In reflecting back on our childhood, I recall many hilarious superstitions that were prevalent in our Italian family. There is little argument that old school Italians are superstitious folks, and I remember quite a few superstitions in our home that would validate this claim!
Now, I’m not saying that these are exclusive to Italian families, but we sure seemed to have a lock on many of them!!!
Shall we talk about a few?
How about the “old spilling the salt one?” Don’t spill salt (or olive oil) for fear of bad luck. If it happens, one must quickly toss a bit of salt over each shoulder or rub a drop of oil behind each ear.
How I remember Dad throwing salt over his shoulder every time the poor guy knocked over the salt shaker!! He did it with such conviction and “gusto”, that my brother and I were certain that if he had not, demons from hell would have swooped in on us and taken one of us captive! Geez, even if I didn’t spill any, I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to toss some over the ol’ shoulder. No wonder Mom spent so much time sweeping the floor!! In hindsight, the olive oil one was hilarious. This one dad did not perform with the same conviction he did with the salt. Quite honestly, the way he dabbed a bit on His pinky finger and gently rubbed it behind his ear, it appeared he was applying a small amount of expensive perfume. It mixed just elegantly with his Aqua Velva!
Then there was the “Don’t put a hat on the Bed rule” I’m not sure what the origin of this one was so I looked it up: it appears that, Traditionally, when the sick were on their deathbeds a priest would come to receive their final confessions. The priest would remove his hat and set it on the bed so that he could put on the vestments. Thus, a hat on the bed is associated with eternal rest. ( A thought that keeps Italians from sleeping very peacefully at all.)
I remember one Christmas Eve in particular. Relatives were coming over for our annual Christmas Eve gathering at our apartment on 12th street and my job was to, after greeting the guests with the proper hugs and kisses, put their coats on the big bed in Mom and Dads bedroom. This particular Christmas Eve, our Uncle Dick wore a hat, damn him. Well, after the greeting I took the coats and other outerwear to the Bedroom. Like a fool, I tossed his hat on the bed with his coat. The look on my Mom’s face when she noticed said; “Dear God, we are all going to die on Christmas Eve.” She practically dove on the bed to quickly and effectively remove said hat. Her reaction was so “cat-like” And quick, that no one died that Christmas Eve and I was saved from the horror of being the cause of a family members death.
It was also very critical to have a Priest come and bless a new home or apartment. I do not necessarily mean new as in newly built, but new in the sense that one was moving into a new place. ( home or apartment) I believe this practice / (superstition?) is still followed among old School Italians, especially from southern Italy.
The ritual to rid the place of any spirits that may have been left by the previous owners could harm the new occupants. A new broom is a common first gift to sweep away evil spirits. Sprinkled salt in the corners, as well as a splash of Holy Water, will purify it.
When we moved to our new apartment on west 17th street, I remember Father C from St. Bernard parish coming over to take care of this. As a kid frightened of my own shadow anyway, having a Priest come over to ensure there were no evil spirits sure went a long way toward making my nights peaceful and restful….not!! What if he missed one? Thank God I shared a room with my brother.
Then there was the “ ol’ Itchy palm rule.” This superstition stated that if ones’ palm began to itch badly, that person was coming into money. How I recall numerous times seeing Dad vigorously scratching his palm, calling out to Mom; “ Babe!! My palm is itching!!!! Get ready!!!”
Oddly, we never came into money… go figure. ( but we sure as hell expected to!!)
There are many more, but I’ll close with one of my favorites. I say it is a favorite because Rob and I bought into this one all the way. This, my friends, was the famous “putting your shirt on inside-out or backward “ superstition.
Here is how it worked: if Dad put his shirt on backward / inside out at any time, it would mean we were due for a surprise, usually a surprise visit from a family member. Why this was a favorite for Rob and I was that we always looked forward to visits from our cousins, whether it be Cousin Chris and his family or Lorraine and Robin and their family.
We simply loved these visits, especially if they occurred during the summer at the bungalow in New Jersey. Mom bought into this one as well. I remember her clearly announcing in the morning: “well, Dad put his shirt on backwards!”
The inflection in her voice was clear to us; “get ready for a surprise!”
…. and we would. The anticipation and speculation would start immediately; “I wonder who’s’ coming???… “I wonder when they will get here??!” “What will be the surprise this time??”
We bought into this because I’ll be damned if it didn’t seem to come true most of the time. The announcement would be made about Dad putting his shirt on backward and, lo and behold, sometime later that day that beloved grey station wagon belonging to Chris’ parents would be pulling into the driveway!
I remember well Dads “I told you so” look. After all, he had put his shirt on backwards.
Of course, I do not recall, nor do I care to recall, the number of times absolutely nothing happened. I don’t remember those and I know there were many. I choose to remember the few times the “surprise happened”. It was validation to a kid…it was something to be excited about… it was magical. I don’t want to lose that.
So, fast forward many, many, many years. I am getting dressed in the morning and I put on my shirt inside-out or backwards…… for a second, a fleeting second, I find myself thinking…. “I wonder…?”