Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday the 13th: A Day for Superstitions

Many people are aware of the reputation of Friday the 13th as a day for bad luck in Western civilization and are therefore extremely afraid when the 13th falls on a Friday.  There's even a word for that fear:  paraskevidekatriaphobia (try to say that three times -- or should it be thirteen times? -- quickly).

My mother was superstitious about a lot of things, but she flipped a couple of superstitions to the reverse.  So she considered Friday the 13th to be a good luck day.  She also said that black cats were good luck.  I agree with that one, because I think of all cats as being good luck.

But she taught me several other superstitions that I still follow.

Lot of people have heard that it's bad luck to open an umbrella in the house.  That one you can come up with some reasons why you wouldn't want to do it, and maybe they morphed into it being bad luck to do.

My mother taught me that it's bad luck to put a hat on a bed.  She had a minor fit the day I graduated from high school, because when we got home after the ceremony I tossed my mortarboard onto my bed.  She ran over and grabbed it off the bed, kvetching at me about how I dared do such a thing.  I told her I hadn't really thought of the mortarboard as a "hat", to which she responded, "You put it on your head, don't you?"  So I've never put a mortarboard on my bed again.

It's also bad luck to put shoes on a bed.  I can't say that I remember putting shoes on my bed, but I remember my mother telling me I shouldn't do it.  I'm sure she would say that slippers count as shoes because you put them on your feet.  I may have put slippers on the bed once or twice, but never around her.

For several superstitions, you can come up with a logical explanation of why you might not want to do that or why it could be bad for, but superstitions aren't really about logic.  Bad luck for seven years if you break a mirror is another commonly known superstition.  It's also one that you can come up with a good explanation for -- now you have a lot of broken glass around and you might cut yourself.

Don't walk under a ladder, because that's bad luck.  Okay, that makes sense also.  If you walk under a ladder, something might fall on you from it, or the ladder itself might fall on top of you.

But what's with knocking wood?  Why is it good luck to knock wood?  Well, maybe not good luck, but a way to ward off bad luck.  You say something and then knock wood.  Yup, my mother did that a lot.

Do you know the one about salt?  If you spill salt, you're supposed to take some and throw it over your shoulder, or bad luck will come to you.  I've read that one probably comes from the days when salt was extremely expensive, so spilling it was wasteful.

Along with these starter superstitions that my mother provided for me, I have learned additional ones on my journey through life.

My mother said that if someone dies on a piece of furniture, such as a couch, you have to get rid of that furniture.  Sounding like a corollary to that is if someone is wearing shoes when he commits suicide, you can't use the shoes again but have to get rid of them.  That one didn't come from my mother but from a published family memoir.  (I've been told these are specifically Jewish superstitions.)

How about picking up a penny?  "Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck."  Sure, I learned that from my mother.  But someone later in my life (I think my friend Eileen?) taught me a second half to that rhyme:  "Find a penny, leave it lay, bad luck will follow you all the day."  I know it was Eileen who taught me a variation on this:  If the penny is face up, you're supposed to pick it up, because that's the good luck side.  If it's face down, you don't pick it up, but you flip it over so that the next person who comes across it can pick it up to get the good luck.  Bet you didn't know superstitions could be that complicated, did you?

Eileen also taught me a superstition for necklaces.  Often, while you are wearing a necklace, the latch circles around from the back of your neck and ends up in front touching the pendant.  When that happens, you're supposed to kiss the latch for good luck and then return it to the back of your neck.

I learned my first "foreign" superstition when I worked in the USC Industrial and Systems Engineering Department.  We had three Turkish professors in the department, and they all followed this.  You can't take a knife directly from someone's hand; if you do, the two of you will fight soon.  Once I gave a letter opener to Ali Kiran, one of the Turks.  He quickly put it down on the counter and lightly spat in its direction.  I, of course, asked him just what in the world he was doing.  He said he had taken the letter opener from me without thinking but then, realizing that it, in terms of superstitions, was essentially a knife (kind of like the mortarboard and a hat), he had to counter the bad luck -- which is done by getting the offending item out of your hand immediately and then spitting on it.  So I filed that away in the back of my head to remember.  Scissors count for this one also.

Another superstition I picked up somewhere (maybe the Chinese roommate I had for a while) was that spilling rice from your bowl is bad luck.  This sounds similar to the one for salt, because rice is such an important food staple that you wouldn't want to waste it.  I don't remember it there is a way to remedy the situation if you do spill some, however.

Do you know any interesting superstitions you learned in your family?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Grandparents Day

To celebrate Grandparents Day this year, this is a photo of my five grandchildren last year when we went to Sauvie Island for the corn maze and choosing pumpkins for Hallowe'en.  Unfortunately, the light rain that started when we arrived turned into a torrential downpour before we were halfway through the maze, which we bailed on, and we all ended up looking very soggy.  This photo was taken when we had only been dripped on a little bit.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Create Your Own Tombstone

Is it morbid to create your own tombstone?  Randy Seaver of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun apparently doesn't think so!

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1) Create your own tombstone at http://www.tombstonebuilder.com/.  And/or create one for a relative who doesn't have one, or one for an event or significant issue.

(2) Share your creation with the genea-sphere in your own blog post, or on Facebook or Instagram.  Be sure to drop a link in a comment to this post.


Here's mine:


I couldn't figure out how long I want to live, so I left it up in the air.

I also created a tombstone for Moses Mulliner, one of my Revolutionary War ancestors.  His brother was a Loyalist who was hung for treason, yet he has a tombstone that is regularly replaced.  Moses has no surviving tombstone, even though he was a Patriot.  So I figure Moses deserves one.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your School Yearbook Photos

It's always fun to have a timely subject, which is what Randy Seaver has done this week for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(
1) Ancestry.com updated their School Yearbook collection and it is FREE to access until 2 September.  Use https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/yearbooksindex/.

(2) Show us your school yearbook photos from the Ancestry collection, or from your personal photo collection.  Tell us the school and year.  Add your spouse or best friend or children if you wish!


(3) Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog, or in a Facebook post.

Here's what I could come up with:

So first of all, I was surprised to see that my high school — Niceville Senior High School, in beautiful Niceville, Florida — actually is represented in the collection.  Unfortunately, none of the years I attended (1976–1979) is there, and I have no idea where my yearbooks are in the house.  I know I bought them and kept them, but they're in a box somewhere.  So much for high school photos of me!

I did find the USC yearbook for my senior year in the collection.  I graduated in 1983.

Janice Sellers, University of Southern California yearbook, 1983, page 174


Next I tried looking for my parents.  I didn't find my mother, but I did find two photos of my father in the 1954 Seminole High School (Sanford, Florida) yearbook.  I wish I had found these three months ago, while my father was stil alive.  I could have asked him about his experiences in the Pan American Club, Projectionist Club, Camera Club, and Glee Club (although I think the first three might have been in Moorestown, which was spelled incorrectly in the yearbook).

Salmagundi, Seminole High School yearbook, 1954, senior photos, page 28

Salmagundi, Seminole High School yearbook, 1954, Glee Club, page 59

I couldn't find any of my grandparents.  I looked for my best candidate for my paternal grandfather's biological father and struck out.  I did, however, find my ex, who went to Santa Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica, California.

Hugh Singh, Compass, Santa Monica Catholic High School yearbook,
1966 (freshman), 1967 (sophomore), and 1969 (senior)

I also found the younger of my mother's two brothers (but not the older), about a dozen members of my aunt's family (but not her), and all three of my ex's brothers (but not his half-sister).  Obviously, one could spend many, many hours searching through these for family members.  They sure are fun!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Ancestor with Most Unusual Occupation

Randy Seaver has gone in a different direction for tonight's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge:

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1)  Which of your ancestors had an unusual occupation?


(2) Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog, or in a Facebook post.


Well, I haven't found any truly unusual occupations while researching my family, and certainly no snake oil salesmen.  The best I can come up with is that my great-great-grandfather Frederick Cleworth Dunstan was a file grinder in the suburbs of Manchester, England.  It used to be a fairly common occupation, but I don't know if people still work doing that.

There's an interesting essay online about the life of file grinders in Sheffield, England, which was pretty harsh.  I'm guessing that it was similar in Manchester.   Unfortunately, nowhere in the essay does it actually define the work that a file grinder did, so I'm still a little fuzzy on that.  I don't know what types of files were ground or what the files were used for.  The impression I have is that file grinders were pretty far down on the socioeconomic scale, however.  I was particularly struck by the comment that most file grinders died young, because that is what happened to Frederick Dunstan, who was only about 34 years old when he died.  He left behind my widowed great-great-grandmother Maria (Winn) Dunstan and five children.