I must admit to a creepy obsession with and an uncanny skill at reading the tarot, since I was 12 years old. My father found me one evening in the basement of our 1800s house (I remember it was a tall rectangle of brick that listed a little to its right. In a previous life, it had been a hospital for the mentally insane); the basement light was out and I was at a little wooden table reading tarot cards by the light of 100 candles; well, all the candles I could find in the house, anyway…red wax dripping everywhere, like a crime scene.
He was always a bit leery of me, my father.
He was not into the weird gypsy stuff my mom believed in. (“Our family comes from a line of New Orleans gypsies, Wood. Your dad doesn’t like that. I think it creeps him out.” A sly wink, her hazel eye glittering like a charm. “That’s where your name comes from. Your great-great grandmother, my father’s mother, was called Woodie.” Weird.
I would invite neighbor kids and interested relatives into my “reading room” and tell them their fortunes. I took it way too seriously, I suppose, at 12. I was popular in school, though. People want to know their future. They can’t resist it; anymore than a moth can resist a flame.
I remember sensing someone in the back half of the basement, when I was down there. The back half was actually at the “front” of the house. It was unused, unwired for electricity, and empty, moist, and akways colder than the front half (at the “back” of the house). The back half of the basement was where the big coal furnace sat, like a huge toad whose mouth was filled with glowing embers.
There was a small coal closet back there, too, with a coal chute half-open to the outside due to its cracked wooden door located at the top of the back wall (on cloudless nights, when the moon was full white, the chunks of coal piled on the old floor would shine blue-black the way light does on a raven’s wing).
Photo right: The “back half” of the basement. The furnace has been removed. The square of bright light is the open coal shute.
Mrs. Rice, our neighbor, and the previous owner of the house (until she was too old to live in it alone), confided in me, once, on her porch where we were eating pecans from a glass bowl, that a young nurse had hung herself in that corner of the basement during a bad winter in, she thought, 1888. She didn’t believe me when I told her there was a bit of rope knotted on a wooden beam in my basement. But, when I took her down there, she squinted up at the beam and acted funny and said she couldn’t see a goddamned thing since she lost her old glasses. Then she hurried us out of there into afternoon sunlight.
I don’t know if the ghost of the nurse that died in my basement in 1888 prompted my tarot obsession, or if my tarot obsession prompted her presence (I also played Ouija down there). But I always knew when she was back there, maybe watching me. And even though I never did actually see her, I see her in dreams, still, sometimes.
I bought a new deck, Wildwood Tarot, a few years ago. I opened it today. I began to do some practice readings, and was immediately aware of a presence in the corner of the room. It was familiar to me.
I know that Mrs. Bedelia E. Rice has long-since passed away. I had known her during a very impressionable time in my life…and maybe, too, in hers. I last saw her face, the waist-long snow-white hair twisted into a swirl on top of her head, in the late afternoon on a cold fall day…I remember her waving and us driving off, the light, amber and soothing.
It is my belief Mrs Rice skipped heaven and passed on hell, and moved right back in to the old, leaning brick house next door in which my family had lived.
She had always harbored a resentment that her family “sold that house right out from under me. You think you know people. They stole my house and tried to put me in a home. But that is my house, Woody. Mine.”
Well, to the dead nurse — my own special ghost — and the eternal Mrs. Rice, I say a hearty Cheers! For I know they are enjoying a glass of sherry in the two crystal goblets I left in the basement for them that October day we moved away.♢