Pressing your luck on the lucky 13th

by Debbie Carini

When I was seven years old, I gambled for the very first time. It was at a church benefit for Sacred Heart School where I spent the first three years of my K-12 education under the tutelage of fully-habited nuns. I’m not sure how much I actually learned in those pre-Vatican II days, when I spent most of my time in class wondering if the Sisters wore their stiff, dark wool tunics and white wimples to bed or if they even had hair.

Once a year, the church held a bazaar to raise funds for our little campus. The Knights of Columbus staffed booths and rickety-looking rides and there were food stations featuring the usual requisites of an Italian-centered church—fried dough and sausage sandwiches.

I’m not much for rides. Spinning, dropping and anything that looks like a giant pendulum that might heave you into the next state if it came apart and is under the supervision of an undernourished-looking teenaged boy does not sit well with my heavy-fried-dough-intake at these things, so I sought out the game booths where I might win something valuable.

Since I was also—as a second-grader—not much of a marksman in dart games and the ring toss, I decided to go Vegas and head for the roulette wheel where there were very shiny prizes on display: toasters, blenders and, oh-my-gosh, something with which I might have unlimited access to Beatles music—a transistor radio.

I set my precious dime down on number 13 and the Knights of Columbus volunteer looked at me like I was the spawn of Satan.

“Oh, sweetie, you don’t want to pick that,” he coaxed.

Number 13 had no significant meaning to me at the time. I did not know that Judas Iscariot was the 13th apostle to arrive at the Last Supper (I was probably daydreaming out the window when the nuns gave that lesson) and the Friday the 13th movie franchise with its demonization of the hockey mask was still many years in the future. I probably set it down on number 13 because it was the only one I could reach. But I felt, stubbornly, that it would be tempting fate to move to another space so I stayed put and smiled sweetly at the gentleman. After all, this was an era where adults were unaccustomed to children not heeding their advice.

Round and round went the roulette wheel, clickety-clacking to my doom or fortune. As I watched number 13 spin by over and over again, I suffered gnawing gambler’s remorse: “I could have had a real thing with that dime—another piece of fried dough! Argh!” 

And then, there it was, number 13, followed by the thrill of winning and the anxiety of hoping that the transistor radio was actually worth more than anything else I might have picked.

I hurriedly unwrapped the box. Oh, the new plastic smell, the high tech ear plug! I clicked it on. Nothing. And then, my first lesson in consumerism: batteries not included.

I prized that radio for years and still have it in a box of childhood memorabilia, which also holds the only trophy I ever won—second place in an essay contest—and a nearly full Blue Chip Stamp Book.

So if you see me whistling down the street today, don’t worry, I haven’t been possessed! Friday, February the 13th is just a lucky day for me. And it leads right into another date in which I’ve had pretty good fortune—lucky-in-love on Valentine’s Day!



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