On Thanksgiving I was, like you, perhaps, busy cooking and eating and drinking and watching, or half-watching, or not watching, football. Surrounded by family and friends, steaming platters on the table, sweet dog underneath. My host proposed a toast to good company and good fortune. Honestly, our blessings seemed too many to count.
My hair was on my head, my iPhone was in my purse, and all my friends were still inside it sending cheerful messages like “xxx!” and “ha!” When it was time to leave, my car started and its four tires rolled flawlessly all the way to Baltimore. Once we got to our neighborhood, the roads were open and the house was right where we left it, not burned or flooded or robbed, the pumpkin from Halloween painted with the face of Taylor Swift gently caving in on the front rail.
Both my sons had jobs, my daughter was beautiful and healthy, my Scrabble set was missing only one letter and I knew which it was. My cardigan sweater was a lovely shade of cornflower blue and not itchy at all. As if waiting for me, it lay draped over a couch that faced a perfectly marvelous television, in which seasons of fine programming awaited our viewing. Like a cherry on top of a sundae, our remote was not lost. We had frozen foods and warm blankets and extra chairs for company, and our cute young neighbors never seemed to lack cigarettes and beer if need be.
Surely I was the most blessed among the blessed.
They say that if you ask a Jewish grandmother how many grandchildren she has, she will mumble or find some other way not to reply because the last thing you want to do is call attention to your good fortune, possibly offending a quick-to-anger God, one’s less fortunate neighbors or both. Labeling your luck with a number is thought to be particularly ill-advised. Who knows how big God’s own flat screen is?
But if you’ll notice, this is the exact opposite of the usual urging to count your blessings, and makes Thanksgiving look like one big festival of asking for trouble. What’s a third-generation American Jewish borderline-old-lady to do? Especially considering that she came downstairs this morning, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and found the dish disposal backed up into the sink with bits of vegetable detritus floating in the brown, oily water. The dishwasher was leaking similarly gross fluids onto the kitchen floor. Disgusting, yes, depressing, yes, and beyond that, suspiciously metaphorical.
Would calling a handyman be enough, or was something bigger going on? Could all this giving of thanks have invited the evil eye? Is this why my ex-husband’s ex-wife’s family in Pikesville doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving?
Fortunately Jewish tradition provides a prophylactic solution if you do mess up and start mentioning out loud how beautiful and healthy your daughter is, or how your Scrabble set is only missing one letter, or lose yourself in a mad orgy of blessing-counting as I did this holiday weekend. Kenahora, you say, and then, as if spitting three times on the ground, pu pu pu! Quick, say it with me right now: Kenahora, pu pu pu!
Kenahora is a portmanteau of one Yiddish and two Hebrew words smushed together, translating literally as “no evil eye.” Knock wood, no jinx, no back-takes, no take-backs — it’s all that and more.
This morning I discussed my situation with my friend Jessica who not only offered me the phone number of her plumber, but pointed out that a truly thorough approach to damage control at this point would include giving thanks for the blocked-up disposal and the dirty water, sent as they must have been by a loving universe to relieve me of the burden of too much good fortune.
Pretty gently, I might add. Kenahora pu pu pu.