"It's a hot real estate market in Bethesda," everybody said.

"This big house is an empty nest," everybody said.

"It's getting too much for you," everybody said. "Now's the time to sell."

"Well, why not," I said, finally.

So I found this great condo in Leisure World (not finished yet) and turned my house over to Bethesda Realtor Jane Fairweather.

"First," she said, "we have to get this house ready for sale." In no time, there were painters and carpenters, carpet layers and window replacement men, window washers and a company that advertises it takes "junk to the dump," and another fellow who took another truckload of junk to the dump, and book buyers and book charities and yarn charities and more book charities and more junk to the dump. And clothes to the Salvation Army--at least 30 of those green lawn bags filled with 40 years of clothes and other stuff, not quite junk. Then we were ready.

Oh, yes, there were lots of second thoughts. Almost 40 years in this house. Raised two children, countless fish, even an alligator (named Marvin--he died young), a black miniature dachshund and five Labrador retrievers, some black, some yellow--Brandy, Checkers, Java, Ivory and Fanciulla (a k a Fanny.)

We--Jane and I--put up the "For Sale" sign. No sooner done than the great red-hot real estate market in Bethesda seemed to collapse. Just my luck, I thought. ("Well," said another agent, "it has gotten a little flat.")

A week went by. People, hordes of people--believe it--traipsed through the house. ("Leave the lights on," Jane advised. "Agents never turn on lights.")

"Boil some cinnamon in a pot of water," my daughter advised. "It covers all cooking odors." I explained about a thousand times about how and why the Bannockburn valley--my view--can never be developed; I told everybody that Fanny, my current yellow Lab, does NOT convey with the house even though she managed to endear herself to all prospective buyers, fickle thing that she is.

Nothing.

I complained to my sister-in-law, a woman of Italian-Catholic heritage.

"Bury a Saint Joseph," she said.

"Huh?"

"Oh yes," she assured me. "I've sold several houses and I've always used a Saint Joseph statue."

Well, I believe in Tinker Bell, Babylon Five, the Murgatroyd ghosts, John Wellington Wells, Glinda the Good, Buffy, Tamino, Strephon, Good, Evil, and a few other things. And Mokie, my grandson, believes firmly in Harry Potter. So I thought I'd check this out.

"Where do I get a Saint Joseph statue," I asked my S.I.L. "I had one," she said, "but someone borrowed it and I can't remember . . . "

Next step . . . My friendly Yahoo search engine on the WWW. I typed in "Saint Joseph statue." Ten quick hits. The first one said, "Saint Joseph, 'The Underground Real Estate Agent,' $9.95." I ordered it.

Meanwhile there were a few "nibbles" (that's what the agents call them). Very nice people. Loved the house. Loved the dog. Loved the view. "An offer is coming," their agent said.

Another few days; another lovely young couple. Loved the . . .

Then one day I came home from lunch with some friends and found Saint Joseph in the mail. I tore open the package and found a little (maybe 4-inch-long) plastic replica of Saint Joseph. It came with very explicit directions and a short, slightly muddled explanation of how Saint Joseph got into the real estate business in the first place: "The tradition of burying Saint Joseph in the ground began hundreds of years ago in Europe. Nuns prayed to Saint Joseph (the patron saint of the family and household needs) when they needed more land for convents and were encouraged to bury their Saint Joseph medals in the ground. Medals evolved into statues and today thousands of home sellers and real estate agents nationwide continue this tradition."

There's no real way to tell, but Sally Doyle from the Catholic Information Center said that the link between Saint Joseph and selling a house "is not a Church teaching. It is more of a combination of superstition and faith." She said she heard about it from her sister-in-law, who is Italian.

So we followed the burial instructions to the letter. "Dig a hole six inches deep near the 'For Sale' signpost. . . . Take Saint Joseph . . . out of his tote bag. Leave [him] in his protective wrapper so he keeps clean while in the ground. Place [him] in the hole, head first, feet toward heaven so he faces the direction of the street." There is a studiedly nondenominational prayer promising that once the deal is closed Saint Joseph will be dug up and given a place of honor in the new home.

We did it all, just like it said.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday the house sold.

Well, Jane Fairweather earned her commission all right.

But you're not going to hear me say anything against Saint Joseph. And if he wants a prominent place in my new condo, so be it.