He walked around the room with the baby in his arms while ghosts with the smell of snuff on their breaths watched over his shoulder to make sure he was doing it right. He carried the baby close to his heart. And he whispered.
The old ways that used to be handed down through time are vanishing, like a foggy morning once the sun comes out.It used to be that old superstitions were as much an heirloom as old cookbooks and family Bibles—keepsakes to be passed down over and over to the next and next generations. “Don’t bring that hoe into this house, it’ll bring bad luck with it!” I remember Mama saying that as my young brother who, for some unknown reason, was walking through the front door with a hoe in his hand. “Birds singing at night bring bad luck” is another one. I guess it never dawned on anyone that many songsters do a better job after the sun goes down, or at least they think they do. I’ve seen this same phenomenon many times on a honky-tonk stage.
If your nose itched, company was coming. If your right eye itched, you were going to be glad. If your left eye itched, you were going to be mad.Though these beliefs are steeped in tradition, deep down, we don’t believe them. But then again, who wants to take any unnecessary risks with so much at stake? So we kinda believe because our parents did, as their parents did, and so on up the line. I sometimes repeat them when the right situation comes along or I’m just feeling nostalgic. I read of an interesting superstition the other day, one that my parents didn’t practice, at least not that I remember. But who knows? I was pretty young when I was born, so I wouldn’t have remembered it, anyway. It used to be when a new baby was born and brought home, chosen family members, like an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or trusted friend, would gather at the home and take turns carrying the baby around the room. They would amble and circle the room, holding the newborn near their hearts and whisper things to the baby. You weren’t supposed to tell anyone what you whisper because doing that would break the magic. Kinda like telling folks your wish after you puff out the birthday candles or wishing out loud after you see a star fall out of the sky. As each person totes the baby around the circle and whispers, the good qualities of that person are said to be absorbed into the baby, like the warm sun on a chilly day. Even though somewhere in the past, it was probably a part of my people’s beliefs, I had never heard of this practice. But who knows, my kin might have toted me and my brother around the room. Such traditions we might still do except that we just forgot how, like buck dancing, skinning a squirrel, or checking the moon phase before we plant potatoes. Four years ago, when my grandson was born, I restarted this tradition. I didn’t tell his parents what I was doing because they have a college education, and you know how education can drain the taste out of a superstition.
I walked around the room and whispered to my new grandson. I’m sure the ghosts of my people were looking over my shoulder, just to make sure I didn’t sour this ancient and important tradition of theirs.These would be the ghost of hard men humbled by the bundle they once carried. Hard men with a soft touch when it came to their babies. These men were as tough as a hickory hoe handle and as stubborn as a mule stuck in reverse. Their knuckles swelled from a lifetime of labor, so swelled they had a hard time fitting their hands into their pockets to reach that Case folding knife they always carried—just in case. These were not-so-holy men dressed in holey overalls that smelled like sweat and Sloan’s liniment, the cloth worn thin as air and faded the color of a winter sky. And alongside them would be the ghosts of mamas, grandmas, and great-grandmas, all of them draped in homemade dresses that looked a lot like feed sacks with buttons sewn on just to make them presentable. These dresses had at least one side pocket big enough to hold two cans of snuff and a King James New Testament. All these ghosts would gather around for one purpose: to watch and make sure I did this thing right. I’ve Googled every keyword I can think of and can find no information on this practice or just which people brought the tradition with them when they starved across the ocean. Is it true? Can a baby absorb good qualities? “Don’t be silly!” the pessimists will say. But I don’t know! It might be true! There are just some things we will never understand. And who wants to take any chances? Besides, it’s hard to suffer from pessimism when you are holding the antidote in your arms, close to your heart, and you are whispering.
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