books and reading · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

Is Your House Evil? Mine was.

I just finished reading “My Daugther’s Eyes and Other Stories,” by Dominican writer Annecy Baez. The book was a little too vivid, poignant and hardcore for me, dealing with things like child abuse (sexual and otherwise) and infidelity, but it made me remember a couple of details I had forgotten from my childhood.

Growing up there were a couple of religions in our house. My aunt was Buddhist. My sisters were Wiccan. My Mom dabbled in Catholicism and Santeria. I was flirting with Judaism. But my mother ruled the house so it was her way or the highway (I know this because one time she locked me out of the house in the middle of winter…near a highway).

So my mother had an altar which gave me the heeby jeebies. She put fruit sacrifices out to rot on the altar in devotion to the saints. When we were out of food, I gazed at the fruit in desperation. My sister went one better, snatched the fruit and got slapped for it.

My mother made us wear our underwear inside out to protect us from evil spirits. She made us wear azabaches around our necks to protect us from the evil eye. But one of her favorite things to do was to cleanse the apartment.

Sometimes, my mother mopped the floors in a goopy, soup-like potpurri and made us bathe in the leftovers. Other times, there was Agua de Florida, “general purpose spirit water” first manufactured by some crazy Quaker as perfume for fancy Victorian ladies in the 1800s, later to be drunk by shamans for its cleansing and healing properties and finally, adopted by crazy Dominican women like my mother who swore by it as part of their arsenal against evil. Because a happy house is not an evil one.

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