OS : Welcome HM Shepherd here to talk about their book Just For Nice!
When I first found the States Of Love collection call and was trying to brainstorm ideas of what made Pennsylvania unique, one of the very first things that came to mind were hex signs. But they seem to be a rarity even in the state where they originated, and aren’t seen much outside of Dutch Country. Those that don’t know too much about them tend to associate them with the Amish, which is funny because it’s a form of folk art specifically not made by the Amish. I’m not sure why, but it’s likely due to the associations with mysticism and superstition.
This isn’t to say hex signs are supposed to be magic. Some people ascribe magical abilities to them — the guy I’ve bought most of mine from certainly does. But despite the name, they’re really just pretty designs painted on wooden discs and peddled to tourists. They actually have their origins in barn stars, or circular designs painted on Pennsylvania barns starting in the mid-19th century.
No one’s quite sure how the term “hex sign” came to be, but the best theory I’ve heard is that a gentleman trying to write a travel guide for Pennsylvania tried to get a local to explain barn stars to him, and the local, who spoke mostly Pennsylvania German, thought he was referring to a triangular mark carved into the barn door. He called it “hexefoos,” or witch’s feet, which is supposed to be a charm to keep evil spirits away. The writer conflated the two and wrote it into his travel guide, spreading the idea.
There’s also a theory that the locals were all just screwing with the writer on purpose. This would not surprise me at all.
Blurb: Nick Caratelli flees the city in an attempt to escape a broken relationship and a career he never wanted. He plans to set up a bed-and-breakfast in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country—despite the fact he has no experience in renovating the old building. Luckily his handsome neighbor Sam approaches him with a curious proposal: he’ll help with the restoration in exchange for Nick babysitting his niece.
As they work to have the bed-and-breakfast open for business by summer’s end, their lives become interwoven without them even trying. Before he knows it, Nick is recovering from his loss and taking his place in the unconventional family that seems determined to form. But for Nick and Sam to be together in all the ways they desire, they’ll have to realize all the arguments against romance exist only in their heads….
Author Bio: H. M. Shepherd is a twentysomething paralegal living in Berks County, Pennsylvania, with both parents, two dogs, a baby sister who should stop growing up, and a brother who similarly failed to launch. Contrary to the Millennial stereotype, however, she does not live in the basement—a blessing considering the size of the spiders down there. She crochets as a hobby, cooks when she can, and reads as though it were her vocation. She is also an amateur genealogist and spends entirely too much time squinting at old census records and church documents. A little spacey, she once managed to forget that her car needed an oil change until it stopped running, and regularly has milk-in-the-cupboard-cereal-in-the-fridge moments. While she is an avid writer, Just for Nice is her first and so far only professional publication.
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Nick went up last, and to his surprise, he found the loft was mostly devoid of any antique junk (there was an old Singer treadle sewing machine that he made note of, intending to come back for it when he had room in his car and an idea of where to put it in the house). Here, Mrs. Lapp’s stock was confined to the walls, where row upon row of white disks hung, each with a
different, brilliantly colored design.
“There’s some over here that were hand-done by Jacob Zook, and a few from Johnny Ott and the Claypooles.”
The names meant absolutely nothing to Nick, but he nodded politely and hoped he looked suitably impressed.
“Some are prints. But anything newer than that and you’ll have to go elsewhere.”
“Hex signs,” Sam said as Nick looked at him. “You’ve never seen one?”
“Only since I moved here, but I didn’t know that’s what they were. I don’t think they’re common out where I’m from.” He looked a little more closely at one bearing a large rosette with hearts painted between each of the branches. “You said hex—these aren’t supposed to be magic or anything?”
“No. Well, sort of. Some say they’re good luck, and some say that everything on them is a symbol for something,” Sam said with a shrug. “I can’t say I know much about that. But mostly they’re just for nice.”
“Pick one,” Mrs. Lapp said to Nick. “Any you’d like, free of charge.”
“I couldn’t possibly!”
But Mrs. Lapp waved him off and started pointing to some of her favorites. “Now, that one there might be good for your hotel-thing.” It was mostly green, with a shamrock painted in the center between two birds. A line of three flowers—tulips, perhaps—curved along the bottom of the
disk, and in the petals of the middle flower was a snake. “Zook’s Irish hex sign. Tourists like it, especially the ones who say they’re Irish. I can’t tell you how many I’ve had through here who go on and on about being one-sixteenth Irish on their mother’s side. I want to tell them they’re barely Irish and they’re certainly not Deitsch, but they pay well for that sort of nonsense, so I don’t argue. You Irish?”
Nick could see Sam trying to suppress a laugh behind her. “No, ma’am,” he answered dutifully, “but not Dutch either. One-hundred percent Italian.”
“Pity. I don’t think they make Italian hex signs, sorry to tell you.” She took Nick by the arm and turned him back to the wall. “But go on, pick a sign once!”
Nick eventually settled, after much urging from Mrs. Lapp, on one of the many Willkommen signs. This one in particular bore a large red-and-yellow bird, or a distelfink, as he was told.
“It’s a goldfinch,” Sam said, translating. “It’s meant for good luck and happiness.”
Nick just thought it looked pretty, the way the bird’s tail feathers swooped around the border of the disk.
Once the hex sign was safely tucked in the passenger seat of his car, he turned back to Mrs. Lapp to tell her thank you. Haltingly, he told her goodbye: “Macht’s gut.”
She smiled broadly and waved. “Macht’s gut! Don’t be a stranger, now!”