Superstitions–a topic close to my heart having grown up with an Italian-American grandmother and now living in southern Italy, where Roman Catholicism and mysticism live in surprising perfect harmony.
That phenomenon is worth a whole post, and indeed books have been written on the subject. Perhaps someday I’ll wax theoretical, but for today, let’s stick in the here and now, the daily implications of superstition in my life.
I’ve already written about my experiences with malocchio, The Evil Eye, perhaps the greatest superstition of all, especially since it crosses many cultures and religions. Some of my other favorite superstitions are things you should avoid doing lest you invite bad luck: placing a loaf of bread upside down, spilling wine, olive oil, or salt, dropping scissors.
Another of my favorites is that a pregnant woman’s cravings should always be satisfied or else the baby will be born with a birthmark in the form of the desired food or the child will be generally disfigured. You scoff?
I inherited a birthmark that my father has because my pregnant grandmother expressed her craving for chicken while scratching her legs. Yes, we both have chicken-shaped birthmarks on our calves (although I prefer to think it looks more like a heart). Someday I may show you, but sorry, today’s not the day.
All of my pregnant readers are more than welcome to quote me on this topic, by the way.
But my freakiest experience with southern Italian superstition happened about a year ago when P’s mom rushed into the house with tears in her eyes, begging me to go and retrieve some of her jewelry she had given me a few months before.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I had a dream.” I’m pretty sure she thought that would be enough information, but, you know, I’m American, so I ask questions.
“About the jewelry?” I was still not making a move for the steps to get the jewelry, so she gently guided me with her hands.
“No, about you and my son, and….” She sat down, started rocking back and forth, made repeated, furious signs of the cross, and began mumbling what I assume were prayers.
“What happened in the dream?” I stepped down two steps and stopped.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” she said, and continued saying prayers and crying. I didn’t see the conversation going any further, so I didn’t push it. I assumed that P and I had been dead in the dream–because if we had just broken up in the dream, that wouldn’t have been so upsetting? Right? Hard to tell. I went to get the jewelry.
“This is everything?” she asked as I handed her a few little boxes that contained earrings and a necklace I rather liked–it had a tiny ladybug charm, which, ironically, I always thought meant good luck.
“Yes, that’s everything. Do you want something to…”
“OK, I have to go,” she said abruptly and left, still saying prayers and still crying, but most importantly clutching the jewelry.
So I was left in the wake of this early morning encounter to consider not only my own and P’s mortality, but also what the jewelry had to do with any of it. Through various research including thinking back to my own grandmother but *not* including asking P’s mom, because this is a subject not to be discussed, I think maybe I’ve figured it out.
Among southern Italians, it’s a common practice that when one prays to a particular saint or the Virgin Mary for a request, one often promises something in return–many times it is a piece of jewelry to be pinned to the clothes of a statue.
I’m wondering if perhaps P’s mom had promised my pieces of jewelry somewhere along the way for some request, and then saw something bad happening in her dream because she gave them to me instead. Or perhaps she had simply promised away that jewelry in lieu of P and I staying alive and/or together. Or maybe she had seen something in the dream about the jewelry somehow causing trouble.
Like I said, I haven’t asked, because, truth be told, I don’t actually want to know the whole story. I’m definitely superstitious, and I believe in messages coming through dreams, so this was one time I was more than happy to live in blissful ignorance.
In fact, I didn’t even tell my own mom about this until I figured P and I were in the clear. Like birthmarks, superstitions seem to run in the family.