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“The Fortune Teller,” from the Yizkor book of Sadagora (Ukraine) reminded me of a famous article in the New Yorker by Joseph Mitchell in 1942 about the gypsy population on the Lower East Side in which he described the livelihood and strategems of the “dukkerers,” or fortune tellers who “preyed mostly on ignorant, middle-aged women” who were worried about their health, their futures or what their husbands might be up to behind their backs.
The chapter tells the story of “a sly old Ukrainian woman (who) could read the past and the future from the lines on a hand, read a fortune from playing cards and kernels of corn, show an old maid her future husband at midnight in a mirror, and – when necessary – procure magic bottles from the devil.” Sometimes, her “readings” are helped by several of her shady assistants who pick up gossip they heard in the town about a client and give her a convincing card to play.
One such customer bemoans her husband Metro who stole ten kroner from her and got drunk.
“I know that,” lied the babushka rapping with her magic staff on the table. “Be still! I know everything, and now just listen … Here is a magic bottle. When Metro sleeps, rub it on his hands so that he will drink and steal less.” She rapped her magic staff on the table and the session came to an end.
As might be expected, the old fortune-teller had run-ins with the police which she quickly solved by bribing them and saying, “One hand washes the other, and both wash the stupid people.”
Silver Spring, MD
Researching: DRACH, EBERT, KIMMEL, ZLOTNICK
Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel