Here in Michigan, where Marilyn always lived, not all robins migrate south for winter. But unlike a hardy cardinal who will brighten a snowy view, or a crow who gloriously doesn't give a shit when you see or hear it, robins are out of sight, out of mind here, until lots of them show up come spring.
If you "stamp" the first robin you see once the snows melt, it will bring good luck.
When you see that first robin of springtime, you lick the pad of one thumb and grind it into the opened-flat palm of your other hand, as if securing a stamp on the "envelope" of your hand. That's it. The missive need not be addressed, apparently the stamp knows where it's going.
You can do this even if you are not very superstitious. For example, Marilyn had an aunt back in the U.P. who read the tea leaves from the bottom of a China cup. It was fun, but Marilyn didn’t put much stock in it. Annotations in her cookbooks all deal with measurements, never improvisation. If Ed hadn't insisted she stay home because his management job at General Motors "was enough," Marilyn said she would have liked to become a librarian because she liked putting things in order.
All this is to prove: Even the data-minded can celebrate spring by stamping a robin.
The only other thing that needs doing is to check in with a few loved ones you’ve taught to stamp robins. If you're the first to stamp one, it will alert them that it's time. If they already beat you to the stamping, you let them know anyway because spotting a robin is something good to talk about.
Don't worry about missing your chance. Once the habit is ingrained in you, you will always know, as soon as that first spring robin appears, to stamp it. It is satisfying to do so, like balancing your checkbook to the penny, but better because this makes you feel like a family and the forsythia will blossom any day now.
- Meredith Counts is one of the founding editors of Dead Housekeeping.