MAY 12, MONDAY - Yogi Berra born, 1925. Farley Mowatt born, 1921. Twenty-ton meteor fell near Blackston, Va., 1922.

MAY 13, TUESDAY - Joe Louis born, 1914. First U.S. airmail stamps issued, 1918.MAY 14, WEDNESDAY - First quarter moon. Lewis and Clark headed west, 1804.

MAY 15, THURSDAY - Plant corn now, or lose a bushel a day after the middle of May. First nylon stockings sold, 1940.

MAY 16, FRIDAY - Congress authorized new coin, soon called nickel, 1866.

MAY 17, SATURDAY - Armed Forces Day. Aristides won first Kentucky Derby, 1875.

MAY 18, SUNDAY - Pentecost. Massachusetts made school attendance compulsory, 1852.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: Is sneezing considered good luck or bad luck?

- G.H. New Bern, N.C.

Answer: Surely you weren't expecting a simple answer! The fact is, sneezing can be either good luck or bad, depending on the culture and the circumstances. The folklore of the sneeze is nearly inexhaustible, but the weight of the evidence leans toward the sneeze as an ominous sign. In folklore, sneezes are associated with some spirit, either good or bad, trying to enter or leave the body. Saying "God bless you" or "Gesundheit" is an attempt to ward off any evil by way of a spoken charm, much as one might hold up the cross to a vampire. It's argued that St. Gregory began the "God bless you" benediction (although he said, in Latin, "Absit omen!") in the face of a fatal pestilence where sneezes seemed to indicate coming death.

In some superstitions, however, the sneeze is simply regarded as an omen of something about to happen. "Sneeze on a Wednesday, you sneeze for a letter," says the English belief. If you're one of those people who sneezes repeatedly right after you wake up in the morning, maybe you should start counting those sneezes. "Two for a kiss, three for a letter, four for something better," promises one rhyme. To sneeze at the beginning of a project is not a good omen, however, nor is it wise to sneeze while you're putting on your shoes. Your travels could be in jeopardy. Whatever meaning you give it, it's clear that the common "Ah-choo!" is not to be sneezed at.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: What sort of planes did the post office first use to fly the mail?

- M.F., Chatsworth, Calif.

Answer: Well, the first airmail service operated largely with the help of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and its planes and pilots, although other experimental flights had been made as early as 1911. Six "Jenny" training planes (NJ-4Hs) were used, among others.

In May 1918, after Congress had appropriated $100,000 to establish experimental airmail routes, two simultaneous initial flights were scheduled, one from Washington, D.C., and the other from Long Island in New York, both headed to Philadelphia. President Woodrow Wilson and his wife stood by to watch the takeoff of the Washington flight. The Army pilot, Lt. George L. Boyle, who had only recently earned his "wings," had trouble starting his Curtiss JN-6H "Jenny" until his ground crew thought to check the fuel supply - empty! The plane was refueled, and Boyle took off, only to head off in the wrong direction. He eventually landed, low on fuel again, in a farmer's bumpy field southeast of Washington, D.C. The mail had to be picked up by automobile and returned to Washington!

Even when the Postal Service took over the reins from the Army, on Aug. 10, 1918, the planes it used were war-surplus deHaviland DH-4s, many of them flown by ex-Army pilots who were now civilians looking for jobs in the air. Later, some custom-built mail planes were constructed by the Standard Aircraft Corp. And by 1959, the U.S. Postal system was fooling around with "missile mail" sent on guided missiles launched from the navy submarine USS Barbero.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: My neighbor claims she washes her dog in Calgon. Have you heard of this trick?

- K.D.B. Aldie, Va.

Answer: Oh, you mean sodium hexametaphosphate! Calgon is the trade name that Dr. R. E. Hall, a Bureau of Mines researcher, gave to this chemical because of its ability to make "calcium gone." In other words, it softens water. For a pet's hair, it would have the effect of removing soap scum more effectively and leaving the fur softer, cleaner and shinier. Pet owners should still rinse the Calgon out with clear water, but some pet owners claim that their pets experience less skin irritation from Calgon than from other products.

Calgon can also be used for other instances in which you want to reduce soap scum or calcium and magnesium salts. Use it in rinsing your own hair, cleaning the shower stall or rinsing hand-washed dishes. Eyeglasses, steam irons, electric skillets, coffee pots, stovetop humidifiers and wafflemakers all benefit from an occasional Calgon bath. Try adding it to your laundry detergent to reduce grayness. Rinse your drains with it.



This Week With The Old Farmer's Almanac

May 12-18, 1997

Armed Forces Day, May 17.

Three Chilly Saints

Mammertus, Pancras, and Gervais (or Gervatius) are the "Three Chilly Saints' who celebrate their feasts each year on May 11, 12, and 13. The three became known in weatherlore for predicting what were traditionally the three coldest days of the month. Germans knew these days as Icemanner, or the Iceman Days, and farmers knew better than to plant vulnerable seedlings before the Icemen had come and gone. The English and French saw the Three Chilly Saints as harbingers of a late spring frost.

Cold weather & knaves come out of the north.

Tip of the Week

Wash winter coats, hats, and mittens and store them away with a scented sachet.


1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

4 cups cooked, sweetened rhubarb

1 tablespoon butter


1-1/2 cups biscuit mix

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter

1/3 cup milk

Mix the 1/2 cup sugar with the cornstarch and water until it is smooth. Add to cooked rhubarb, and heat just to boiling. Pour into a baking dish and dot with butter. Combine topping ingredients to make a biscuit dough. Drop by large spoonfuls over the top of the rhubarb. Sprinkle with additional sugar, if desired, and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Makes 6 servings.

The Old Farmer's Weather Proverbs

Be it weal or be it woe, beans blow before May does go.

Ne'er cast a clout till May be out.

Who shears his sheep before St. Gervatius' Day (May 13) loves more his wool than his sheep.

Dry May, wet June.

A wet May, a dry September.