Commentary

A Creature of Habit, Routines and Superstitions

By ANTHONY DiSIPIO | May 17, 2017

I’m a routine kind of guy. I like the comfort of doing things a certain way all the time, sort of anal retentive.

I’ve always had these little quirks that dotted my life. In my childhood, I liked to keep my creamed corn away from my mashed potatoes and always had my salad on a separate plate from my meal. I also followed the rules of the day as set down by my mother (“don’t cross your eyes; they’ll stay like that!”) for the most part. I did wear my galoshes in the house, though, and I did crack my knuckles, so maybe that’s the reason for my arthritis. But then again, I never stepped on a crack, saving my saintly mother’s back. I was always pretty cautious in that way.

I also tried to remember to do all the recommendations of the South Philadelphian Italian folklore handed down to me, such as not putting shoes on a table and closing my eyes and holding my breath when passing a cemetery.

But there was never any need back in the day for a Freudian analysis of these behaviors. And if my family ever did consider them suspicious, there was always Teresa the witch who lived on our street. No, not the “bubble, bubble toil and trouble” sort of pointy hat-wearing witch, but a woman who had the “power” to fight the “evil spirits,” or “the malocchio,” in Italian. You may be familiar with the “horn” that many Italians wear on a chain around the neck to ward off the malocchio. But if something got past the horn, in the old neighborhood there was usually a neighborhood “strega” to handle the problem.

Teresa once took a boil off my back – not sure how I got a boil, another story for another time – but she looked at the boil, went into her house and got some Fels Naptha brown soap (not to be confused with the Bon Ami cleanser the vecchia used on Saturday mornings to clean the front steps). She then put it on a clean, I hoped, rag and taped it on my back.

“Leave that on for three days. Don’t touch it and don’t get it wet.” Who was I to argue with the neighborhood witch at 11 years old? Plus, she accepted our insurance – none.

Three days later, with an unbelievably itchy back (showering daily has always been one of my biggest quirks, hence my joining the Navy), I went down the street to Teresa’s rowhouse. She sat me on her step, gently removed the adhesive tape and bandage, took her index finger and thumb and reached into the boil on my back. She pulled out something that looked like a string – I kid you not – from inside the boil. She cleaned the site up with some warm, soapy water, recovered it and retaped it.

“You should be fine in two days.” She went back in the house.

Of course, in two days, the bump on my back was gone, the itch was gone and the boil was gone. Go figure!

But in my mind, my routine idiosyncrasies don’t need a “strega” to handle them. Sometimes I think of them as a procedure to follow that leads to successful behavior, like my “getting ready side” (right side) when I get in bed at night and my “go to sleep side” (left side) when I’m actually going to sleep. Laugh if you will, but it works. 

Or maybe the comfort of doing things a certain way is to call up good vibes, karma or ju-ju, or whatever term is now being used for good luck. In college, grad school included, I always sat in the last row, third seat. Silly? I passed every class. Heh, heh, heh.

I have a special seat at Mass at St. Francis, too, whether it be at daily Mass or Saturday evening Vigil. I always make sure I arrive there early enough to get my preferred seating accommodations on Saturday nights: last row, first seat in the church hall, left side facing the altar. I can’t tell you the last time that seat was taken by anyone else but me on a Saturday night.

Come to think of it, my arriving early for events of all kinds is sort of a legendary quirk for me with my family. If the gates open at 11 a.m. for a 1 p.m. Phillies game, we’re opening the gates with the ushers. I don’t want to take any chances of missing a blessing or not getting to see batting practice. If you’re not ready to go, sorry: That bus is leaving!

I am also a charter member of the 7 a.m., “open the doors at ShopRite in Manahawkin” gang. There’s a group of about 12 of us every Sunday. We don’t really have a rally at the doors, just a nod of acknowledgement that we all share the same “shop early” goal. Don’t get there at 8; we’re all gone by then. 

I noticed, long ago, that I almost always put my left sock on first when I get dressed. It seemed to be coincidental, and I looked at it as a sort of “sign.” So now, I make sure my left sock goes on first. If for some reason it isn’t the first one on, just to be “safe,” I’ll take off the right sock if I have put it on first and put the left one on first instead. You know, maybe that is a little weird.

Can you find any stregas in Stafford Township in the yellow pages?

Anthony DiSipio lives in Manahawkin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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