I stumbled into my first séance when I was around twelve or so. (Those formative years tend to run together in my memories.) It wasn’t a séance exactly. More like a block party for my mother, my aunt and their like-minded friends. A séance, as I understand it, is generally reserved for getting in touch with a specific dearly departed. So perhaps it would be more appropriate to say I witnessed my first exhibition of mediumism or channeling. Apparently my mother and her friends were interested in getting in touch with their spirit guide. After all, in their particular course of study it wasn’t possible to find a likely teacher at the local community college. Even though such a course might actually be offered today, I suspect we were way beyond the level taught in Psychic Phenomena 101.
Anyway the whole experience was over my head at the time. It was disturbing seeing my aunt sitting in a chair, her back ramrod straight and speaking in a very deep voice that definitely wasn’t her own. I didn’t stick around that afternoon to be enlightened by the wisdom their spirit guide imparted to them. Frankly I was a little freaked out by the whole experience.
But afterwards, I remember thinking it was hypocritical for my mom to ban Ouija boards from the house and here she was summoning spirits from the great unknown. Some of you might be too young to remember the Ouija board craze, but back then Ouija boards were as popular as Monopoly. Everyone was getting together to host their own séances and summon spirits from the other side. Ironically, just when I could contribute something cool to my friends’ gatherings, we were absolutely forbidden to participate in any Ouija board activities. My mother was constantly admonishing us not to open up any passageways to the other side. You never knew what might come through, and once through some spirits were not always inclined to go back where they belonged. In our naïve state issuing such foolish invitations was likely to have unintended consequences. My brothers and sisters rolled their eyes, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I’ve never gone near a Ouija board since and though my children have largely been sheltered from my unusual upbringing, I did make it a point to warn them against fooling around with a Ouija board should the opportunity ever arise.
I was pretty much exposed to all of the usual psychic pursuits. My grandmother could read tea leaves. All I saw was a bunch of damp dregs at the bottom of a cup. My aunt studied numerology and was an adept psychometrist, (the parapsychology form referring to a person who can divine facts about an object or person by contact or proximity with it). I don’t seem to have inherited either gift. My mother read Tarot cards and later in life acquired a crystal ball. We took an astrology class together once, where we learned to use an Ephemeris and create astrological charts.
I learned how to read Tarot cards from my mother and would often read for her, but after her death I let the practice go. Like so much of what I learned I simply allowed it to fade away. I still have my cards; both of our sets actually, wrapped together in black silk and packed away in a drawer. My mother’s crystal ball is on a shelf in my bedroom next to the framed picture of the Blessed Mother she always kept next to her bed. Her most treasured possessions. Not jewelry. Not clothes. Not money. Not houses. And my most treasured inheritance from her, at least the kind you can hold in your hand. The cards especially, because she shared her gift with me. Even though they were far more worn than my own, having received far more use over the course of her life.
I thought I lost them once. I rarely took them out for a reading, but sometimes I would retrieve them to simply hold them in my hands to remind me of my mother. I always knew where they were. Years after my mother’s death I remember a conversation with my sister. She commented about how neither of our parents had ever come back to her after their deaths. Since I wasn’t the medium in the family I never found my parents’ absence particularly remarkable. I figured they were happily going about their new lives. It was funny though, I had recently received a visit from the older of our two brothers. He died young, only months before our Dad. He lived an often troubled life and in the end his addictions claimed his.
He stopped by one day to let me know he was fine. Just a feeling. He didn’t stay long. Just long enough for me to know it was him and he was better now and happy. At peace. My Dad paid a visit too. At the time I was too busy feeling silly and embarrassed to get more than the gist from it. I was just getting ready to take a bath, so I was naked. I’m sure my father didn’t care. I was the one who got all flustered, thinking my father could have chosen a more opportune time for a visit. Almost any other time actually. As long as I was wearing clothes. Looking back it was actually pretty funny. But my Dad just stopped by too, to let me know he was fine. I always thought my father was afraid to die. Even though he was an altar boy as a kid, his adult life was focused on science. He was a chemist by trade. A brilliant one. But often intellectual brilliance does not meld well with faith. I suppose it comes from all that questioning and needing everything to be proven and examined. If it couldn’t be, it must not be real or valid. In the end, I think my father was afraid if he went to sleep one night, he might never wake up. It was an interesting dynamic growing up in our house. On any given day there were two extreme viewpoints competing for our attention – not openly, not contentiously, just there, quietly, like background music.
My Dad stopped by because he wanted me to know he was okay too. He found his peace. So now considering my brother’s visit, then my dad’s, it did seem rather odd I hadn’t heard from my mother. I knew she was fine. She was more than ready to return to an element she was far more comfortable in than the physical world. Still it struck me as odd. I was closer to my mother than I was to either my father or brother. I thought maybe she was mad at me for abandoning her teachings. So I went in search of her cards. The ones I always kept with my own wrapped in the black silk in the back of the bottom middle drawer of my dresser. I just wanted to hold something in my hands she held so often in hers.
They weren’t there. My cards were there. Hers were gone. I was stunned. I tried to remember the last time I saw them. I looked everywhere. Every box, every closet, every drawer. I searched my house from top to bottom. It was inconceivable to me how I could lose them. I wouldn’t lay them carelessly aside. I always kept them in the same place. Always. Always.
I was devastated. I looked for months. And was finally forced to conclude they must have been lost in the move to our new home. There was no other explanation. They were simply gone. It was a terrible loss for me, even though I chided myself for my attachment to a physical object. They were cards, nothing more. I still had my mother’s other things and, I reminded myself, they too were simply things. My mother lived on. I knew that. But why didn’t she come to see me? Speak to me? Why didn’t she send me a sign she was all right, everything was all right?
Life went on. I kept looking whenever I was in a closet, packing or unpacking clothes, files, boxes. Nothing. I could admit, as silly as it was, their loss left a hole inside my heart, a reminder of everything else I’d lost with my mother’s passing.
Months passed. Years passed. One day I was hanging clothes in my closet. By then, I’d long since stopped searching for my mother’s cards. They were gone. I had reached a point of acceptance. Their loss only occasionally crossed my mind. I hung the last hanger and stood there debating what I should wear to work the next morning.
All of a sudden something hit me on the head. Then another something and another. My mother’s cards were raining down on me. I started laughing. Then crying. Then laughing. Then crying. When the last card fell, I scooped them up from the ground and held them close against my heart. I sat down on the bed and spread them out on the sheets, making sure they were all accounted for. There were a few missing, but they were the ones that were missing in life. I was too emotional to attempt a reading, so I carefully put them back together and carried them to the dresser. I opened the bottom middle drawer and retrieved the length of black silk containing my own cards. I wrapped them together and put them back in the drawer.
I still remember you too.