Friday, April 8, 2016

Superstition: when you believe in things that you can't understand

"One of the oldest sightings of a black panther [came] in 1958 near Rome, Georgia. A motorist reported that a huge black panther jumped on the side of his care and left muddy pawprints on the side of the automobile. Other reports in Georgia exist, some in the metro Atlanta area" (

Apocryphal animal stories are among the most fascinating of tales. My babysitter used to talk of a wolf-like creature that came up on her son Melvin and frightened him half to death with eyes the size of silver dollars and a long red tongue lolling out. She told me she herself had seen a snake grab its tail in its mouth and roll like a hoop. I believed her implicitly. I think I still do, but suspect she suffered from a case of myopic gullibility.

I observed superstitions up until two weeks ago. My grandmother refused to open umbrellas in the house, knocked on wood, and threw salt over her shoulder. She kissed the hem of her skirt and made a wish when it was turned up. I thought my grandmother was a cool chick, and I followed suit.

My habit got more involved as I began to collect superstitions. I built a bottle tree at my mother's cabin on the creek to trap evil spirits and thought about painting my front door blue. I drove my children to the country in the middle of the night to wish on shooting stars. If anybody ever died in my home, I planned to cover the mirrors with a cloth. Morbid, you say? I say scholar of folklore. Just preserving Southern traditions.

One October night, my mother and I sat with a bottle of wine in front of a crackling fire at her cabin when she asked me if I really thought the bottles would trap evil spirits. I assumed she must be drunk because she has a college degree and taught English for 33 years. Of course I didn't think they caught evil spirits; I thought they caught the afternoon sunlight in a fetching way. I realized my mother actually believed that nonsense.

I told my sister and she said superstitious people are assholes, along with vegetarians and people who post about Donald Trump on Facebook. The last thing I wanted to be was an asshole. Right then I made a vow to quit with the salt and the hemlines.

Two black cats crossed my path this week and I didn't flinch. They weren't together, not two black cats out on a date, but two separate cats on two separate days. Otherwise,I might have turned the car around. As far as panthers in Georgia and snakes who roll around in circles, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. A live armadillo scuffled across the trail the other day in front of me. I never saw one not dead on the road before. I saw a 15-foot alligator swimming right by my kayak last year in Ocala, Florida.

I look forward to the day when I can toss a hat on a bed, though. Not there yet.

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