There it was, lurking near our office copy machine, spidery metal arms outstretched, its waterproof skin just waiting to envelop misfortune.
Who on earth would be clueless to the fact (OK, fine, superstition) that an umbrella open within the confines of a roofed structure is a portent of doom?
As I rushed to close it, a colleague at Southern Methodist University, where I worked at the time, chimed in with her lilting Alabama drawl.
“Oh, is that in your way?” Carolyn said. “I’m just letting it dry off.”
Dry off—open? Indoors?
“Just kick it to the side.”
Kick it to the side—open?
The Selma, Alabama, native—25 years my senior and the most Southern of Southern ladies—should, of all people, know the open-umbrella-indoors score.
“No worries,” I replied. “I’ll just close it.”
As I fumbled to fasten the pesky parasol, Carolyn’s raised eyebrows told me my skittishness was a tad unbecoming.
“It’s absurd, I know,” I said, compelled to explain. “But it’s been drilled into me that open umbrellas indoors bring bad luck.”
Carolyn pshawed. “I used to pay attention to such things, but at my age, I know it’s just foolishness,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and paying me no mind. “Like the saying goes, ‘Que será, será.’ Whatever will be, will be.”
But not if we don’t make it be.
Back at my desk, I gave the situation more thought. Carolyn had a point. How could any intelligent individual believe fate could be altered by a silly open umbrella?
Do people outside the South fret about spilled salt? Black cats crossing the road? Walking under open ladders? Not eating black-eyed peas and cabbage on New Year’s Day? My, what a neurotic lot we seem to be! But adhering to all the dos and don’ts of old wives’ tales makes us a rather quaint bunch.
My husband and I, for instance, try never to walk in separate directions around a column or parking lot stopblock, but, if the situation is altogether unavoidable, we both say “bread and butter” (to ensure, of course, that we always stick together). We knock on wood while discussing someone’s misfortune to keep the same bad luck from befalling us.
We’ve painted our porch ceilings “haint blue,” not really believing evil spirits (a.k.a. “haints”) will avoid our homes, but because it’s lovely. And the houses we grew up in and around were painted similarly. But if that soft blue-green hue—resembling sea water, thought to confuse wayward spirits—can keep Ol’ Scratch out of our abode, well, then, all the better.
As my thoughts returned to work-related concerns, I overheard our boss grousing at the copier.
“Ugh! Why is this broken? I need printouts for a meeting that starts in ten minutes!”
The rustling of paper and slamming of various plastic copier doors soon followed—as did a defeated sigh accompanied by, “Alas, no such luck.”
“Mercury must be retrograde,” Carolyn replied.
Or the god of open umbrellas.
In our 2022 essay series, author Denise Gee shares memories and personal tales that celebrate the inimitable joys and escapades of Southern life. A Natchez, Mississippi, native, she is the author of six acclaimed books on Southern entertaining and design. Denise has worked for decades as a writer, editor, and stylist for magazines including Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens, and Coastal Living—and now, Southern Lady. She and her photographer-husband, Robert Peacock, make their home in McKinney, Texas. For more, visit denisegee.com.
Discover inspiring style ideas, seasonal recipes, and more by ordering your Southern Lady subscription today!