© 2012 B.L. Bierley
Growing up in Small Town, Alabama, you learn a lot of variations on lessons young ladies must learn. Of course the regular “Miss Manners’ Guide to Being a Young Lady” rules apply where I’m from in the South. This hub will not be covering what I always called “home training” that you would probably call plain old manners.
Things like: don’t pass gas in public, same for picking any number of body parts, ditto for scratching, saying “please” and “thank you”, say “excuse me”, say “bless his/her heart” when giving a particularly scathing commentary on someone in the interest of gossip so you don’t come off looking like a witch with a capital “B”, etc. are universally understood in the South. But in this hub I’ll be focusing on an obscure branch of Southern young lady lessons I like to call, “Granny Superstitions.”
Of course, not all of these nuggets of wisdom came from my granny. Some came from others of her generation that I’ve had the privilege to know. Some of them make me a little uncomfortable to admit to strangers, but I’m a writer. I have an addiction to feed here. And for that reason I’m baring my soul in this article.
Don’t judge me, y’all.
It’s Only Silly If It Doesn’t Work
I have already begun working these little tidbits of learning into DaVelma and Ziggy’s life lessons, partly because it’s practically a family tradition to create weird creatures exactly like ourselves here in the South. Mostly it’s because I’m just weird like that anyway. But my kids know the important details and things that I must do in order to be easy about life. So here are a few of my favorite “Granny Superstitions” for your reading pleasure.
No Pocketbooks or Handbags on the Floor
Granny Superstition #1: “If you put your pocketbook (purse) on the ground, the devil will steal all your money!”
This lesson was tough for me to grasp at first. When I was little we didn’t have a lot of money, so I couldn’t really understand the reasoning behind it. If I put my empty pocketbook on the ground, with no money inside it, then there would be nothing for Ol’ Scratch to steal from me. But later in life, my grandmother explained this lesson in layman’s logic. A woman who puts her purse or pocketbook on the ground or floor has no respect for the item she’s worked so hard to buy at the Parisian’s or the J.C. Penney’s. In modern English you wouldn’t put your $500 dollar Dooney&Bourke handbag or a Coach tote on the floor if you’ve saved up to have that stylish expensive bag.
Women who have cheap purses don’t care where they put them. But if you have a nice purse and put it in a position of disrespect, it says you don’t care for your hard-earned item. This is a hard lesson for young people these days, many of whom are given things without having to do anything to earn them (like cell phones in back pockets, DaVelma).
Likewise the lack of respect for nicer things you own means you aren’t wise in your spending. You might not make good choices on the things you select or the items you purchase. And bad shopping or spend-thriftiness is ranked in the seven deadly sins under gluttony or vanity I’m sure.
Don’t Sweep on Holidays
Granny Superstition #2: “If you sweep on a holiday, you’re sweeping a member of your family or friends out of your life.”
Again, this message isn’t what it appears to the casual observer. I used to think this was literally the act of sweeping being a death sentence to someone I loved. But I misinterpreted it, as usual. Maybe for the truly superstitious members of my clan it is literally life-threatening. But for me, it’s a message: “Housework while you’re on vacation is crazy!”
Okay, I’m just kidding about that. We all do some housekeeping when we’ve got time off to get around to it. But in the case of this Granny Superstition, I think the message is aimed specifically at those times when you have actually company visiting.
Usually when it’s a holiday at my house (or any house I go when I don’t have to work) there are many folks I rarely get to see. I love to be able to catch up with their lives and see how they’ve changed since the last gathering. I don’t bother thinking about petty things like a little dirt on the kitchen floor. And that’s a good thing.
You see, if you spend your time sweeping (or cleaning) while people are visiting, you’ll miss out on something meaningful in those relationships.
If you’re always off doing chores you miss important holiday memories and milestones, and eventually people will stop coming to visit and worse, not include you in their gathering invitations. Folks like to see you when they visit. They don’t care if you’ve got red velvet cake crumbs on your counter or if your rug has a few crushed leaves that drifted in on someone’s shoes. They just want to be with you.
It’s sound advice, even if you’re not allergic to housework like some of us. I’ve almost got Cap convinced that mopping gives me a migraine.
Don’t Throw Pictures Away
Granny Superstition #3: “If you throw away a picture, you’ll lose that loved one forever.”
Again, this superstition is enough to create pack-rat tendencies the size of hoarder-storage containers. I am very much aware that this superstition isn’t literally what it says. And it’s been a hard lesson for me during the worst economic periods of my family to learn what I can let go of.
I am a writing addict, and a certified pack-rat. I have trouble letting go of anything: old baby clothes that will be moth-eaten long before DaVelma is old enough for me to allow her and her husband of several years to begin procreating and make me a Memaw, several boxes of Beanie Babies I got before my first divorce (which might have been a contributing factor to the problems Grease and I shared), my book collection that won’t fit on my book shelves, and all of my notebooks of book ideas, outlines and handwritten tales I’ve yet to type. All of these seemingly useless items take up the majority of my storage space. But the box of pictures I’ve managed to save is in a more precious location—in the climate-controlled office.
My kids and I look at the piles of envelopes whenever we’re just curious. I show them pictures of cousins they’ve never met, their grandmother who died before either of them was born, and all the grand and great-grandparents that were so natty in their suits and dresses, holding fat babies that would one day grow up to be Gigi, Uncle Jude, Uncle Maverick or Aunt Nana! It is grounds for divorce in our house if even one ancient, brittle negative should disappear.
My point here is that I save pictures mainly because sometimes it’s the only way to keep someone alive long after their earthly human vessel is gone.
Eat Something Specific on New Year’s Day
Granny Superstition #5-8: “Eat pork for health! Eat greens for money luck! Eat black eyed peas for every-day luck! And eat something sweet for love!”
Well those are a muddle, to be honest. I was a peculiar, finicky eater when I was a child. I think the majority of these little superstitions were just to get everyone to eat what was cooked on New Year’s Day.
At Grandma’s house we ate the following meal every January 1st for as long as I could remember: a baked country ham, turnip greens (or a green salad for the picky kid who wouldn’t eat what I often referred to as “boiled weeds”), black-eyed peas, and cornbread. There was usually a chocolate pie so thick it was almost like a tasty fudge pudding with a sugar-beaded meringue so beautiful it could have been on a cover of “Southern Living Magazine!” Nobody in the county could make pies as pretty or as delicious as Aunt Nana could!
If you take this superstition at face value, it’s just a silly wish for luck. But if you look closer, it’s a lesson to appreciate what you have and be thankful that your family is lucky enough to share a meal together to start their next year properly.
Even now, when I don’t have the luxury of staying with family all the way to New Year’s Day, it’s a tradition for me to phone my Aunt Nana and wish her and Uncle Maverick a Happy New Year. And I always detail every item I’ve eaten on the list. I even choke down a ketchup-smothered spoonful of black eyed peas-- those textured little dirt balls they try to pass off as vegetables, just for luck. It might be a little silly, but it makes me feel like one of the luckiest women in the world to have family who loves me enough to wish for luck with food!
And Your Point Is?
My kids are constantly nagging me about the crazy things I do under the guise of the infamous, “Because I said so” rule. For example, I prefer to have things in twos. I eat my French fries in pairs, making certain they are similar in size. I eat candy in pairs grouped together by color and flavor. I eat even numbers of things, bites, nuggets, portions, etc. I tell them all the time it’s part of a balanced diet. It’s actually a lingering Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I can’t shake, but really … who does it hurt? It keeps things even and makes them laugh at my eccentricities.
I'm sure every family has a little superstition somewhere amid their family wisdom. Feel free to share some of yours in the comments section. I keep mine going with my kids because I love them more than breathing, and I want the traditions to continue long after I'm gone. Plus it makes the family gatherings so much more entertaining! And like my granny always said:
“You only get laugh lines if you’re laughing alone.”