Once upon a time, in a land called the Bronx, on the fourth floor of a six-story, light-colored, brick apartment building, there lived a family of five: a mommy, a daddy and three adorable daughters.
They were a happy family with a whole lot of superstitions. Many of them seemed silly, some seemed prophetic, and others seemed, well, ridiculous.
Do not step over a person lying on the ground, or he will stop growing.
Although we knew this was crazy, believe me when I say we would shake with guilt, maybe even shame, when we dared the spirits in charge of human growth by stepping over a person lying down. As we continued celebrating birthdays, we realized we were never going to be basketball players. Could it be we dared those spirits one too many times? Or could it be the DNA factor?
The DNA factor: If my aunts, grandma or mom (z”l) sat back comfortably on a sofa, their feet did not touch the ground. If, however, they chose to sit at the edge of their seats, they would indeed seem taller.
My cousin Larry took a photo of the aunts with their feet swinging, not touching the floor. A photo for the ages.
Then there was the slap across the face of the girls in the family who reached puberty, a stage our mom called “unwell.” I still do not know what the slap possibly had to do with becoming a woman. I can only assure you that this practice ended with me.
Oh, my dear readers, you will love this one: If you are attempting to sew an article of clothing you are wearing, such as sewing on a button or tacking a loose hem, you must — yes, I said must — chew some thread. If you don’t chew a small piece of thread — I actually have no idea what could befall you. But I do sew and chew to this very day.
Were you aware that two people must never play with, cut or color your hair at the same time? I am totally baffled by this superstition, and I never mentioned it to my girls.
With good reason: I love when someone plays with my hair.
On road trips when my girls were young, we divided my hair into four equal parts. Each of my girls took one quarter of my head. Each of the girls had a container filled with barrettes, ponytail holders, a comb, a brush, ribbons, etc. My hair became their palette for creative play.
Customers at the various places we stopped for snack, drink or gas tried so hard not to point as they guffawed. They had no appreciation for all the hard work that went into the creation called Mommy’s Hair Art.
Our apartment in the Bronx had a steam pipe in our bathroom that brought us heat on cold winter days. The steam pipe traveled through all the apartments, providing heat to everyone in the building. What our family did not have were tooth fairies.
It is important for you to understand the true importance of the steam pipe and the cover for the hole in the floor through which the pipe traveled.
When I was around 5 or 6, I lost my first baby tooth. After starting my career as a student, my first important lifecycle event, losing a tooth came in a close second in importance.
My mom washed the tooth and showed me where to place it so the mice — yes, the mice — would find it and bring me a new tooth. There was an adage I was taught and had to repeat during this spiritual process. I first recited the sentence in Yiddish, then, in case the mouse did not speak Yiddish, I repeated it in English:
“Little mouse, little mouse, I give you this little baby tooth; please bring me a new one.”
Today, of course, the tooth fairies, who somehow reside in a bottle of colored water, arrive while our children are sleeping, exchanging the tooth for money.
Seriously, does this make any more sense than giving a tooth to a mouse down a steam pipe?