Last night I caught my realtor digging a hole in my front yard. I haven’t known him for that long, so it surprised me to see him playing archaeologist in a subdivision of southwest Miami. Instinct brought me to the front door, where I considered cutting the light on and announcing my presence, but cunning got the best of me and I stood in a dark recess behind a curtain to observe him kneeling on my grass, his skinny tie loosened around his neck. What business does he have out there, I wondered, and why is he so proficient with the shovel.
Honeyed Cat, a mackerel tabby that came into my life off the street, wrapped around my ankle and waited for me to smother her head gently in my palms. This kind of caress was the only way to get her subterranean purr going. She leapt onto the sill and flicked her tail in my direction.
It was too dark to see what my realtor inhumed, but I could swear that after he covered whatever he had buried, he mouthed a prayer and made the sign of the cross. At this prompt, he set off deeper into the night, shovel gripped as if he would never be able to part.
Is he going to another lawn, I wondered, and has he visited others before mine. He is the local realtor. This subdivision in southwest Miami has always been his niche market. These CBS homes with barrel tile roofs will always be his stomping ground. Their chain of title gives him sustenance. Whatever he buried, I reasoned, it could not have been a curse.
First thing in the morning, I stepped onto my porch and yawned. The spot where he toiled a handful of hours ago was still moist. I found a little spade to dig with and it wasn’t long before I extracted a baggy that contained a plastic statue of some saint. I read the transparent sticker on the base. It was Saint Joseph. Why was Saint Joseph buried 12 inches under my front yard, I wondered, and why was he buried upside down, and why did my realtor inconvenience himself and risk the embarrassment of discovery if I already signed the listing agreement yesterday afternoon.
I queried Saint Joseph real estate on Google and got 342,000 results in 0.15 seconds. Saint Joseph is the head of a very famous household, a holy household. Although he is not considered to be the biological father of Jesus Christ, he is the husband of the Virgin Mary and the paterfamilias. Perhaps his work as a carpenter earned him the honor of serving workers for time immemorial as their patron saint, but his patronage extends beyond the workforce. Joseph, being the paterfamilias, would also become the patron saint of home and family. This would make him the go-to saint for any financial matters concerning households in duress, such as getting out from under their properties when it is no longer feasible for them to do otherwise.
No one knows for certain, but many believe that the first record of relying on Saint Joseph for real estate dates back to the Middle Ages, when Saint Teresa of Avila’s Carmelite Order of nuns needed a new convent to accommodate the influx of wimples. Somewhat similar to my realtor five centuries later, the Carmelites buried a medal of Saint Joseph and said prayers to guarantee obtaining ownership of the land where the convent was to be built. It worked.
There is no documented evolution of this Saint Joseph superstition. How did his patronage go from being used to acquire land to selling it, I wondered, and how did the medal become a plastic statue. Quite a downgrade if you ask me. But there are real-life accounts of realtors and rescued homeowners all over the Internet, and, according to one source, over two million Saint Joseph home-selling kits bought over the last thirty years.
Plastic Saint Joseph stared at me. I had him standing on my desk, earth grit stuck in his eyes and mouth. Blind and mute, he didn’t seem like he would be much help in selling this house that I bought for twice as much as it is worth in today’s market. In addition to the facts, I am not a religious man, and superstition is for the feeble minded.
But I did not purchase this particular Saint Joseph home-selling kit, my realtor did, and the land it was buried in, like this house, did not belong to me. Maybe in another 27 years, when I would pay off principal and interest, my term of indenture would end and I would become an Independent Man, but for now I did not have the right to ignore other people’s faith.
With the statue back in the ground, where it belonged, I recited not a prayer but an encantation I found in Gerina Dunwich’s Wicca Spellbook. I’m a sucker for rhymes: