by Jean Snelling (U3A Bunbury, Western Australia)
Seven years bad luck. How the breaking of a mirror could cause such strife was incomprehensible, but I believed it and, being clumsy, I’d already accumulated a lifetime’s bad luck before I was in my teens.
My first major disaster happened when I was a naughty six year old. After being sent up to my bedroom and banging the door shut, I locked it. Then I climbed into the wardrobe to hide. The heavy mirrored door wouldn’t close so I took off my hair ribbon and tied it to the little key on the outside. With all the jerking, pushing the door out and yanking it back, we began to wobble. Then we toppled – the wardrobe and me.
Apparently my mother couldn’t open the bedroom door. She ran screaming into the street and stopped a coal-man passing in his horse-drawn cart who placed a ladder to the upstairs window, climbed in and rescued me.
I don’t remember any pain. What is imprinted in my memory is the coal-man’s black face with the whites of his eyes shining spookily and the wails of my mother afterwards, prophesying seven years bad luck.
Some years later I’d saved up my precious pocket money to buy a second-hand pair of ballet shoes. Because my father always laughed at my ballet dancing and called me a fairy elephant I kept them at my auntie’s house. Her parquet floored hall was a much better place to practise anyway, sur les pointes. The only problem was I couldn’t see my feet in the long oval mirror that hung opposite the front door. So one day I unhooked it. It was so heavy I nearly dropped it, but eventually managed to prop it against the wall. Just perfect, until I slipped. You’ve guessed, of course. The mirror crashed down and with me beside it I gazed in horror at the crack right down the middle.
Auntie rushed from the kitchen. Scared stiff, I tried to talk between my sobbs. “Im ever so sorry, it’s another seven years … bad luck … isn’t it?”
As she helped me hop towards the settee and took my shoes off she chuckled, “Stuff and nonsense. I don’t believe in superstitions and neither should you. As a matter of fact I’m glad to see the end of that old-fashioned mirror.”
“You are?” She’d placed a pillow under my leg and was alternating cold and hot flannels on my swelling ankle.
“Yes. Silly as it sounds, nearly every time I open the front door my own image gives me a scare. Sometimes I think it’s a burglar. So now I can buy a nice modern picture to hang in its place. And I’ll wait until your sprain has healed so you can help me choose one.” Only then did I realize how much my injury was throbbing.
Throughout my childhood there were several other cracked mirrors, like almost used-up powder compacts I’d been given to play with and, worst of all, my hand mirror, part of the pretty dressing-table set bought for my twelfth Christmas and accidentally smashed to smithereens on Boxing Day. Enough to bring bad luck for almost a hundred years, but I stuck to auntie’s advice and refused to be superstitious.
I deliberately stepped on all the cracks in the pavement and dared to walk under every ladder I caught sight of, despite being frightened. When it was my turn to set the table, knives were crossed, salt was spilt and NOT thrown over my left shoulder. Umbrellas were opened in the house, shoes put on the table when nobody was around and I wore my knickers inside out.
Recently my grandchildren wanted to know what superstitions are. All because one of them sneezed and I said “Bless you.” To simplify things I told a white lie. “Saying ‘bless you’ means the sneezer’s cold will soon get better.” How could I say that in ancient times when someone sneezed the Devil was supposed to enter their open mouth. In the 17th century sneezers were destined to die in the Great Plague.
I did explain that superstitions were sayings that some people believe in but their meanings may have changed as they passed down through many generations. “They are usually things you’re not supposed to do in case it brings bad luck. You know what I mean, don’t you? Like stepping on cracks in the pavement …..”
“But Nan,” they chorused, ” that’s changed ‘cos we jump on cracks for fun.”
“And if someone gets an Achievement Certificate at school I give them a hug so their luck rubs off on me.”
“When I make a wish, I close my eyes and turn round three times.”
“Does it always work?” I queried.
“Sometimes.” they replied.
Such optimism. I didn’t have the heart to say they were all silly superstitions. Let them have their fun.
As for me, maybe I’ll have some fun too. From now on I’m going to cross my fingers. touch wood. say “Bring me luck” three times whenever I see a white horse in a field and when I gaze on the new moon tonight I shall turn all the money in my pocket over ……. and wish ……. but if I tell anyone it won’t come true ….. will it?