Maria Di Maria, Faith Healer and
Dispeller of the Evil Eye


To me as a youngster, Maria Di Maria appeared to be at least 100 years old. Now, in retrospect, from the vantage point of my own advanced years, I must now concede that she was not more that seventy-five years of age. Nevertheless, she looked like a centenarian to me at that time, probably because her dark, leathery face was etched heavily with wrinkles. Her hair, which was drawn back tightly from her forehead to a knot at the back of her head was white, but not pure white. It had that tell-tale yellow that was due to infrequent washing. It was a known fact that Maria was bath shy, and rarely if ever bothered to wash her face in the morning. Proof of this, were the ever-present sleep bugs that nestled in the corners of her eyes, and that certain odor that emanates from old, unwashed bodies. Her eyes were brown, almost hidden under thick, bushy eyebrows. Her mouth was toothless except for two lone buck teeth that protruded like fangs from under a heavy upper lip. Despite all this, she had a warm, friendly face. Maria's body was short and squat. Year in and year out she wore a simple, black dress, along with a heavy, black shawl; garb that signified that she was still mourning her husband, who had been dead for about twenty years.




Caption, The Old Central Market-circa 1932
Courtesy of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio




As one of many children in the Ginney Block, I was destined to be treated by Maria Di Maria, faith healer and Dispeller of the evil eye. My first date with her as a fearful and unwilling patient had been in the making for at least two days before Thanksgiving Day. I had made the mistake of complaining about a persistent headache during those two days that preceded the holiday. Since the headache had continued more than a day, and was threatening to continue into the holiday, my mother decided that someone had cast the evil eye on me. After all hadn't she heard one of our neighbors comment about my beautiful, big dark brown eyes when I had accompanied her to do some shopping at the Central Market just two days ago? She was sure it was then that the evil eye had been laid upon me. Her mind was made up. There was nothing else to do but to take me to Maria. She would know how to cure me of my nagging headache and rid me of the evil eye that was causing the headache!

Feeling like a sacrificial lamb, I was led downstairs to flat number one, where Maria lived. My mother knocked on Maria's door. As we waited, I thought of all the scary stories that I had heard about Maria's place-the story that her flat was haunted by her dead husband, that at times she could be heard holding conversations with him and other old, dear departed friends, who had passed on many years ago. The door opened slowly and there she was beckoning us to come in. She ushered us into the kitchen, which served as her treatment room.




It was early evening. She had apparently just lit the coal oil lamp on her kitchen table. I could smell that characteristic smell of a recent lighting of an oil lamp's wick. The flickering light cast eerie shadows on the ceiling and walls.

My mother explained the reason for our visit. Without a word, Maria nodded and walked to the cupboard over the kitchen sink. She brought forth an ancient saucer, which was chipped around the edge. She then produced a can of olive oil from a lower cupboard. Fascinated, I watched her pour about one teaspoonful oil along with some water into the saucer. From a pocket in her black apron, she fished a large door key that looked like a jail door key. I could see that she was now ready for me. She motioned to me to come to her. Hypnotized, I approached her short, round figure. She quickly but gently engulfed me, placing her left arm around my neck. Her body odor almost overcame me, and her heavy, asthmatic breathing startled me. She dipped the key in the mixture of water and olive oil and raised it, dripping the oily mixture to my forehead, and with her fat, pudgy right hand proceeded to make the sign of the cross between my eyebrows.

The treatment was over suddenly as it had begun, without a word from Maria. My mother knew, as she paid Maria her usual fee of twenty-five cents that my headache would be gone by morning. At least, that is what my mother told me as we left Maria's place on that Thanksgiving eve.