It was sometime after dinner. Or before. I can’t really remember, but here’s what I do remember, and this is what happened:
I was sitting on the floor with my sister. The floor was covered in green carpet - green like moss, green - and I was sitting on that. Sitting with my legs crossed. Sitting upstairs in a room next to the attic. A room with a television, two windows, and a couch. Between my sister and me was a large, hardback edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary - its cover made of red fabric, its title embossed in gold. Also between my sister and me was a Ouija board from the attic, from the 1950s, from our mother’s youth. In the middle of the clear plastic viewfinder - the one that supposedly moves around the board to answer questions from beyond - was a nail. A tiny metal nail. Right through the center. I don’t know why.
We asked it a question to test it. To make sure it was working. We asked it to tell us which word we would flip to in the dictionary. It spelled a word. I don’t remember the word. We flipped open the dictionary, and the word was there. Right at the top of the page.
We flung open the door to the room where we were sitting and went running down the hall, down the stairs, screaming, heading straight to our mom, who was in the kitchen cooking - I suppose it was before dinner.
Don’t be ridiculous, she laughed.
We could not be soothed, and so she marched right upstairs, our four little legs following behind her, to prove to us just how ridiculous we were being to believe in this stupid game.
Ok, let’s play, she said.
And so we began playing on the floor, on the green carpet, my legs crossed, next to my mom and my sister with the ouija board between us. My mom asked the board a question to which she didn’t know the answer. A question neither my sister nor I knew anything about: What was Cora Clark’s father’s name?
Who’s Cora Clark?
Cora, my mom explained, was our great-great grandmother, born in 1862. And my mom, despite her best genealogical efforts, had been unable to uncover Cora’s father’s name. All she’d found to date were his initials: E. P. Clark. Her research had also revealed an Ezekial Pray Clark who lived in the area at the time, and she thought, maybe that’s him.
The viewfinder began to move, and my mom accused my sister and me of moving it. We fiercely protested.
It landed on a letter: E.
It kept moving, and when it finally stopped, it had spelled: E-S-E-C-K.
It wasn’t a name we recognized. It wasn’t Ezekial. But it was close. So close. My mom thought she must have been right. That he must have been Ezekial Pray Clark. That the board was onto something, but that communication was muddled. That Ezekial had somehow turned into Eseck.
That’s when she asked it her next question, Is this Cora?
And the board answered, Yes.
All three of us pulled our fingers from the viewfinder, thoroughly shaken.
And that was that.
Until a week or so later. That's when my mom's cousin Henry was sitting in church. Henry, like my mom, had the genealogy bug, but he’d long since abandoned it, or it had abandoned him, but for whatever reason that day in church, the bug was back.
He returned home and signed up for membership to an online ancestry database. This granted him access to certain census records, and in these records, he and my mom found Cora Clark’s father: E. P. Clark - Eseck P. Clark.
Eseck. Eseck. Eseck was his name. Not Ezekial Pray. No, Cora’s father’s name was Eseck.
To this day, my mom has been too frightened to play with the Ouija board, but all I can think is thank you. Thank you for answering her question.