“I’m Not Superstitious, But–“: 1926

“I’m Not Superstitious, But—“

Nina Wilcox Putnam

America’s Only Woman Humorist [!!?!?!]

As Sir Walter Raleigh said, when spreading his coat over the mud puddle for Queen Elizabeth, “Step on it, kid, this is your lucky day and mine, too. I only regret that I have but one coat to lay down for my country.”

And how true it is that some things bring you luck, providing you believe they do, certainly was proved to me not long ago when I luckily picked up the telephone receiver on a busy wire and heard that the cook was leaving over at Miss Demeanor’s. I was lucky and quick enough to beat all the other ladies in Dinglewood to luring her.

The cooks, if any, which we have had this part year have positively caused a draft going through our kitchen, that’s how fast they went. And now, quite by accident, I run across the fact that this cook was leaving, so naturally I ran across and asked would she come to us, and she said she would, and so I went right on back home and scrubbed the kitchen floor, washed the windows, tied red bows on the kitchen curtains, moved the best easy chair, radio and five-foot bookshelf out there, also a few little other odds and ends into her quarters such as my long mirror, my best red room slippers, and etc. to make her feel thoroughly comfortable.

The Conquering Cook Comes

Well, the next morning, which was when we was expecting her, I fixed myself up as attractive as possible and sat down to wait for her. Pretty soon the doorbell give a loud ring, and my heart give a ditto leap, and I though, oh heavens, there she is and hurried to answer. Well, it was, actually she had showed. I took her bags and carried them upstairs and showed her her room, asked was there anything I could do for her, found she would fancy a little cake and tea, and then I left her in privacy while I went down to fix things up like she wanted, and while I was doing so, the bell rang again, and this time who would it be only that Mabel Bush, the one that’s married to Joe Bush of the Hawthorne Club.

Well, at first I thought where Mabel must have been shopping, on account she had something with her from pretty near every department of the Emporium. But no, she was merely going away for a coupula weeks and had brought some stuff she wanted to park with me while she was gone.

Say dear, she says when she had got her breath. I wonder would you mind taking care of my goldfish while I and Joe is out in Kansas visiting mother. He’s a real sweet little feller, ain’t you, Otto? See how cute he is, Jennie? And he don’t bite or anything unless he’s crossed. With that she hauled out one of the meanest looking goldfish I ever saw in my life. It gives me an awful funny look right off, but naturally I merely says why hello, Otto, nice Otto, pretty feller, of course I’ll take care of him, Mabel, what does he eat? Oh, fishcakes, she says, or any old thing. Now go to your Aunt Jennie, Otto, that’s the boy!

Mabel Dodges the Jinx

Well, I took his glass globe and put I on the table, a little uneasy over how the new cook would feel about another mouth to feed after I had told her there was only three in the family. But before I got a chance to go do any heavy worrying, Mabel had pulled a wild-looking fern out from a handbag, and set the poor helpless thing at my feet. ‘There!’ she says “I’m sure you don’t mind looking after that; all you got to do is water it once a day with double-filtered water, brush its leaves, pick the spiders and seeds off it, and give it a little sunshine.

Then before I had a chance to kick she was after me with another coupla bundles. “This is just the canary,” she says, “and here, my dear, is my peacock fan and my opal pin. Of course I’m not a bit superstitious, but I always say there is no use taking silly chances, and there have been three wrecks around mother’s neighbourhood lately, and I hate to leave them in the house in case burglars was to break in, so you don’t mind if I leave them with you, do you?”

Why Mabel Bush, I says, do you mean to tell me you are superstitious about taking them things with you? I says, why you ought to be ashamed of such ideas. I wouldn’t be so childish, why what harm can a father fan and few opals do? Well, she says, of course they can’t do any harm, I know that, so you really won’t mind keeping them until I get back? I says of course not, dear, but honest, I think you ought to take them along, just to overcome such nonsensical ideas.

Jennie Takes no Chances.

Well, Mabel wouldn’t insult my intelligence by taking them things off the place once she had brought them, so she left them and went on her way. And after she had done so, why I put the livestock around the dining-room, and then I didn’t quite know where to put that opal pin and Mabel’s peacock fan for safe-keeping. Of course I didn’t have the faintest feeling about keeping them in the house, even with a new cook there, so I left ‘em lay where she put them.

Then I picked up a pin off the floor, walking around so’s to make sure the point was towards me, and went out in the kitchen to ask Mary, the new cook, did she know anybody owning a second-hand black cat they didn’t need? Not that I really thought it would do any good, but some people have the idea a black cat is lucky, and while I personally myself certainly don’t believe in any such nonsense, why as long as I had the idea in my head I thought I might as well get a black cat to kinda counteract the idea of that fan and opals. Well, it seems Mary had a cat meeting my specifications up to her house and she offered to go right up and get it, but I wasn’t taking any chances of letting her out. So  says, oh no, don’t bother, I will go, where is it? And she says no. 13 West 113th St.

Luck Looks Up.

That number, of course, didn’t sound awful good to me, but I says to myself, now don’t be silly, it is a pure coincidence, you go get that cat just the same. So I did, and there was a ladder standing over the front door when I got there. Not that I minded this any more than poison, and naturally I hadn’t come all that long way in order to be turned back by a mere childish superstition. So I went under the ladder and knocked on the door and after a while somebody put their head out the window and says what do you want? And I says, Mary, that’s my cook, at least she was when I left home, told me her daughter had a black cat. And the party in the window says Mary’s daughter ain’t ever here Fridays, but I’ll get you the cat. So she done so in a bag, and my good luck started right away.

Well, anyways, I was lucky enough to get home alive and without being arrested in spite of the bloody murder that animal was yelling. And I was lucky with it another way, on account no sooner was that cat established in our home than I no longer had to bother feeding my goldfish. I didn’t haf to bury it, the nice kitty attended to all that.

Naturally, however, I had to replace Otto, so I ordered another poor fish of exactly the same pattern, ordered it kept down in the fish department of the Emporium until Mabel got ready to come back. It was just as well, anyways, on account the new cook claimed she never could of stood the noise it didn’t make.

Welcoming the Horseshoe

Now of course I wasn’t one bit superstitious about them opals being in the house, but I have to admit I commenced dropping tea spoons right after Mabel parked stuff with me. Not that I believe it really is unlucky to drop a spoon, but once I got the idea why I felt there wouldn’t be any actual harm in doing everything I could to counteract the thought. And so it was certainly rather cheering when Junior brought in a nice horseshoe with three nails in it. I had a good time gilding it up, and panting a few forget me nots on it, so’s nobody would think anything peculiar when I hung it up over the parlor mantel.

Ad nobody did, not even when by accident in hanging it, I happened to brush Mabel’s peacock fan off the mantel and into the open fire. I felt awful bad about this and what to do certainly was the question. It was one thing to page a new gold fish, but not a soul I knew kept even one peacock, and so he only thing I could hope for was that Mabel had her stuff well insured.

I wouldn’t want to lay the blame on any of Mabel’s belongings. I am not that kind of a fool, but it’s the truth that the very day I bought a picture postal of a peacock in order to make things up to Mabel the best I could, why somebody, the cat, so the cook said, left the dining room window open, let Mabel’s fern freeze, and of course, the only one of the same style our florist had in stock was twice as big and four times as expensive. But that didn’t matter so bad, because all I would have to do when she come back would be to say look, dear, what wonderful care I have taken of your plant, just see how it has grown and etc.

Worse and More of It.

Hot Bozo! As if that wasn’t enough the darn canary bird she had left on my hands commenced moulting. We could hear him at it every morning earl, and never once got dressed and down in time to stop him. So I had to go spend a couple or three dollars on hair tonic and after he drank the first couple of bottles he begun to look better. Just the same he had a distinctly shingle bobbed appearance by the time I got a letter from Mabel telling where she would be home in two days and if it wasn’t too much bother, would I mind ordering milk and ice, and loaning them a little coal, and running over to air the house and tell the furnace man to build a fire and ask the newspaper man to commence leaving the Morning Yell again. And she hoped it wouldn’t be too much bother.

So I done like she asked, and I addition carted all her stuff over for her—all, that is to say, except them opals. Look as I could, I wasn’t able to locate that pin any place. I stubbed my toe looking and every one knows that meant you’re going some place where you’re not welcome without that jewel? The cook got sore when I asked if she had seen the darn thing, and says well, if she wasn’t trusted, there was no use in he r staying any longer. So she took her bag, wages and departure.

And still I couldn’t find no pin, so I decided, well, that cook never would of left me flat like that and walked out unless she really had stolen it, after all! Not that I’m the least superstitious, but I might of known I wouldn’t have a minute’s luck with opals in the house. I don’t believe in any superstition in the world, but there has certainly been nothing go right since Mable left them stones here, and what and the world am I gonner tell her when I see her tomorrow?

One Superstition Left

Well, naturally there wasn’t nothing to do except tell her the truth. And so when Mabel come home and I was over there to her house with everything ready for her like she had asked, and she says how lovely and neighborly of you, dear, I’m afraid it’s been a terrible lot of bother. Why, of course I says, not in the least, darling. It’s been no bother at all. It’s been a pleasure. But, I says, I got bad news for you. I lost your opal pin, dear, not that I’m one bit superstitious, but it certainly brought me bad luck all the while it was with me and now it’s gone.

And she says, why Jennie Jules, she says, it was never there at all. I didn’t leave it there. I took it along with me after all, on account of the way you kidded me about being superstitious! And I give her one look. No! I says, meaning yes. So you never left it! I says. Well, I do guess there is one superstition I do believe in, after all, which is that when a person’s nose itches it means they are going to kiss a fool, and so, if you’ve got a mirror handy, I believe I’ll get the job over with right now.

The Sunday news [Charleston SC 17 January 1926

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Just in time for the 13th of the month, this whimsical account touches on just about every common superstition of the early twentieth century, as well as the problem of Keeping a Cook. Peacock feathers, opals, and black cats were all considered unlucky, although sceptics tried to reason people out of their fears of jinxes and hoodoos and fashion tried to trump superstition, all to no avail; some individuals still believe these articles to be problematic even to-day.

That rankly superstitious person over at Haunted Ohio has a theory, writing:

“Judging by the persistence of ‘superstitions,’ one wonders if, in the same way humans need certain vital gut bacteria and an exposure to dirt in childhood to maintain a healthy immune system, humans need a salutary dose of the illogical from time to time to top up whatever part of the brain it feeds.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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