After Alan and I got married, we started thinking about houses. Neither of ours made a suitable home – his house was small with a large fenced yard, perfect for a bachelor with several dogs. Mine was the opposite, a larger house with a tiny yard, perfect for an artist who mostly liked to be left alone. We decided to sell mine and rent his to my daughter, who was just entering her adult years.
We spent several months finishing all the projects I had started, adding a fresh coat of paint, going through the requisite inspections, then fixing more things before my house quietly languished on the market for a year. I had a few half-hearted offers during that time, but mostly it sat.
I was commiserating with an acquaintance at a dinner party when I heard a sharp Irish voice behind me ask Did ya bury your St. Joseph? I had no idea what she meant. My commiserator, who was also selling her home, exclaimed that she buried hers just last week. Well, didja? I was asked pointedly again.
They both proceeded to educate me on the intricacies of the ritual in a semi-contradictory fashion: the statue must be buried upside-down near the front door. Or the backyard. Within 100 feet of the “for sale” sign. Or was it 50? In a plastic bag. NO, definitely not a bag. He should be uncomfortable, but don’t suffocate him for god’s sake. After it sells, you promise to dig him up and put him in a place of honor in your new home. Or, leave him for the new owner. The only thing they both agreed on was that it always works. The stories of successes of a friend-of-a-friend poured forth. I promised to try it.
I’ll admit I have little background in such rituals. I wasn’t raised Catholic, and anyone who knows of my childhood Christian background will appreciate just how deeply dissimilar they are. My limited experience in Catholicism included sewing vestments in a former life (which I quickly got out of once I learned how easy it was to offend someone by giving them precisely what they asked for), and a brief stint filling in for a teacher at a Catholic high school, an odd place where the students dressed in formal attire while the teachers showed up in sandals and shorts.
I wasn’t exactly sure where one gets such a statue, although I seemed to remember my grandfather keeping one in his jacket pocket. It was a small metal token, meant to protect you during travel, I was told. Or perhaps he had sold a house at one time. I wasn’t sure if it was the same saint, and regardless my grandfather had passed away years before. So I looked in the only place I could think of, Amazon.com. I had no idea what I was looking for, so I did what every consumer does in such a situation – found the cheapest one, then bought the one right above it.
The statue arrived a few days later, packaged in the sort of hard plastic you need the jaws of life to remove. It was an odd pinkish-peach color, like a naked doll – definitely not the metal relic of my grandfather. It came with instructions which Alan and I read with careful amusement. We figured we were allowed to laugh a little, just not so much that we would insult the heavens should this actually work the way others seemed to think it did. I set it aside and almost forgot about it until Alan insisted I bury it. He was not one to be superstitious, but it had been his five bucks, so I’d better hold up my end of the deal.
It was raining the day I buried St. Joseph, the sort of large, splotchy drops that always seem to find the bare spot on the back of your neck. I was at the house to briefly fix something or another and the statue came with. I’d thought to bring a trowel, but that was the extent of my planning. I had a meeting shortly after so I was dressed in semi-nice clothes and on a deadline.
I did my errand, then went to the front flower bed. I stuck in the trowel to find the ground like cement. I did my best to scrape a bit of dirt away and figured I’d make up the difference in mulch. None of the instructions had specified the nature of the soil, after all. I stuck the statue in upside down as I’d been instructed and felt a snap. There was St. Joseph’s little pink head lying next to his body. I may not know much about Catholicism, but I suspected this was not good. I glanced around to see if anyone had been watching, then quickly scooped the mulch in a pile on top and left. My neighbors were mostly Jewish – I figured even if they’d caught my casualty, they’d likely be more perplexed than offended.
Later that evening, Alan asked how everything went. Fine, I said quickly and changed the subject. I’m not a good liar, and he can read me like a book. He squinted his eyes to study me. I ‘fessed up. Alan is a farmer at heart, and he called me out immediately. You just shoved him in the dirt, didn’t you? No, I truly hadn’t. Didn’t you use the trowel I gave you? Yes, I had. I don’t know what upset him more – that I had broken the statue, or that I had treated the dirt so badly.
A few weeks later, we had a bonfire with company over. The Irish woman and my commiserator were there. They asked if I’d gotten my statue yet and I said yes. I asked jokingly what it meant if St. Joseph’s head was broken. The Irish woman just shook her head slowly, dreadfully, saying Ohhh nooo… over and over again. This was not good.
A month after I had buried St. Joseph, I got a call from my agent. There’d been an offer on the house. A rather low offer – the buyer’s agent hadn’t even called, just sent the papers. He assumed she’d been too embarrassed. It was a cash offer, in shekels, no less. Even my real estate agent hadn’t caught the currency note. But I’d done enough international transactions to know that we weren’t talking dollars.
We countered up and met in the middle. A fair enough price for a weak market. At least, fair enough for someone who wanted nothing more than to close this chapter of her book. Within a week we had signed papers, passed inspections, and did all the sorts of things one does in such a situation, only more quickly. It would be closed by Christmas.
I don’t pretend to understand the mysteries of life, or Catholicism. But I can’t say it didn’t work. And perhaps if St. Joseph had had his vertebrae intact, the offer would have been better. As it was, it was a timely gift and a huge relief. I would happily become one of the many friend-of-a-friend success stories in exchange for the weight lifted. And I promised to not call upon the heavens again too soon.