“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” I’d chant, skipping over the bumpy concrete sidewalks back when playing hopscotch was hip and so was playing in the road.
As a matter of fact, kids were encouraged to play outside whether it was in the road or in the field a holler’s length away.
The only boogie man that would possibly get us was the one in our heads. We knew it. Our parents knew it. The streets were safe to roam, dinner was served at six o’clock and superstitions were held in high regard by the most people. That’s just the way it was for a child growing up in the late 1970s.
None seemed sure, however, if the superstitions that trickled from one generation into another were true or not. My family was willing to take the chance if Dad getting married on Friday the 13th was any indication — his third marriage nonetheless. Maybe he thought the third time’s a charm, but then that would mean he gave the idiom credence.
Grandpa also flaunted his nonchalant attitude toward superstitions. His C.B. handle was “Lucky 13.” But hotels throughout the world don’t adopt his flippancy toward the number that’s synonymous with bad luck. Most hotels do not number their thirteenth floor “13,” but “14” instead.
I was reminded of this when two teenage boys stepped into an elevator of the hotel I was staying in during vacation this summer. “Thirteen,” one of them said, turning to his buddy. The boy who was closest to the numbered buttons scoured the panel until his friend’s repetition of “Thirteen,” turned into laughter.
Omitting “13” from the numerical sequence may comfort the majority of guests, but not me. I’d have to believe that the number is actually unlucky. Believing it to be unlucky may make it actually so.
Same with the lengthy list of superstitions, many of which herald a Biblical connection, Friday the 13th being one of the most popular. Judas was quite possibly the thirteenth person to sit at the Last Supper and Jesus was crucified on a Friday. In Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper depiction, an overturned salt shaker lies on table by Judas, hence the idea that spilled salt is indicative of treachery and should be tossed over your left shoulder to keep the Devil at bay.
Crossing one’s fingers was generated from early Christians who wanted to create their own good luck. As a symbol of faith, they formed the closest resemblance to a cross that they could by wrapping their middle fingers around their pointer one.
Perhaps it’s not as much the origin behind various superstitions that creates the outcome dictated by the saying as much as it is how much faith we infuse into them. We often talk ourselves into believing a superstition. If I’m driving down the highway and a black cat runs across the road in front of me, I can keep repeating to myself, “I’m going to wreck,” and chances of me wrecking probably increases, like, 80 percent.
If my hand itches and I get an unexpected check in the mail, I may attribute the bonus to the old wives’ tale that conveys an itchy palm means money’s coming or I may choose to believe that just my openness to receive the money actually attracted it to me.
Either way, I feel that my beliefs about every action I take is what controls the manifestation of events. If I believe that knocking on wood will prevent me from getting the latest flu going around, then I will knock. If I believe I don’t need to knock to block the bug, I won’t knock. Either way, the flu will more than likely pass me by because I am not afraid of getting it.
Bottom line: Fear has a tendency to attract disaster.
So, if you spill some salt on the dinner table tonight, sprinkle it on your taters, or throw it over your shoulder. Do what feels right to you. Just make sure to give thanks before you dig in.
You never know when you may be eating your last supper.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio.