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Foul Faux Pas, or… No Birds in the House!

Like most tales of woe, it started off innocent enough.

My best friend Paul and I were lazily walking the holiday décor aisles of Target. We did that sometimes after dinner on a Friday night. We’d head to Walgreens or Target, peruse the dollar bins for knick-knacks and bargains, and pat ourselves on the back for treasure-hunting such amazing deals. If I’m being honest, we still do that today; we did it last week. But I digress. On the night in question we had grabbed a bite to eat at TGIFriday’s in Everett and had walked over to Target to get a jump-start on our Christmas shopping.

As we strolled down row after row of tinsel, lights, and prefabbed packaged joy, we oohed and aahed at the decorations. I was particularly enthralled since I was going through a serious (over)decorating phase that left most surfaces and walls in my Cambridge apartment extremely overpopulated. The phrase “less is more” wasn’t exactly in my lexicon. The décor wasn’t tacky per se, but it was a touch overstated. My poor roommate; I don’t know how she put up with me.

Mid-way through our shopping trip, Paul decided he was going to buy me something from the holiday aisle. He did this sometimes; buying me presents for no reason, bringing me little gifts or picking up the bill at dinner–just because. And once he got it into his head, there was no deterring him. His generosity was unwavering; it still is.

That night, he bought me a partridge for the adorable Charlie Brown Christmas tree I had in my apartment. Truth be told, I think it was more of a turtle dove, but that is neither here nor there. It was a simple and regal white bird that had a clip on its feet that allowed it to be secured onto a branch of a Christmas tree. It is important to note that this feathered Christmas creature was probably as large as my shoe (I’m a size 8) and had an incredibly life-like look and feel. I thought the bird was hilarious and joyful; we went straight home and clipped him into the tree—front and center.

I should mention that we also named the bird: Pasquale.

Yes. I was 28 years old and giggling about my new stuffed bird named Pasquale.

What can I say? I was weird. I probably still am, although I now like to think of myself as “limited edition”. Nonetheless, this next part of the story is difficult to share, because it gets weirder, even for me.

Christmas came and went. Le castagne were roasted and eaten. We held our annual cookie contest and my cousin Nicole won…again (she always does). And shortly after January 6, the Epiphany, my roommate and I threw out our now dried up Christmas tree. Per usual, I had a hard time putting the decorations away. I was filled with the same dread I felt on a Sunday night in high school. Or the same summertime sadness I experienced every Labor Day. Or the sorrow that sat in my chest when I remembered that I still couldn’t purchase Simmenthal in the United States. Or the disappointment that took over when my sister left for Logan airport to head back to her home in Washington, D.C.

I think you get the point: I was sad. In exactly the same way, when Christmas was over, my heart broke—just a little bit.

pasquale 1And so that year, as I started to pack up the Christmas décor, with my deflated post-holiday heart, I couldn’t bring myself to put Pasquale-the-poser-Partridge into a box. It just felt wrong to shove him into storage. So I did what anyone would do: I fashioned a bird perch out of a wire hanger and hung Pasquale from the ceiling.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Probably. I’m not sure how or why I had any friends either. But I did. Shocking, I know. It wasn’t until a few months later that the full meaning of my fowl faux pas came to light.

Years earlier, my friend Dan had read an article that said people were statistically happier if they had a weekly gathering with the same group of folks. This wasn’t surprising to me. I don’t imagine it is surprising to Italians, or anyone who comes from a big, close-knit family. It is what Sunday dinner is all about after all. Well that, and the meatballs. In that vein of camaraderie, nearly every Tuesday, my friends began gathering at my house to eat dinner and watch the latest episode of Lost. We’d break bread, share stories from our day, and theorize about the Smoke Monster.

That particular Tuesday, while we watched Jack Shepherd try to make sense of it all and wondered for the billionth time, “What do the blasted numbers mean?” Pasquale caught Dan’s attention.

“Isn’t it like, bad luck, or the evil eye or…something to have birds in your house?” asked Dan.

“Bad luck? What are you talking about?” I considered myself an expert on Italian superstitions and harbingers of the mal occhio, and I wasn’t aware of any evil omens being associated with birds.

Nicole, also a proud Italian American, chimed in. “It’s true, D. He’s right. You aren’t supposed to have birds in the house.”

“You guys are crazy.” Weren’t they? “If birds are bad luck, I would KNOW. My mom would have told me.”

Kelly jumped into the conversation. Apparently, she had heard of this superstition as well. “Did you ever see a bird in your house growing up? Maybe a picture, or a statute of a bird? A figurine? Anything?”

I sat with my mouth hanging open, racking my brain. There had to have been some kind of bird figurine in our house at some point. Right? An oil painting? A stuffed-animal? But the more I thought I about it, the more I realized there had never been anything foul-related in Casa Festino.

“I guess not. No. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It doesn’t make you right.”

Dan prodded on with a smile. “Have you told your mom about your strange stuffed bird? Has she been by to visit lately?”

My mother hadn’t been by the apartment in months, and I probably hadn’t told her about Pasquale either. The fact that I was too much of a pansy to pack up my Christmas décor and had a stuffed bird hanging from my ceiling hadn’t exactly come up in conversation.

During the next commercial break, I excused myself, went into my bedroom and I called my mum. And in a completely predictable plot twist, she confirmed my foul faux pas.

“Daniela! You have a bird in your house?! Where have you been? Are you new? Of course birds are bad luck. Think of all the bad things that have happened lately! You need to get that bird out of your house immediately. Throw it out! Right now!”

I could barely get a word in edgewise.

Many people would be very skeptical and laugh off my mum’s warning. But I am my mother’s daughter, and a superstitious Italian through and through. Was it so crazy to believe that the bird had been a carrier of the mal occhio? She was certainly right about my luck: I had had a rough couple of months. From the worst romantic heartache I had ever experienced to a serious breast cancer scare, it hadn’t exactly been a winter wonderland of ponies and rainbows. In typical Italian fashion of seeking out cause and effect, my mom theorized that the bad romance and poor health had all begun when I welcomed Pasqualino into my house.

I walked back into the living room. My friends had either overheard my conversation or my face gave it away because they immediately started laughing. A Greek chorus of “I told you so” filled my small living room. Dan kindly volunteered to do the honors and removed the bird from the antique cage he was now calling home. When he left that evening, he took Pasquale with him. I never saw the lone turtle dove again. It was easy to say goodbye this time—knowing the bird could have been crafted by a satanic taxidermist of ill will and bad luck.

I can’t say that my luck dramatically changed upon breaking up with Pasquale. I didn’t win the lottery, get engaged to Justin Timberlake, or discover that I secretly harbored the creative talent of Jackson Pollock. Nope.

However, a great deal did change–although we never did find out much about Hurley’s mysterious numbers. I made a series of lifestyle and dietary alterations and my health improved significantly. I learned to put my holiday paraphernalia away after the Epiphany on the 6th. My parents became owners to the most amazing dog I’ve ever met. And I finally perfected my ragu Bolognese. All in all, things were looking up.

And most importantly, I realized that bad luck is just a way of thinking; a fleeting perspective on a particularly dark day. And maybe, just maybe, my bad luck of 2009 was a way of saving me from even worse luck. Bullets dodged. Crises averted. Trials I can’t even imagine. If those nasty bits hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am right now. Which is a pretty great place.

That said, I of course avoid all things bird-like—pictures, figurines, stuffed-animals—whether it is in my house or not. And frankly, you should too. #birdfreesince2009

About Danielle Festino

Danielle was born and raised in Stoneham, now resides in Medford, and has roots in Puglia. In 2004, she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in International Relations and Italian Studies. She is passionate about telling stories and hopes to provide a glimpse into what it means to grow up Italian-American.

One comment

  1. Noah housed birds and it proved cataclysmic..