I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover by
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Prompted By Superstition

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Superstitious? Who me? No way!

Superstitious? Who me? No way!

As a kid, I had a lucky rabbit’s foot, searched for four-leaf clovers, and always, always held my breath when we were driving past a cemetery. If I spilled any salt, I threw some of it over my left shoulder. I knocked on wood or crossed my fingers for good luck. I had my own lucky horseshoe, with my name on it, and knew that it had to be hung with the open end up, so that the good luck would not spill out. I worried about bad things happening on Friday the 13th, so I always tried to be extra careful on that day. I had certain clothing that I wore for luck when I had a test in school.

Then there was the whole protocol involved in wishing, because your wish would only come true if you made it correctly. The wishbone of a chicken or turkey provided an opportunity for two people to wish as they pulled it apart, but only the one who got the larger half when it broke would have her wish come true. The wish you made when blowing out the candles on your birthday cake would only come true if you extinguished them all with one blow AND did not tell anyone what you wished for. Wishing on the first star at night was another ritual, but first you had to recite the poem “Star light, star bright / First star I see tonight / Wish I may and wish I might / Have the wish I wish tonight.” Finally, the ceremony to ensure a lucky month: on the last night of the old month, the final thing you did before going to sleep was to turn in a circle three times while saying “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.” First thing in the morning you would turn three circles in the opposite direction while saying “Tibbar, tibbar, tibbar.” Important caveat: you couldn’t talk to anyone between the two sets of circles or it wouldn’t work. I did this every month for years!

And now?

I do still sometimes knock on wood for good luck, although I don’t really believe that it has any effect. I will say “we are keeping our fingers crossed” about something good that I am hoping will happen, but I don’t literally cross my fingers, and I just view it as an expression that means we are hoping that it will happen. I now think of Friday the 13th as a good luck day, because it was the day that my current husband and I got together back in 1977, but I don’t seriously think anything lucky will occur just because the 13th of any given month happens to fall on a Friday. And I don’t expect wishes made on wishbones, or birthday candles, or stars to come true.

The one thing I am still strongly superstitious about could be described as not tempting fate by saying how good something is. For example, if we are driving on a route that is often very congested, such as Sacramento to San Francisco, or Los Angeles to Whittier, and there doesn’t seem to be much traffic, it is NOT okay to say out loud, “gee, the traffic is moving well.” Making such a statement guarantees that there will be a traffic jam within the next few miles. Even though I know, logically, that something someone says inside of one car can’t possibly affect what happens on the road up ahead, still, if my husband starts to say something, I quickly hush him, saying DON’T TEMPT FATE! There are many other situations where this superstition applies, but the traffic one is the one that comes up most frequently.

  • * * *

An interesting take on superstition is found in The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, one of my favorite obscure musicals. I saw it on Broadway with my mother when it opened in 1965, and we waited at the stage door afterward to get Anthony Newley to autograph my Playbill. As the title suggests, it is an upside down or backwards look at life (since the real phrase referring to the experience of actors is “the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd”). Several of the songs from the show became famous, including “A Wonderful Day Like Today,” “Who Can I Turn To?” and “Feeling Good,” but the song about superstition says that planning for something isn’t enough to make it happen, you have to engage in some superstition too. Here are partial lyrics, and a link to Anthony Newley singing the song. If the song sounds familiar, it may be because it was used in episode 5 of the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

It isn’t enough to hope.
It isn’t enough to dream
It isn’t enough to plot and plan and scheme.

Why not wish upon a wishbone,
Pick a four-leaf clover,
Rub a rabbit’s foot and
Throw a horse shoe over
Your lucky shoulder?

You’ll find before you’re very much older
A bit of luck will come your way.
Now isn’t that enough to make your day?

 

 

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Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy, I knew you’d come up with an appropriate song, and so I wasn’t surprised at the title of your story!
    In this scary time we can all use a little luck!

    • Suzy says:

      Dana, I was planning on calling it “Luck Be a Lady” (from Guys and Dolls) or “With a LIttle Bit of Luck” (from My Fair Lady) but then my husband convinced me that luck and superstition were not the same thing.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I love your description of all the “classic” superstitions, Suzy, and particularly the dissertation on the need to make a wish “right” for it to come true. And your recollection of the, er, protocols, is consistent with mine, so it must be correct!

    And a great reference to “Roar of the Greasepaint….” which I also saw — and had the album from — and really loved. However, I didn’t remember the superstition song, even when watching Mrs. Maisel. I will definitely have to find a YouTube of it.

    Finally, as you will see from my own Retro story, we are entirely in sync about your “don’t tempt fate” superstition when things are going well. If you do, a bird may just fly over your head.

    • Suzy says:

      Glad you can confirm my recollections, John, and also that you are another fan of “Roar of the Greasepaint.” Such a wonderful show, but probably only people who lived in the NY area got to see it. You don’t need to “find” a YouTube of “It Isn’t Enough” because I provide a link right in the story. Just click anywhere on “link to Anthony Newley singing the song.”

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Nice reference to all those old superstitions, Suzy. I’d forgotten about knocking on wood and lucky horse shoe, or making a wish before blowing out those birthday candles, but we all do that.

    I am not really familiar with “Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd”, beyond the title, but do know some of the songs you mention. Fascinating lyrics and so appropriate to this prompt. Thanks for adding to my Broadway repertoire!

    • Suzy says:

      Knocking on wood has always been a big one for me. And of course there were times when nothing around me was actually made out of wood and I had to settle for knocking on plastic 🙂 .

      “Roar of the Greasepaint” is a brilliant show, but probably a little too subversive for regional theater or HS and college drama departments, so not too many people outside the NY area ever knew about it. If you ever get the chance, you should definitely see it!

  4. And when there’s no wood to knock on, how many of us knock on our heads!? Surely not just me!

    So many of the classics you brought up rely on “not telling”…do throwing coins in wishing wells count? You’re not supposed to tell anyone your wish, so I guess so. I still cross my fingers…and there’s even an emoji for it when I want to do it via text. Did you ever hear that you can only cross your fingers on one hand…if you do it with both hands, one cancels the other. Yep.

    Thanks for explaining Roar of the Greasepaint…love the wordplay! You theatre people have so much rich tradition!

    A wonderful compendium of superstitions, Suzy…and well told!

    • Suzy says:

      Never knocked on my head, just on the nearest surface, which, as I said to Betsy, was sometimes plastic. Thanks for reminding me about wishing wells, which definitely count! And I didn’t know that crossed fingers on both hands cancel each other out – no wonder that didn’t work so well for me.

      Not sure I consider myself a “theatre person,” more just an avid theatre goer. I had the good fortune of growing up right outside NYC and going to every show on Broadway in the ’60s, when ticket prices were cheaper than movie tickets are now.

  5. Marian says:

    Love the “don’t tempt fate” thinking, Suzy, because doesn’t it often seem to work that way? Especially on the freeways you mention, which before the lockdown, we’d take to visit both Dick’s and my family. We had the same dynamic as you and your husband. Now you’ve got me curious about The Roar of the Greasepaint .. which I hadn’t had the good fortune of seeing!

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, everyone seems to have that freeway experience. And I know that you and I drive (or drove) on the same freeways, yet still have not managed to meet. After this is over, we definitely have to get together!

      You can listen to the wonderful music from Roar of the Greasepaint, but I doubt you’ll ever find a production to see live. I did find one on youtube that is pretty good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heORSuz49yM. The song “It Isn’t Enough” is at 16:30.

  6. Wow, what an archive of superstitions! I had heard of most, but not all. But your traffic superstition has a corollary I know all too well. It’s about cruising down a limited access highway and noticing that the traffic in the opposite direction is hopelessly snarled. The curse is to even think, “boy at least we don’t have to deal with that.” ‘Cause sure enough it will happen.

    • Suzy says:

      Interesting that you have found that corollary to be true, I have not. There have been dozens of times that I have been in the situation you describe and have said to anyone else in the car, “wow, look at the traffic in the other direction, glad we’re not going that way!” with no detrimental effect. Maybe the key is that my statement does NOT say “we don’t have to deal with that,” which clearly seems like tempting fate.

  7. I loved that end-of-the-month chant! I’m going to try that from now until election day, although, if one talks to the person in bed with you after your first rabbit spin, we could kibosh the whole ritual.

    I haven’t yet seen a reference to Stevie Wonder’s terrific song “Superstition.”
    “When you believe in things
    That you don’t understand,
    Then you suffer,
    Superstition aint the way”

    That about gets to the core of it!

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, that is a problem with “rabbit, rabbit,” it’s easier to keep the silence when you’re sleeping alone. (Btw, I fixed your spelling of kibosh.)

      Since Barb not only talked about the Stevie Wonder song in her story, but used the album cover as her featured image, the rest of us didn’t need to!

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    Very cool story, Suzy. I observed all of the same superstitions as you up to the ceremony to ensure a lucky month. I never heard of that one before. Of course, I also say knock on wood or cross your fingers, although I can use an emoji for that one. I got a good laugh out of the traffic one, although it is usually my husband who tempts fate, forcing me to go on Waze to get us out of the mess. I loved “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd” as well as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I think we all had similar childhoods in that respect. Usually when we hit those awful traffic jams (caused by tempting fate), we are on limited access freeways, and even Waze can’t help us get out of the mess.

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