"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Omens for the ides of March

By on February 22, 2021 in Columnist with 2 Comments

By Susan Sampson

When I turn the page on my wall calendar to March, it looks pretty bleak. 

I see no national holidays or religious events to celebrate. Sometimes Easter falls in March, but not this year. 

I do see St. Patrick’s day on March 17 — wear green, or I get to pinch you. 

Some of my paternal Finnish-American relatives observe St. Urho’s day on March 16, the day before. They claim that St. Urho ridded Finland of grasshoppers, saving its wine industry. (St. Urho is totally a fictional excuse to party. He was created in northern Minnesota in 1950.)

My maternal relatives descended from Germans, and that included my grandmother Edith Goers, whose birthday was March 25. She’d be 120 years old this year. 

She held a headful of lore that she passed on to my mother, some of which still trickles down through the family even yet, like a bad gene.

Grandmother taught her girls that,

Whistling girls and crowing hens

always come to some bad end.

Also, if your nose itches, you are going to kiss a fool. If you slop water down your front when you wash dishes, you are going to marry a drunk. 

“Be careful,” she warned. “If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years of bad luck. If you knock over the salt shaker and spill some salt, toss a pinch of salt over your left shoulder, or you’ll have bad luck.” (I remember a Dagwood comic where Dagwood spills some salt in a restaurant. When he tosses a pinch over his shoulder for luck, he hits the diner behind him.) 

“Be nice” she said. “If you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back.” My mother injured her back carrying me, but that was before I was walking, so it wasn’t entirely my fault.

Grandmother knew her omens. “Red sky at morning…” but everybody’s granny knew that one. 

Did you take a sudden chill that made you shudder? Somebody just stepped on your grave. Does the fuzzy bear caterpillar have broad stripes? Then we’ll have a hard winter. (My mother claimed that her hair was thicker before a cold winter, too.)

Grandmother’s lessons were endless. “Take care of yourself. Clean your dinner plate to make it a good day tomorrow. Besides, think of the starving Armenians. Don’t make faces or your face will freeze that way. Don’t walk barefooted — that will make your feet too wide.” 

We lived on the sandy Oregon coast where it was too cold to go barefooted unless the sand was too hot to step on, but my feet turned out short and wide anyway. That works fine for flip-flops and huaraches, not so much so for pointy-toed shoes with spiked heels. 

“To get rid of your warts, steal your mother’s dishcloth and bury it in the back yard,” she taught her own daughter, my mother. Mom did that, and it worked, but when my brother got warts on his hand, she took him to the doctor. There’s no sense in wasting a good dishcloth, I guess, or teaching your son to steal.

“Be lucky. If you see a white horse, make a wish, dab your thumb on your tongue, make a fist, and smack your fist into your other palm. Is it your birthday? Make a wish, then blow out the candles on your birthday cake in one breath.” (That horrifies my son who holds a Ph.D. in public health. He’s been concerned about droplets since before COVID-19.) 

If you can find chicken meat with a breastbone intact, scrape off the meat, dry the bone for a day, then find somebody to pull the wishbone with you. According to Grandma, when the bone breaks, whoever is left with the larger piece will be lucky. 

But my husband Jerry, aeronautical engineer (retired) that he is, applies some quick structural analysis to the bone, tugs it sharply, and always breaks it into three parts, sending the lucky tip flying across the room, so nobody wins. 

On the other hand, to my surprise, Jerry was insistent upon obeying the cautions of one particular myth, not one of Grandma’s. 

We were visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, walking on the beach, when I found a rock studded with small crystals of green peridot. We’d visited the Volcanoes National Park the day before, where park rangers warned that if anybody took rocks from the park, they’d bring down the wrath of the goddess Pele, who would shower them with bad luck. 

I love crystals, not for their auras or soothing influences or medicinal values, but for my fascination with their molecular structures. But at Jerry’s insistence, I left the rock on the beach. I’ve come to think that he just didn’t want to help me carry it. 

“An owl in your household brings good luck,” Grandma said. I think she meant in your eaves; nobody wants owl pellets in the attic. 

A week or so ago, I heard a Great Horned Owl in the night. Then, three nights ago, as Jerry sat in a darkened living room watching the night sky, he saw a large bird fly up to the house and perch on the roof. We sneaked outside in the dark, then shone the beam of a flashlight up on the roof for just a second so as not to disturb it. 

There it was, a Great Horned Owl, looking down on us with huge eyes. Will we be lucky? Grandma would tell us to keep our fingers crossed. 

Fingers crossed or not, the calendar promises that spring arrives March 21. 

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  1. Margot LeRoy says:

    Lovely piece on the heritage we all carry inside us from our older relatives…Now that we are older, I have no idea what my Grandsons will remember.

  2. Why isn’t this front-page, above-the-fold Sunday NYT? Not joking. We could all use a dose of this.

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