we did it as one year ended and a new one began. No one has asked me this year what resolutions I plan to make., I recognize that this tradition is somewhat outdated. Back in the day, however, New Year’s resolutions were standard and, as a result, you knew that a resolution or two had to be on your plate to share with loved ones and friends. I used to make resolutions year after year, but in most cases, they were short-lived.
For many of us, reflecting on New Year’s resolutions of the past brings to mind fond memories of family life back in the day. How many New Years brought a pronouncement on the part of a family member that the new year would mean a greater commitment to going to church? It seemed as though many New Year’s resolutions in some way involved religion or church. In fact, many individuals who had decided on a religious resolution made it a point to be in church when the new year came in. It was consistent with the belief that one’s behavior during the year would be consistent with what one was doing when the new year began. If he or she did accept the invitation on New Year’s Eve, the following Sunday, one would be in church. Recall how that person would proclaim that this was the year to get right with the Lord? Remember how the New Year’s resolution was held out to be a lifetime commitment, something he or she had been putting off for years? Now think about how long that church-related resolution lasted! You may have seen the maker of the resolution in church regularly for a few weeks; then it was once a month. The next time you saw him or her was on Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day; then be gone for the rest of the year. Interestingly, you could count on these same individuals making the same resolution at the beginning of the next new year. I always had a serious problem with people waiting for the nNew year to attend church, something they should have been doing all year long.
Many back-in-the-day resolutions concerned money. “Next year, I am going to get me a good-paying job so I can have all the money I need.” Does this sound familiar? Starting the new year with a commitment to have money in the bank and to stay out of debt were resolutions most of us made. People would resolve to hit the numbers during the new year as a quick fix to their money woes. This resolution referred to the “street numbers.” Unfortunately, when the year ended, most of us still had little money in the bank; our debts often increased instead of decreasing. This was just one of the many reminders that resolutions were made simply to be broken. So, as someone told me, if you must break your resolution, and you certainly will, do it with pride. You will be continuing a long tradition of broken resolutions, dating back to the dawn of recorded history.
If you think on some of the resolutions we made back in the day, you will recognize how crazy some of them were. Just consider a resolution to find a new girlfriend or boyfriend during the New Year. Implicit in this is a commitment to “dump” one’s existing mate.
You had friends just as I did back in the day who could not complete a sentence without using profanity. T I can still see a couple of my old buddies, when asked about their New Year’s resolutions, pledging not to curse during the year. However, profanity was even incorporated into their resolutions. “Next year, I plan to stop that (bleeping) cursing.”
While making resolutions may be a back-in-the-day tradition, at least one resolution has survived to this day: “I am going to do something about my weight.” This resolution has been around, I suspect, as long as New Year’s resolutions have been made. Did you know that gyms are crowded immediately following New Year’s Day? Men and women, join gyms, purchase state-of-the-art exercise gear and establish rigorous exercise programs. Before the end of February, 80 percent of the participants have disappeared. A good friend told me he is without any doubt the undisputed king of the broken resolution to lose weight. He points out that he did not fail in the past because of insincerity. He claims the resolution remained firm for a few weeks and returned intermittently throughout the year, making him feel guilty. But he never did anything about it because he did not have a serious plan to stay with his resolution and make it a reality. In the final analysis, all he had was an expression that sounded good, but in reality was meaningless. He will probably make this same resolution for 2013..
In many columns, I have commented on how different life is today. If you consider something as simple as a New Year’s resolution, you will see a noticeable difference. New Year’s resolutions were big in the past. If nothing else, making resolutions was a reality check. It was the one time we would be forced to dedicate ourselves to looking back to the past, and more important, looking forward to the coming year. When we made resolutions, we took time to reflect on the changes we wanted or needed. In some households the process was very deliberate. Families would sit down on New Year’s Eve to discuss and commit themselves to resolutions for the new year. Under what circumstances do we reflect and deliberate in this manner today? Well, too many of us today go through life, unmotivated, unfocused and unprepared. We then end up with no goals and objectives because there were no resolutions. So, if you did not make a resolution, it is not too late to set your sights on something, as most of us used to do back in the day, and then commit to it.
For me, Christmas would not be Christmas without a Christmas tree. For as long as I can recall, there has been a tree in my home on Christmas Day.
As it is but a few days until Christmas, I suspect most of you who observe Christmas with a tree have one fully decorated in your home. Others traditionally decorate the tree on Christmas Eve.
After our tree was decorated, stared at it for a few moments, allowing my mind to travel back to memories I fondly recall of purchasing and decorating the family’s Christmas tree, back in the day.
I have mentioned that many have artificial trees. I am not ashamed to tell you I have had an artificial tree for more than 35 years. My 35-year-old tree presents some challenges. The early artificial trees coded each individual branch that was placed according to the codes. So there you were, spending at least an hour putting all those branches on the correct rows. Now you may wonder why, in all these years, the same tree remains in my home. Each year, after it is taken down, there is a discussion of discarding it and purchasing a new tree, one easier to put up and decorate, if decorations are needed at all. We continue to hold on to this tree because it is a great-looking tree; a tree that is hard to distinguish from a live one. But, without question, my Christmas tree today is quite different from those in my home back in the day.
When I was a child there were no artificial Christmas trees. The only ones I recall were three- or four-feet tall aluminum trees illuminated by a revolving spotlight. Anyone still using one of these aluminum trees today is not only from back in the day, but is still living back in the day. My father would go out days before Christmas to purchase our tree. This was a big deal. We lived in a home with a living room ceiling that was at least 16 feet high. We always had a tree that touched the ceiling; this was an absolute requirement for my siblings and me. However, my father came home one year with a tree that could not have been more than eight feet tall. He became upset with us because we took it back to exchange it for one the size we were accustomed to seeing in our living room. Back in the day, most trees were transported home tied to the top of one’s automobile. Very few establishments delivered trees. Therefore, returning the small tree was a matter of getting out my wagon to transport it and pick up a new one. This was a real challenge, as only the base of the tree could fit on the wagon; the front section was held by several of us as we traveled back to the corner lot where trees were sold.
You are definitely from back in the day if your purchase of a tree today involves waiting until the 11th hour. Please do not tell me that you wait until 11 o’clock on Christmas Eve to get your tree. At this hour, trees cost a lot less and in some cases, they are free because they are about to be thrown away.
A friend told me that years ago, she routinely went around on Christmas Eve late at night to look for a free tree. One year she found all of the unsold trees cut into pieces by the vendors. She had to take several branches home and nail them to a pole to have a Christmas tree that year. This ended her practice of the 111th-hour search for a cheap or free tree.
Other memories involve nailing the green wooden stand to the tree and the difficulty in getting your tree to stand securely. It was not unusual after the tree had been completely decorated to find it lying on its side. I can still see my father tying a rope around the tree and securing it to the mantle in several places. Do you also recall these live Christmas trees drying out and becoming fire hazards? How did we keep it moist? A small can was placed on the stand before the tree was attached. We then put water with sugar or maple syrup in the container. Did this actually keep the tree moist? I do not know, but I can tell you that many people did this, back in the day.
Decorating a Christmas tree was a real challenge in the past. Most of us remember the fights and fusses we had over our lights. How many times did you put your lights on the tree only to find out they would not work? We had those large, candle-shaped, lights known for the entire string malfunctioning if just one bulb was bad. A string of lights did not automatically blink. In order to get them to blink, you had to purchase a “blinker.” Back then, lighting a Christmas tree had only two options – on and off. Do you recall the lights with a long stem with a liquid that bubbled once they became heated?
Let me remind you that there were no Black ornaments when many of us were children. The first Black ornament I recall seeing was after Black became beautiful. It was in the ’60s when everyone had to have a Black angel on the top of the tree. Before then, a star went there. Today, however, every Black household with a Christmas tree must have at least one Black ornament; and that is usually a Black angel at the top of the tree.
Back in the day, fathers did not always participate in decorating the tree, but it was generally a tradition for the man of the house to place the star or Black angel on the top of the tree.
Do you recall making paper Christmas decorations in school? How many of you cut strips from construction paper to make circles that would be interlocked and placed on the tree like a chain? Do any of you still have the paper star, bell or tree you cut out in school some 40 or 50 years ago? Maybe some of you still hold to the Victorian tradition of stringing popcorn around your tree. There may be those who still place cotton balls on their tree to simulate snow. Perhaps you still spray your tree with a white substance from an aerosol can to give the appearance of snow. Or maybe you still place tinsel, referred to by many as icicles, on the branches. No tree was complete without tinsel back in the day.
Christmas ornaments in the past were very fragile. You dared not let them hit the floor, as they would shatter. Sometimes paper clips or hairpins were used to secure the ornaments to the tree. These ornaments were uniquely decorated, and are highly collectible today. There is just something very special about a Christmas tree decorated with these types of bulbs. Regarding tree-trimming, I disappeared when it came to putting angel hair on. While it looked great on the tree, to touch it meant you would be itching for a day or two. My oldest sister placed it on the tree while wearing gloves. If you do not know anything about angel hair, believe me, you are not missing anything. It is from back in the day and should remain there.
For many of us who struggled in the past with life in a segregated America, the thought of a white Christmas was not in keeping with the Afrocentric views and traditions that we discovered during the civil rights struggles of the ’60s. It may interest you to know that it is possible now to dream of a Black Christmas. While not related to the Black experience, there is a tree that was a big rage in Europe in 2005. It is a Black Christmas tree. This tree was new in the United States for 2006 and is still sold today. It has shiny black needles that glisten with reflections from clear lights and silver decorations. We, as Black Americans, should claim this tree as our own. A Black Christmas tree would enable us to have a Black Christmas; something none of us could dream of, back in the day.
Do you believe in Santa Claus? As a child, I bet you were a believer. The true meaning of Christmas has become lost as the focus of December 25 seems to have more to do with toys for the young and gifts for others.
With this thought in mind, where did this Santa Claus character come from? This man has a history that goes back to the third century to a monk named St. Nicholas; a man admired for his kindness. Today, he is thought of mainly as the jolly man in red who, according to one legend, gave away all his inherited wealth helping the poor and sick. St. Nicholas made his way into American culture toward the end of the 118th century with the name Santa Claus evolving from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas, Dutch for Saint Nicholas.
The commercialism of Christmas with a focus on huge purchases has replaced an emphasis on the Christ in Christmas. What we have today is the religious focus replaced by a focus on Macy’s, Toys R’ Us, Lord and Taylor, Best Buy, Marshall’s and other shopping establishments. While I try to stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas, I must admit that I sometimes get caught up during the season, in running to the malls. As I observe the lines of parents and children, waiting to share their wishes with Santa, my mind travels to those days more than 65 years ago, when I too believed in Santa Claus.
As a child, those weeks leading up to Christmas Day found you making every effort to be on your best behavior. You believed that being good was absolutely necessary in order to find those much-wanted toys under your tree. I know you definitely did not want a stocking full of coal instead. The story was that Santa would leave coal in your stocking if you had not been good. The song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” reinforces that need to be good: “You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list. And checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice….He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake….!”
Even if you had been bad all year, you became the model child in order to reap rewards on Christmas Day. Boys received tricycles, wagons, dump trucks, cap guns, marbles, spinning tops, Lincoln Logs, Erector aets, dartboards, pedal cars, Slinkies, doctor’s cases and trains. Girls received jacks, nurse’s kits, coloring books, hula hoops, record players, play stoves, roller skates and dolls, of course. But, none of these items arrived without some effort. My effort began with the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue in my home. The first catalogue, about three inches thick, arrived first. A few weeks later, a smaller catalogue arrived that was dedicated to Christmas. I still recall the excitement of thumbing through these catalogues, folding the top corners of the pages so I could easily locate them later. While other department stores issued catalogues, Sears’ appeared to be the catalogue of choice, as the company had a reputation for employing Blacks.
Besides searching through catalogues, I spent hours looking through the Sunday newspapers. Here as well, I could find items II hoped would end up under my Christmas tree. Visits downtown to Gimbel’s, Lit Brothers and the Wanamaker toylands allowed me to personally tell Santa what I wanted. I recall here was always one child who would end up kicking and screaming when it was time to sit on Santa’s lap. I would bet that some of you have one of those black and white photos of yourself with Santa, with unbelievable excitement in your faces.
Not everyone had the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap. A colleague told me that growing up in the South, he never visited a Santa Claus. Segregation prohibited Black children from going to department stores that were segregated. My wife told me that when she was growing up in Smyrna, Del. Blacks were required to sit in the balcony in the town’s movie theater. However, during the Christmas season, Santa appeared at the movies to meet the children. On such occasions, they were permitted to go downstairs to see him and to receive a stocking. Yet, she could not recall sitting on Santa’s lap; visiting Santa did not take place until she visited Philadelphia after Thanksgiving. Sometimes if a personal visit to Santa was not in the cards, a letter was the next best option. Letters were addressed to the North Pole. Regardless of how we communicated our wants to Santa, we awakened with great anticipation on Christmas Day.
Were you restless on Christmas Eves, wondering if your hopes and dreams would be realized on Christmas morning? You might have wondered how Santa would get to your home in his sleigh if there was no snow, or how he could get the gifts for every child on his sleigh, or how he could fit into any chimney. Would Santa get sick if he ate all of the cookies and milk children left for him at the millions of homes across the country? We knew little or nothing about race relations, thus we did not question how acceptable Santa would be in our Black neighborhoods. There were no concerns that he would be robbed or mugged. To believe there were ways to accommodate Santa with all of these challenges, we must have been “slow.” But then again, we were so innocent, and so impressionable that we would believe almost anything, back in the day.
On the subject of race and Santa Claus, my father told me something that has stayed with me over the years. This confession came after my days of believing in Santa came to an end. He said that as a laborer for the Philadelphia Transportation Co., (PTC) the predecessor of SEPTA, he resented my getting up Christmas morning thinking that all of my gifts had been provided by a white Santa; especially, since he had worked off his “rear end” to make me happy on this special day. Where were the Black Santas during the ’50s? Friends and associates have indicated that there were none. But the online publication The Root published an article on Dec. 25, 2011, that raises questions about the image of Santa Claus as a jolly, rosy-checked, overweight, bearded white guy in a red velvet suit. The article suggests this is a fallacy; as that the 280 A.D. St. Nicholas was referred to as a Moor from Africa who was dark-skinned with a bushy, woolly beard. It also refers to an article in the Turkish Times that referred to St. Nicholas as a Black man.
Whatever the facts, it did not make it right that there was no Black Santa for Black youngsters to see. But if you watched Amos ’n’ Andy in the past or perhaps are lucky enough to have their DVDs today, you know that there was one episode that you had not seen in the past. Yes, many of us were very critical of Amos ’n’ Andy. Some fought to have the show removed from television while embracing the Black exploitation movies that came some years later. You may have ignored or just forgotten about the special and very touching Amos ’n’ Andy Christmas episode. It was a heartwarming show where Andy Brown was hired by a Black human resources manager in a large department store. Andy’s requested pay was to receive a doll, seen in the window of the store, to give to his Goddaughter. Amos’ daughter, Arbadella. Yes, the doll was Black and Andy was hired to be Santa Claus, which tells us there was at least one Black Santa back in the day.
There was nothing more exciting than going into your living room on Christmas Day to unwrap your gifts and play with your new toys. Conversely, you did not look forward to that day with the same degree of enthusiasm and excitement once a brother, sister or friend told you there was no Santa Claus. Though our Santa Claus days ended quite a few years ago, many of us reflect on fond memories of Santa’s visits. Perhaps it would be beneficial if we could return to those moments when we believed in Santa Claus; those moments when there was a loving spirit in the lives of children and in adults which was so evident when Santa was present, back in the day.
In prior columns, I have expressed how much I loved my childhood. Just the mention of my days growing up in my West Philadelphia “down the Bottom” neighborhood brings a smile to my face. While there was very little money in my neighborhood, we who lived there were blessed with an abundance of love.
Given the opportunity, I would gladly relive my past. To tell you that we had a great deal of fun would be an understatement. My memories focus on my friends with those unique names; names that probably were possibly found in your neighborhood too. Every neighborhood had a “Fats”; there was usually a “Curly” and a “Junior.” I doubt, however, if there was a “Head Moe” or a “Wiz.” These were names seemingly reserved for people who earned them under special circumstances.
In those days, there were no computers or other technological advances to keep us glued to desks in our homes. No, we were out in the streets, engaged in games that few youngsters play today; games too many of our young people know nothing about – baby in the air, hot bread and butter, blind man’s bluff, dumb schoo” or make a round, round circle on an old man’s back? While these and many more have disappeared from the “have fun playbook” of today’s youth, I cannot help but think of an activity that was characteristic of little girls in the past, one I do not hear much about today. I am not referring to hopscotch, jacks or double Dutch. I am wondering what happened to little girls playing with dolls, the way they used to back in the day?
I cannot tell you the last time I saw a little girl playing with her doll, although I understand from some parents that their grandchildren play with dolls today. The significant difference is that today’s little girls play with dolls occasionally, while it was a regular occurrence in the past. If you had sisters or girls in your neighborhood, think back to your visits with them and I am confident an image of a doll will be in the picture. There will also be images of all the related accessories –doll crib, carriage, stove, furniture, pots and pans, dishes and the dainty doll clothing. All of these things made playing with dolls fun. While toy trains, cowboy boots and cap guns captured the interests of little boys, dolls were the center of attraction for most little girls, and by all accounts, they derived hours of pleasure playing with them.
There was not a great deal of fuss over the complexion of dolls that Black children played with in the past. It was not unusual for Black girls to have only white dolls. There was no great demand for Black dolls when many of us were children. Black was not the acceptable thing, back then. This was consistent with the saying, “If you are white, you are all right; brown, you can stick around; but if you are Black, get back.” If you are from my era, you have some recollection of the experiment in 1939 when Dr. Kenneth Cark and his wife, Mamie, asked Black children to choose between a Black doll and a white doll. The children overwhelmingly picked the white dolls because they thought they were nicer, although they were the same except for skin color. The Black dolls were identified as “the bad ones” by the children.
While Black dolls may not have been popular during the ’50s, Black children had an association with Black dolls going back to the days of slavery. If you look deeply into the relationship between Black children and their dolls during slavery, you will find that their dolls were very crude. They were handmade and any material available was used. The dolls from this period were made of wood, nuts, cloth, bottles or almost anything people could find. These were often referred to as the "Mammy" dolls. Even though the slave-generation dolls were crude, their features did resemble those of Blacks. The mass-produced Black dolls that came much later were often created from the same mold as white ones and simply dipped in brown or black paint. Thus, too often the Black dolls that ended up in the playrooms of Black girls emerged from factories with the same Caucasian features as white dolls, back in the day.
The Black dolls many of our children played with were passed down from one generation to another or purchased from stores. They were made of papier-mâché, ceramic or porcelain, composition, cloth, rubber, wood and bisque. So, how many dolls did you have that were made of any of these materials? As children, did any of you have Black dolls that were politically correct? What do I mean by that? Well, think back to those dolls that you or your parents had during the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s. I doubt seriously that they had features that were characteristically Negroid; large nose, big lips, large ears and kinky or wooly-type hair. Most dolls, if you recall, were no different from white ones except for their skin color.
There were, however, a few companies that made dolls with Black features. The dolls made by Leo Moss, a Black man from Macon, Ga. had typically Black characteristics. His dolls were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Also, there was the National Negro Doll Co., established in the early 1900s by a Black man, R.H. Boyd. His politically correct dolls were properly dressed and presented in a positive manner; not seen as servants or domestics as were many Black dolls back then.
German doll-makers did an outstanding job in making dolls that truly reflected the images of Black children. The German companies Simon & Halbig and Arman Merseille produced bisque-headed Black baby and young girl dolls. They were produced in limited quantities and were extremely rare and costly. Thus, few children were playing with these dolls back in the day, as most Black families could not afford them. Today, these dolls are rare and extremely valuable. French doll-makers also produced a number of unique Black dolls, many of which were dressed as elegantly attired house servants. Others were simply Black-complexioned dolls with Caucasian features; simply white dolls with brown or black faces and bodies. These were not in the doll-playing category. They belonged in someone’s collection as soon as they came from the factory.
While you may not have had one of these turn-of-the-century German or French dolls as a child, you may have had had several of the common Mammy, rag, Aunt Jemima or Topsy Turvy dolls. The Topsy Turvy doll had a Black doll on one end and a white one on the other. The dress would cover one face Or you may have had one of the more creatively crafted dolls such as the one made by Gerber Products Co with flirty dark-brown eyes; a Rastus Cream of Wheat cloth doll; a Jesco Kewpie doll; a Topsy doll manufactured by Reliable Toy Co.; an Alexander “Leslie Polly-face doll; or one of the many Shindana dolls made in the early 1980s by this Black doll company. Perhaps you had an Effabbee Lucifer marionette or a marionette made through the Works Project Administration. I suspect that a few of you may have had a Jackie Robinson doll. Having one today with its original clothing and accessories would bring a handsome price from a doll or sports collector.
Having a Schoenhut Negro dude doll to play with was highly unlikely, as this was truly a collectible when it was first created. Some of you may have played with the Amosandra doll named after the Amos 'n. Andy show. In more recent years, the 1970s specifically, there may have been dolls in your home that your children or grandchildren played with such as Black Cabbage Patch; Muhammad Ali; Louis Armstrong; Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo) dolls. Of course, I cannot ignore the Black Barbie dolls; nor can I ignore paper dolls.
A great number of Black dolls were made in the United States and in foreign countries, so many I suspect that the variety would surprise you. Thus, if you have a serious interest in the subject and wish to experience the strength, culture and promise shared with their owners, go out and purchase one of the many Black doll books on the market today. You will see what you missed as a child, and at the same time have the opportunity to reminisce about Black dolls once held in the arms of Blacks, back in the day.
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, a superstition is any belief or attitude based on fear or ignorance, inconsistent with the known laws of science or with what is generally considered as true and rational. I recently discussed with a colleague how we would go out of our way to avoid certain things in the past that we believed were bad for us. The superstitions we held back in the day may seem silly today, but they definitely had an impact on our behavior.
Our conversation prompted me to go back some ten years to when I wrote about superstitions. I asked then, and ask again today; are you superstitious? Let us again look at superstitions that were most prevalent back in the day.
Most of us had our first experience with superstitions as children. Perhaps you recall birthday parties when you were told that if you blew out all the candles on the cake with one breath and made a wish, it would come true. You must also recall never throwing away food or candy that you accidentally dropped on the ground or floor. You simply picked it up, kissed it and held it up to heaven. Silly, I know, but in your mind, it became clean and was safe to eat.
Brick sidewalks presented a problem; it was considered bad luck to step on the cracks in the sidewalk. I always avoided the cracks on cement sidewalks, but had no clue as to whether this superstition applied to brick sidewalks. What about the penny you found lying on the sidewalk? Did you immediately pick it up, or did you pause to see if thead or tail was up? Recall what you thought was going on when it was raining and sunny at the same time. According to superstition, the devil was beating his wife. Speaking of rain, did you really think there was a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?
Did you understand the significance of spitting on your bat when you played baseball? It was supposed to give you good luck. When walking with another person, it was considered bad luck if you walked on opposite sides of a pole. Everyone avoided black cats. A black cat walking in front of you was believed to be a clear sign of bad luck. Of all superstitions, I am still haunted by a black cat passing in front of me. Close behind is the ladder; I just will not walk under a ladder. Avoiding the black cat crossing my path, as well as not walking under a ladder remain with me from back in the day.
Can you still see your mother or grandmother throwing salt over her shoulder? Spilled salt or a broken mirror were both bad signs. I can recall breaking a mirror as a child and my mother attempting to take responsibility for it. A broken mirror meant seven years of bad luck. I understand that this superstition had its origin far back in the day. In Roman times, people would look at their reflections in pools of water. Some believed that these reflections were in fact “glimpses of the soul.” Any disruption to the water, such as a stone being thrown into it, would bring bad luck to the person looking in. This is one of those superstitions that live on to this day.
Our parents also had this thing about opening an umbrella indoors. They also believed that you had to leave a building by the same door that you entered. On New Year’s Day, I can still see my mother running down the hall to stop guests from entering our home. It was believed that a man had to be the first person through the front door on Jan. 1. What about Friday the 13th? This was a day when some people refused to leave the house. This is supposedly a bad-luck day because Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden on a Friday, Noah's flood started on a Friday, and Christ was crucified on a Friday. Christians also noted that12 witches plus one devil are present at Satanic ceremonies, so Friday and 13 made a deadly combination. Others point to the number in attendance at the Last Supper.
I am sure all of you have heard these superstitions. Your mother insisted that you wear clean underwear all of the time, right? The reason? If you were in an accident, it was unacceptable for the paramedics to see you wearing dirty underwear. Do you believe it is bad luck to put a hat on a bed? Or what about getting out of bed on the same side that you got in? If a bird flew into your house through an open door or window, it was a sign of death. On the other hand, if bird droppings landed in your hair, this was a sign of good luck in the future.
While I have heard many superstitions, these are new to me. According to my sister, if you are extremely ill, do not lie down. Remain in a sitting position and prop yourself up with pillows. This will keep death away. If you dream of falling off of a building or a mountain, please do not hit the ground in your dream, as you will not wake up, but will die in your sleep.
As there were no tests back in the day to predict the sex of a baby, some grandparents suspended a wedding band by a thread over the palm of the pregnant girl. If the ring swung in an oval or circular motion the baby would be a girl. If it swung in a straight line the baby would be a boy. If your right hand itches, you will get money. If your left hand does, you are going to give money to someone. A piece of string or thread on your clothing was a sign that money was on its way.
While most people I have talked to claim they are not superstitious, in reality they are. A lot of people will not put up a new calendar for the new year until the old one has passed. Does the bridegroom still avoid seeing his potential bride on the evening before the wedding and on the morning of the wedding? According to superstition, the bride should not be seen by him until she walks down the aisle and they meet at the altar.
Here are a few more! If you are a smoker, you dare not participate in having three cigarettes lit with one match. If you observe a horseshoe hanging over the doorway of a friend’s home, it will be difficult for that friend to convince you he is not superstitious. Some people refuse to be photographed if they are in the middle of three subjects. They will not admit that they believe the person in the middle will meet an untimely death. Did you believe that if you used the same pencil to take a test that you used to study for it, the pencil would remember the answers? If someone collects elephants, must their trunks face the door?
I am certain there are many, many superstitions that I have omitted. There are superstitions that you embrace, just as I embrace some. But, as you call on your superstitions to fight off the demons or to bring you good luck, think about the luck that is supposed to come from having a rabbit’s foot. Clearly it did not bring the rabbit good luck. So much for the credibility of superstitions. But as silly and ridiculous as superstitions may be, they do serve one purpose; they take us back to some fond memories and great moments that most of us refer to as, back in the day.