I don’t believe in luck, in a metaphysical sense. It’s kind of like Santa Claus: a fun idea; not real. But just like the idea of Santa, there’s a small part of me that sort of believes (or wants to believe?) just a teensy bit — against my logic and eschatology. Maybe that part of me is the motivation behind a “lucky” New Year’s Day meal. It’s either that, or I simply love a day when the menu is pre-set, and I don’t have to think, I just have to cook.
I’ve been making a classic Southern New Year’s Day dinner — some arrangement of black-eyed peas, ham, collard greens, and cornbread — for a few years now. And even without truly believing that eating this meal makes the year any better, it makes sense to partake. First, it’s nice to have a tradition, especially when it’s a meal we don’t eat often on other days of the year. Second, it’s cheap, which is nice when you’re facing the first day of a new year — one usually fraught with plans for saving more, being more generous, and the like. Third, it’s pretty darned good for you, and rings in the annual January respite from all the rich, sweet foods we’ve been indulging in just a little more (ahem) since way back in November.
When I awoke New Year’s day, I realized that I had not planned. Wasn’t sure I had black-eyed peas, and knew I didn’t have any collard greens. I dug around in the pantry, tossing about unlabeled plastic bags of various legumes and grains, and found a chalky half-bag of dried peas — maybe leftover from a year ago, purchased for the same purpose in 2009 (and yes, that does mean that I moved across 3 states with a half-bag of dried peas). It happened to be the exact amount of dried legumes I needed — maybe my luck was starting already? — so I set them to soak and went about making sure I had everything else I needed. My goal for the day was to hit as many thrift stores as I could in a 3-hour window of precious time alone (maybe my luck would hit double on January 1, and I’d find that 9-tray Excalibur Food Dehydrator marked $15 at Goodwill!), but I figured I could also squeeze in a stop for collards.
I got to thinking more about luck. If I were asked in a survey if I considered myself “lucky,” how would I answer? My immediate answer would probably be no. And the reason would be because somewhere along the way, my definition for luck became something synonymous with amassing great amounts of financial wealth (with, of course, little or no effort involved). Or, perhaps winning contests and giveaways and sweepstakes. Or maybe going to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and actually leaving with a new driver’s license. Truth be told, I don’t have a history of winning things, I always get a ticket if pulled over, and it might end up costing me several hundred dollars in court fees to get a license (not quite as dramatic as it sounds; it has to do with a nickname that was never legally adopted and unfortunately living in the most law-abiding state in the union). Do these things make me unlucky?
We went to a New Year’s party Thursday night. I heard myself saying to more than one person that I was more than ready to say goodbye to the Decade of the Aughts. One of the people who heard this desire was my husband, who gently reminded me (to the amusement of others) that I was basically wishing away the decade that comprised our entire relationship. Oh, right. Ok, no, it’s not like that. It just so happens that the past decade — the one we rang in with 9/11 — has been personally life-changing in no less than 7 ways (one marriage, three cross-state moves, three children, etc.). Those things can be really difficult, especially for someone like me who doesn’t really enjoy major life changes (even when those changes bring joy). And it’s true — when I look forward, I see more stability; at least from my meager viewpoint. We’re 90% sure that our family’s quiver is full, and we have the feeling we’ll be in Indiana for a good while. When I wish away the old, it’s all that tiresome change that I consider.
After my day of bargain-hunting (no, I didn’t come across the food dehydrator, but I did find some other great and needed items for my kitchen), I came home to quickly prepare dinner. I stirred the Hoppin’ John in my cast-iron dutch oven, and then did what I always did to clean off my stirring spoon: whacked it a few times on the rim of the pan. I was using one of my favorite wooden spoons — a short, thick maple one that had been a wedding gift from Tim’s Aunt Barb, way back in 2001. As the spoon hit the side of the pan with that familiar ring, it split in two, weak from the 9 years of abuse from my hand. I exclaimed, first in surprise, and then in sadness, that a favorite utensil had met its demise. I set it aside, unwilling to toss it just yet, and the next time I needed to stir, reached in my utensil crock for the brand-new bamboo slotted spoon that was a Christmas gift from Tim’s mom. Good thing you got that spoon for Christmas, Tim said.
Maybe our tradition of eating this meal on New Year’s Day can evolve into a time of consideration. What would have to happen for us to consider this new year lucky? As I look ahead to coming months, I see a lot of unknowns; we have no idea where we’ll be living come June 1st, we don’t know if we’ll be able to buy or need to continue renting, and we have a child with health problems that remain mysterious and have potential long-term consequences. But as I look back, I see provision for our family every step of the way, at every turn in the last decade. If someone asks me in the year 2020 if I consider myself a lucky person, I hope I say yes. But rather than answering so because I have won a sweepstakes or have at some point actually become a legal driver in this state, I hope my answer is yes because I’ve learned that sometimes spoons break — even spoons that have sentimental value; and I’m lucky because in the history of my life, I can look back and see that every time I’ve really needed a spoon, I’ve never been without.