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Lucky Hunchback -- Il Gobbo

To: alt.lucky.w
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: Lucky Hunchback -- Il Gobbo
Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004 10:18:28 GMT

Hope Munro Smith wrote:
> Just bought this item on eBay as a gift for someone
> who is a Sopranos fan:
> However, I'm not finding a lot of information on the origin of the
> figure, who as I understand is called Gobbo.  Any ideas?

Il Gobbo, the lucky hunchback, is an Italian amulet. You will
find it often in brass or gold as a watch fob or bracelet charm.
It is a representative image that relates to an old European
custom: It was considered lucky -- even as late as during my own
youth -- to touch or rub a hunchback's deformity. 

In the 1950s, when i was a child, there was a hunchbacked man in
Berkeley, California, a regular pedestrian whom i saw often on
Shattuck Avenue. I noticed that people frequently touched his
hump as he hobbled down the street with his carved wooden cane.
At first i thought they were all his friends, but then i realized
that some folks actually ran up behind him, rubbed his back and
passed him without speaking, and others sneaked along behind him
and  waited to touch him when he was standing at the corner
waiting for the streetlights to change. He did not object being
treated in this way, although few people spoke to him and he did
not even glance at them. 

My mother, who was born in Germany and had lived in Italy during
the 1930s, explained the custom of getting luck from Il Gobbo to
me and at the same time forbade me to touch the hunchbacked man's
hump, "Because it is not nice to him." I asked her why it was not
nice and she said, "You wouldn't like to be constantly touched by
strangers, I am sure, so you mustn't do anything to him that
would bother you if it were done to you." 

I considered whether it really would bother me and i couldn't
decide. Maybe it would feel special to have people run over and
touch my back. Maybe it would feel like a violation. Not every
one has the same sensitivities, phobias, pride, boundaries, or
beliefs. How could i know what this man experienced? But i did as
my mother requested and never touched the hunchback's hump, even
when i was standing right behind him at the light. 

As i grew older and taller, i realized how small and defenseless
he was. When i was a teen -- and the shortest girl in my class --
i towered over him. Then i was glad i hadn't ever rubbed his
hump. I realized that it must be difficult to be so vulnerable.
Some people were rough with him. They may have even hurt him, for
all i knew.

Around this time another hunchbacked person showed up in downtown
Berkeley, an elderly woman. She was not complacent about being
touched. I saw her turn and yell at a man who touched her hump
while waiting at the corner for the light to change. She
threatened him with her cane. She was an angry person, you could
see it on her face, and i doubted that touching her would bring
anyone much luck. 

Well, those days were long ago, although not so far away.
Advances in neonatal surgery have, thankfully, made hunchbacks
fairly rare in modern America. All that remains are memories ...
and the Italian lucky charms. 


cat yronwode 

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