Philadelphia Metropolis


Knock on Wood

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As a Jewish girl growing up in southern New Jersey, I learned about Catholicism from watching The Sound of Music. I figured the local Catholic school kids were taught Arithmetic, Spelling, and "Climb Every Mountain" by nuns who reported to a Mother Superior.  Even though I wasn't Catholic, I lived with my own personal spiritual leader, my mom, aka Mother Superstition.

Money was on its way, Mother Superstition said, if my palm itched. A similar itch on the bottom of my foot predicted a future trip. If my neighbor Mariena rang the doorbell after somebody in our house dropped a fork, we'd be expecting her. A dropped fork predicted the arrival of a female visitor. A dropped knife meant a male guest. I never figured out the spoon. A dog? A cat? The neighborhood transvestite?

Spilled Salt Use This.jpgLuck, or more accurately bad luck was a household topic du jour. Bad luck was apparently like food allergies; it could happen if you didn't stay clear of known triggers.  So we always gave black cats their due space. I was sent off to piano recitals with "Break a leg" instead of "Good luck."  And I knew to blow out every darn candle on my 11th birthday cake in one puff, and not two, if I wanted that miniature, white poodle badly enough.

I never asked for an explanation for why I had to knock on wood after I said something like "Gee, I'm feeling really great." I just did it. But was one knock good enough? Why not two or three knocks?

Years later, as a parent myself, you'd think I'd drop the superstitions. But I can't.  So my sons grew up having to toss salt over their left shoulders if they accidentally spilled the saltshaker. And God forbid somebody opened an umbrella in the house.

I  hovered over them when they roughhoused as little boys, not necessarily for fear of injuries,  but more as a way of keeping them from smashing into a mirror and bringing us seven years of bad luck. They were instructed not to put their shoes on the table, not just for hygiene reasons, but because, according to Mother Superstition, shoes on the table meant bad luck. And woe is us if they wrestled in my home office and accidentally knocked Great-Great Grandmother Rosen's portrait off the wall. The ultimate bad luck: somebody we know kicking the bucket.

Yesterday, while watering some formerly perky petunias outside, a bird flew into the house through the open back door. I panicked and ran to the phone for help. This was a job for Mother Superstition.

"Mom," I panted, watching the bird flapping around the chandelier, "a little bird just flew into the house. Doesn't this mean some kind of horrible bad luck?"

"Just open some windows and it'll fly out," she said.

Huh? Calm "open your windows" advice from a woman who picks heads up pennies off filthy Center City streets for good luck? Was this the same person who once coerced me into returning a boyfriend's expensive Opal pendant gift because Opal wasn't my birthstone and would "bring tears?"

"Didn't you always say that a bird flying into the house was bad luck?"

"Actually," she said, "It's no big deal if it just flies in. But if it hits the house - that's another story. And if it hits the house and then dies, well we won't go there. Just open some windows and shoo it out."

I hung up somewhat reassured, opened the windows and waited. Sure enough, after a few more minutes of mayhem, the little bird flew out. I was vindicated without even a dropped feather or smidgen of bird poop.  

In any case, maybe I'll just keep my eyes out for a four-leaf clover when I walk the dog today. Or try to cheat this Thanksgiving with the turkey wishbone so I get the bigger half. 

A little extra good luck can't hurt.


Faith R. Foyil is a Bucks County writer and author of two books, 'Sunny Daze: The Humorous Misadventures of a Tropical Island Mom' and '101 Haiku for Moms.'


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