A family from the Midwest was visiting the Mid-coast 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."
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 waves 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, son, you’ve got me stumped. I don’t have the slightest inkling of how those holes got there," 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, how are you supposed to learn anything?"
Well, I agree and it's why I’ve always encouraged my readers to email me with any questions they might have about Maine. That's how you learn things!
Paul, an inquiring reader from North Yarmouth recently emailed with a question of his own.
Paul writes: John, Your column is always the first thing I turn to every week in our Yarmouth newspaper. I particularly enjoy your explanations of where certain words and phrases come from.
I assume you can provide an answer to my question. Why is a rabbit's foot considered good luck? They're not lucky for the rabbits who lost them.
Thanks for the inquiring email, Paul. Good question.
Some historians say that the "good luck” business associated with the rabbit’s foot comes 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, but reading further I learned that it's the hare that is born with its eyes open, not the rabbit. The rabbit, we’re told, is blind-as-a-bat at birth - the way many people seem to be when driving on the interstate. 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 quite fertile and they bred like, well, rabbits, it was often associated with things like fertility and abundance and prosperity - and by extension - good luck.
It shows you, Paul, how things have changed. Imagine someone today saying, "Look at those parents and their 12 kids. They’re obviously fertile and must be very 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 Braud 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 his or her rabbit's foot they couldn't put on her makeup and if they couldn't put on their makeup the show wouldn't go on and that - in show business - is still considered 'bad luck.'
Of course, show biz people also say "break a leg" instead of "good luck" before someone goes onstage.I hope you've learned something from all this.