Calumet Roots

Spooky stuff leads to cultural superstitions that abound in region

2013-10-13T00:00:00Z Spooky stuff leads to cultural superstitions that abound in regionBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I have never quite figured out why Halloween has been my favorite holiday. I think it has to do with the fact that all the spooky stuff in life is concentrated into one day and that has led to our natural response to place “funny stuff” at the base of the holiday.

Think back for yourself. Doesn’t most of the fun and games connect with the spookiest of events? Most of us, in trying to explain the unexplainable, wind up with a heartwarming event.

Most of the time, this ends up in a silly superstition. For example, my father, who was the least superstitious man I knew, lost his wig when, during the darkest days of his visit to the precincts of the end of everything, he opened something indoors and out flew a bird which knocked around the house before escaping out of doors.

A bird in the home meant certain death, according to an old wives’ tale. When I heard that, I was really surprised. The closest I had come to anything like that was one night listening to a dog on the loose, howling at the moon. That, too, was supposed to signal death in the neighborhood.

Since the Calumet Region is represented by so many old cultures, it is not surprising to find a rich tapestry of superstitions about death.

Think about the atmosphere of beliefs. A century or so ago, residents of the Calumet Region had little to go on but actual happenings in the area. Every event was a kind of given.

As time moved on, these leaves of fact took on a magical cast. A little further down the line, these “facts” often found their pairs in something very much alike. That made them certain predictors of the future.

It had little to do with momentum, and everything to do with flat-out belief. One of the manifestations of this belief system was the ascendancy of gambling in the Calumet Region. There was a whole school of gambling for every quirk in the local belief system.

Without getting into which system prevailed, because that would take forever to examine, it is worth noting that gambling became a big part of everyone’s life from an early age. For example, a boy could go to the local sweet shop and gamble that the chewing gum balls he received from a machine wore the kind of stripes that won him another gumball.

Wandering around the sweet shop, he could find gambling in practically every part of it. For example, every piece of candy in the store in some way reflected a bet. Some of these bets were obvious because they were clearly that and nothing else.

As much as the gambling bug pervaded every tray of sugar in the place, gambling for gain appeared throughout the store. As customers became older, the gambling became more straightforward. I’m not sure I ever saw anybody pay for cigars. The usual vehicle was the dancing dominoes of the dice family.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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