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A family from the Midwest was visiting the Midcoast recently and as they walked beside the ocean the father said, "Now don't hesitate to ask me any questions you might have, kids. Like I always say, that's how we learn things."
At that point the oldest son, a bright kid of 12, said, "Hey, dad, where do all these waves come from?"
"That's a good question, son." the father began, "but to tell you the truth I have no clue where they come from."
A few minutes later another of his curious kids piped up and asked, "Dad, why is the water blue, instead of clear?"
The father said, "Another great question, but, again, I have no idea."
A few more minutes go by and another inquiring kid asks, "Dad, how did all these holes in the sand get here?"
"Once again I have no clue, son" the father said.
The oldest son then said, "Dad, I hope we're not bugging you with all these questions."
The father said, "Of course not, son. Like I said, that's how you learn things.” Paul, an inquiring reader from North Yarmouth, emailed me with a question of his own. He writes: “John, Your column is always the first thing I turn to every week in our Yarmouth paper. I particularly enjoy your explanations of where certain words and customs come from. So, why is a rabbit's foot considered good luck? They're not too lucky for the rabbits who lose them.”
Thanks for the inquiring email, Paul.
Some historians say that the “good luck” business associated with the rabbit's foot came from the ancient Celts (the race, not the basketball team) who believed that since the rabbit burrowed into the ground and seemed to live there quite comfortably, it must be on pretty good terms with the leprechauns, or “little people,” whom, the Celts believed, ran things down there. These same historians claim that the Celts also believed that since the rabbit is born with its eyes open it must see more and know more than the rest of us. For these reasons, say these historians, the Celts considered the rabbit's foot lucky.
It sounded pretty good to me, Paul, until I realized that it's the hare that's born with its eyes open, not the rabbit. The rabbit, we're told, is blind as a bat at birth. Also, hares live above ground, so their connections with the little people would be about the same as the rest of us.
Some ancient people believed that since the rabbit appeared to be so fertile and rabbits bred like, well, rabbits, it was often associated with things like abundance and prosperity - or good luck. It just goes to show, Paul, how things have changed. Imagine someone today saying, "Look at those parents and their 12 kids. Aren't they fertile and lucky?"
One of my favorite explanations of the rabbit's foot-good luck connection comes from "Origins and Firsts" a fine book by Jacob M. Braude. According to Braude, the lucky rabbit's foot business has nothing to do with the Celts or even the Knicks. It comes from folks in show business, where the rabbit's foot was used like a powder-puff to apply makeup. If a performer lost her rabbit's foot she couldn't put on her makeup, and if she couldn't put on her makeup the show wouldn't go on and that - in show business - is very back luck.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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