Black Eyed Peas for Prosperity
(Photos NOT by PenguinScott)
Superstition has always been a curiosity to me. Never having bought into superstition, I’ve always walked under ladders, have no issues with black cats, and don’t blindly fall for most religious doctrine, which in my eyes, is nothing but superstition. There is one superstitious practice I generally adhere to, however, and that is that I tend to eat my pie crust first and finish with the point. Yes, there are people who think eating the point first is unlucky. My reason for doing so isn’t about luck but that the point of the pie slice is the middle of the pie; the best part, if you ask me.
Growing up, my father always made me eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Eve. It seems that in the southern United States, those who eat them are favored to discover good luck and fortune for the coming year. It’s a tradition I escaped from after leaving home and living on my own. I’ve had some really good years without my annual dose of black eyed peas; and I do like eating them!
However, after several years in a row of what I would call…less than stellar years…I recently decided to break down and give superstition a chance. I decided that my contribution to the New Year’s Eve party I had been invited to would be the lucky legume I had avoided for so long. What could it hurt, right?
No longer living in the south, it was not as easy to find them. Even though California has a pale-colored pea with a prominent dark spot named after it, none of the grocery stores I ventured into carried any. All right, that’s a bit of a mistruth; one did carry them, but not canned. I had been lazy and put off until the last minute purchasing any. December 31 is not the time to buy them raw and deal with cooking them. Not when the recipe calls for mixing a variety of canned beans to marinate overnight. Who knew it’d be so hard to find them?
The party was starting in a few hours. I still had time to try a few more stores. I could make it when I arrived, let it sit overnight, and the next day, when we prepared our brunch, ta-dah, magical good luck for all!
At this point, I had searched the shelves of five grocery stores. Then I thought about the Asian market a few miles out of my way, but surely to have them. After all, they have been commercially grown all over Asia much longer than they’ve been growing in the south.
The Asian market is one I enjoy going to from time to time. They have a variety of items any local store would have. The bonus is the wonderful selection of Asian items; from kitchenware to frozen and fresh dishes normally only ordered at a restaurant. They also carry cans of black eyed peas. I think I even heard a heavenly choir as I finally found it on the shelf; tears spilling out of my eyes. Finally, the bad luck of the past few years with health issues, financial issues and death would be washed away with a few spoonful’s of lucky peas looking in all directions with those dark eyes of theirs.
It was New Year’s Eve and the store, including the other restaurants and shops of the complex, all Asian, was bursting with patrons. Why, the parking lot was so packed that I wound up parking a full two blocks away on a neighborhood street. I was certainly determined.
Armed with my one can of peas, I found the line that appeared shortest and stood behind a young woman busy on her phone and began to look over the impulse items of Chinese cookies and treats. All of a sudden, a woman approaches with about a dozen items and plops them down on the conveyor belt. I realized that the teenager in front of me had nothing to purchase. She had been standing in line only to save a place for her mother. I tried to ignore it.
“Hi,” I started casually, “I think it’s rather rude of you to have your place saved in line like that.” She regarded me casually, in her black sweater and pants and well coiffed hair. “I’m her mother,” she replied simply.
“I don’t care if you’re if the president of the United States, what you did was selfish,” I replied back. I know. I feel horrible about it. But I’d been to five stores, walked two blocks from my car, and had been standing in line for over five minutes. Looking at the people behind me, I continued, “We all chose a line based on how quickly it was going to move. We all have plans. Then you come along with all these items and now we have to wait. It’s selfish of you to have your daughter hold your place in line while you shop.”
At this point, the woman starts into me, that I’m selfish, and she begins to raise her voice. I retort, “I’m selfish? You do something wrong and you blame me? That’s not how this works. You’re the one in the wrong. I’m simply calling you out on it; and you thought you’d get away with it.” She continues yelling at me and the effect on me was to raise my voice in return.
A security officer who was nearby approaches and inquires as to what is going on. She continues yelling at me and he asks her to calm down. The officer suggests that I move in front of her with my can of peas. I declined. If she feels it’s so important to cut in front of a group of strangers, by all means, let her finish her business. I simply want to let her know it’s wrong.
A young man in the next line over shouts out to me that I should let her be, and then he tells me I’m in an Asian market. Now I assume what he meant was that in Chinese tradition, one wouldn’t argue with a woman in line. Maybe he even meant that I should respect my elders. I looked younger than this woman, but I feel pretty confident that she was about my age. Surely, he wasn’t trying to infer that being the only non-Asian meant anything special.
I look around me mockingly and reply to the young man, “Really? I’m in an Asian market? Well, I had no idea. Thank you for getting involved and helping me out.” He makes a snide comment and leaves the debate.
The poor cashier had no idea how to handle it. Where she had been friendly and warm and talkative, she was now silent and sullen. She rang up the woman and placed her items in bags. The officer stood nearby. As she gathered her bags, she looked back at me, almost triumphantly. So I took the opportunity to get one more dig at her, “Good luck in the new year, you’re going to need it!” She almost looked shocked.
Her reply is something I don’t feel comfortable in writing in this story. There was a certain word that most people try to refrain from using in conversation in public. I asked if that was the proper example to set for her young daughter. She repeated a portion of her first retort and huffed off, the daughter still engrossed with her phone.
The cashier, still silent, rang up my can of black eyed peas and I paid. As I started to leave, the officer approached and warned me to beware of the young man from the other line. He and a friend were now standing in the lobby watching me and he was afraid for my welfare. I let him know in a voice they could certainly hear that I wasn’t concerned and that I could take care of myself. This was a lie. That young kid probably could have really put me in a world of hurt. But I’m a pretty good actor and know how to carry myself.
As I walked out of the market, I did so with my head held high and the can of peas firmly in my hand. Maybe they’d make a good weapon. I didn’t look back and started towards my car a few blocks away. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. But I had stood my ground and made my point to everyone in the store that day. I was a mix of emotions. I was ashamed that I behaved so poorly and let this woman’s moronic behavior pull me down to her level. I was proud that I stood my ground. I was terrified this young punk was going to accost me and force me to try out my fighting skills, rusty from, oh, I don’t know, 25 years or more of non-use?
At the New Year’s Eve party, I recounted my tale of the black eyed peas as I made my superstitious dish. I concluded by stating that I bet it’d be a long time before that woman ever cuts in line again. My host said she doubted that. I don’t know. I did make a big scene, intentionally. I just hoped I hadn’t cursed my magical peas. I needed to make 2012 a good year, after all.
The following day, we ate the dish I had lovingly prepared for my friends in hopes that we could all experience prosperity and good fortune. It was a huge hit with everyone, even though none had realized that eating them was good luck. I guess it truly is a southern tradition; perhaps one that I should revisit and make my own on an annual basis. I’ll just try to get them a little ahead of time and avoid the Asian market on December 31st.