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As luck would have it // friday the 13th

A reassuring message for folks reading the newspaper with bedcovers pulled securely over their heads:

Relax. It's okay to face the world.

Friday the 13th isn't always an unlucky day, after all.

Dr. Donald Dossey of the Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., agrees, and he's the guy who (with the help of a Greek translator) coined the cumbersome term "paraskevidekatriaphobia" _ fear of Friday the 13th.

"We know there are somewhere between 17-million and 21-million people who do have some form of anxiety on those days, from mild giggling to not leaving their beds," Dossey commented.

"But people usually call me with their lucky stories about the date; getting married or getting a great job."

We asked Floridian readers to send us recollections of a fortunate Friday the 13th and received dozens of replies. Nearly half of the stories concerned birthdays in various months (including two sets of twins). Some detailed emotional meetings or marriages on this supposedly unlucky day. A few were just plain eerie.

One heartwarming story had it all.

James and Diane Johnson of Clearwater tried for four years to conceive a child, but failed a battery of fertility tests. Adoption would be their only chance to raise a family, and two attempts in 1991 fell through at the last minute. The day after the second adoption failed, the Johnsons left for Maine to build a cabin in the woods to soothe their depression.

While working on the roof one morning, James' nearby father drove to the cabin site. He informed the Johnsons of an emergency telephone call from their lawyer in Florida. The news was better than the couple expected.

The adoption agency had found not one, but two children for the Johnsons _ a 9-month-old girl and a boy just a week shy of his second birthday. Diane Johnson flew home the next day while James drove their trailer back from Maine.

A week later _ on Friday, Sept. 13, 1991 _ the newly formed family celebrated little Michael's second birthday, with tiny Julia by his side. The Johnsons still mark his birth date as the anniversary of their family union.

"It's kind of engraved on your mind that Friday the 13th is unlucky," Diane Johnson said Tuesday. "It was great to have something happen as wonderful as this."

Today's edition of Friday the 13th will bring birthday greetings for at least 11 other Floridian readers or their loved ones. Some of their birth dates displayed more luck than others.

Five-year-old Jason Wilkosz of St. Petersburg was born on this date, 14 weeks ahead of his due date. His mother, Diane M. Wilkosz, reported that he has grown from a precarious 1-pound, 10-ounce infant into a healthy, active child.

Helen Phillips of St. Petersburg celebrates her 80th birthday today. She "still runs circles around us," according to her daughters Gail Dibble and Jacque Bishop. Need evidence of Phillips' good luck? She continues to drive a 1973 Dodge Swinger with more than 200,000 miles on the odometer.

Educational speaker Karen E. Koogler of Largo recalled that on her 13th birthday in 1968 she won two prizes from a radio station, for turning 13 and for being born Sept. 13. She received a 19-inch black-and-white television and an assortment of record albums.

Happy, lucky birthday to those readers, plus Joanne Russell of Brandon, St. Petersburg lawyer John Brook, 12-year-old Karla Serio of Safety Harbor, Treasure Island resident Dottie Dengler, Chris Rath of Largo and Mark Allen Chapney, who'll be home from graduate school in Atlanta for the occasion.

Other readers recalled situations that occurred on a Friday the 13th in other months that defied the day's reputation. They ranged from having a rare, quick drive-through at a vehicle emissions inspection station to flying safely over the Bermuda Triangle on vacation.

In addition, Robert H. Beeman of Spring Hill and Pinellas Park resident Joel Reynolds considered successful heart operations on Friday the 13th to be lucky breaks.

Four readers relayed stories of Friday the 13th fortune while serving in the military.

Paul Buono of Oldsmar dodged serious injury in Vietnam in 1970 when he jumped from a runaway truck before it plunged into a swamp 200 feet below.

On June 13, 1944, Hank Evans of Hernando nearly fell out of a B-24 bomber when the bomb bay doors unexpectedly opened. Evans jerked his left arm out of its socket while holding on for dear life. Rather than being blown out of the doors, Evans was lifted to the ceiling away from the dangerous opening in the bomber's hull.

Four months later, on Oct. 13, 1944, St. Petersburg's Dale Davidson evaded capture by the Nazis after his aircraft was downed by artillery fire. The crew escaped to friendlier territory in Yugoslavia and eventually completed 50 missions in Europe.

On a lighter note, Robert B. Fleming of St. Petersburg was called into his commanding officer's office at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, on a Friday the 13th in 1962. He expected the worst, considering the date, but was informed of his selection as the base's soldier of the month.

Four readers made their own luck on a Friday the 13th in September:

Clearwater resident Margie Randolph quit smoking five years ago today. "Best thing I ever did for myself," she declared.

At age 63, Bob Hinton sank a hole-in-one on the third hole of Spring Hill Golf Links on this date in 1991.

Norene Conelly of St. Petersburg will spend today reminiscing with six friends from her high school graduating class of 1947. A chance meeting with one former classmate a few weeks ago led to the reunion.

Josephine Guide of Spring Hill was sent by her business school to a job interview in New York City on Sept. 13, 1940. She was hired and happily worked for the Great American Tea Co. for 11 years and 8 months. "That was my first and last job," she said Tuesday. "I got pregnant after that and never went back to work."

Finally, there are the romantic strokes of luck that readers remembered. Seventeen people claim they discovered or cemented long-lasting love on a day that is expected to bring heartache.

Howard and Gloria Fox met at a bowling alley on Feb. 13, 1953, when she was deserted by a date and he was a discharged U.S. Army soldier meeting old friends.

Sandy Stevenson ignored a 24-hour flu bug to attend a Friday the 13th party at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and met her true love, Sterling. "Our dream now is to cruise the world," Stevenson wrote. "Although we have not picked the exact year or month we will leave the fair port of St. Petersburg, I can assure you it will be Friday the 13th."

Seven couples chose a Friday the 13th in months other than September for their engagement or wedding dates. Each pairing is still going strong.

Arlene Karnuth of Palm Harbor overcame two superstitious factors to meet and marry her late husband, Kenneth, in 1967. She was driving to her Dunedin home when she struck a black cat with her automobile. She rushed to a convenience store to call the nearby offices of the S.P.C.A. to care for the animal.

While waiting for help to arrive, Arlene conversed with a couple she met in the store. They had a single friend for whom they believed Arlene would be a good match. A bowling date was arranged for the next Friday _ the 13th, of course. Eight months later, Arlene and Kenneth were married.

"None of that would have happened if it hadn't been for that black cat," she said, laughing.

Antoinette van den Hoogen of Homosassa Springs was born on a Friday the 13th and married Eric van den Hoogen on a Friday the 13th. Thirteen seems to be their very lucky number; the couple earned green cards through an immigration lottery on a March 13 after a wait of _ you guessed it _ 13 months.

Best wishes for a lucky 12th wedding anniversary today to Jerry and Brenda Nalley of Safety Harbor.

Same goes for Herman and Mickey Lutrell of Oldsmar and Redington Shores, respectively. They live in separate towns because Herman enjoys running a small farm, and Mickey's doctor has advised her to stay away from animals. Mickey, age 77, said she visits 70-year-old Herman about twice a week.

They'll celebrate 50 years of marriage today.

It wasn't Mickey's first walk to the altar, or her first brush with an infamous calendar date.

She married her first husband on April Fool's Day, 1939.

Mickey has no complaints about her current marriage or its regular connection with images of bad luck.

Well, maybe one.

"My birthday is Sept. 12, so I get gypped because I only get one present (for both occasions)," she said.

Now, that's unlucky.