Why do I do a men's gift guide every year? Because I am, so they tell me, a man, so I should know, right?
The other day, when my mom and I were talking about Ouija boards, she told me I should use one to find my childhood best friend, "Sam." I've been trying to track him down for years, and since the living have yet to offer up any leads, of course Mom thought of the dead.
"Mmm, I'm not wild about Ouija boards," I told her. Mom doesn't have the same reservations I have about spirit boards; she gets a kick out of them.
"I had a dream about Sam; he still haunts me. I think he's still around but... OH! We should play the Broom and Wicker Basket Game to find him!"
"I don't know what the 'Broom and Wicker Basket Game' is, Mom."
"Oh? You've never done that? You should play it. That's another story for your Creepy Corner."
Oh? You've never done that???
I like how my mom asks me about these obscure, spooky practices that she has to know I know nothing about, because the only person who could have told me about them is HER. Story of my life.
It's like the first time I ate a pork bun as a tiny kid, and I ate the paper stuck to the bottom of the bun. As I gnawed on the chewy paper, my mom looked at me and laughed: "Louise! Don't you know you're not supposed to eat that?"
No. I'm 4.
I think I continued to chew and swallow the paper out of stubbornness and baby rage. So there's some insight into our relationship.
Obviously I survived to adulthood, so Mom's parenting style of "you should know this" wasn't entirely wrong, right?
Anyway, the Broom and Wicker Basket Game.
"Por Por [Mom's grandma] used to FORBID it. She said the game could conjure up bad spirits — broom spirits."
"The girls my grandmother employed believed a spirit haunts every broom."
Are you eyeing your broom right now? Is it eyeing you back?
Por Por's girls would play the Broom and Wicker Basket Game at night, on special days of the month, after their chores were done. They had to do it in secret, otherwise they'd be in big trouble with Por Por. My mother and her siblings were allowed to play too as long as the SWORE they wouldn't tell.
I don't think any of Por Por's grandkids were going to mess with those ghost-conjuring girls — especially Ping Ma. Remember Ping Ma? She had "ghost-seeing eyes" and not only took care of the children, but also the spirits of the family's ancestors. Ping Ma would lead the Broom and Wicker Basket Game.
"The broom was always the bamboo broom that the girls used to sweep the room where the altar table was in the basement. The wicker basket was just a regular basket, about 12 inches in diameter with a lid. They stored incense and white candles for the altar in it. The spot was always the same, not directly in front of the shrine table but always behind.
"The Cantonese name of the game was Moke Nam Quoo [Mom's English spelling, not the standard romanization of the Cantonese] or 'Wood Basket Lady.'
"By playing the game behind the altar instead of in front of it, the Lady would not disrespectfully clash with the family spirits. The Wood Basket Lady was, as we were to understand, a lesser ghost — a wanderer. She did not have a home like our ancestors."
So for those of you keeping track, there's a wandering lady ghost in your kitchen broom, and she's not above getting into it with other ghosts. So basically the ghost of my cat is haunting all of our brooms.
The broom would be stuck into a flowerpot filled with earth, the bristles facing up. Then the wicker basket would be hung by the handle on the bristles, so the basket could easily sway. Everyone would stand at least two or three feet away from the broom.
"My brother and I would have 'back-row seats,' clinging to our babysitters. The atmosphere was dead serious. Nobody talked or made any noise, or else the Moke Nam Quoo wouldn't come."
The only person allowed to speak was Ping Ma.
She would start by chanting, "We are serious. Please honor us with your presence." Then when she felt it was "right," she'd repeat the question "Are you here?" several times. When Ping Ma felt the Wood Basket Lady was near, she'd say, "Please honor us with a sign."
Then everyone would wait breathlessly for the basket to sway, signaling the Lady's presence.
"Sometimes the basket stayed still all night. But most of the time, it moved."
The girls would then ask the Lady questions. A gentle sway was a "mild yes." "Emphatic movement back and forth was a definite YES." If the basket became still, it was a NO.
"Will my mother get well again?"
"I lost some money. Is it in the house? On the street?"
"Will I get married soon?"
On more than one occasion, Mom said the girls asked the Wood Basket Lady to help them find jewelry or trinkets they had lost in the house. Once the basket "nodded" and agreed to help them, the lost item would appear in an obvious spot, as if by magic.
Or by Wood Basket Lady powers.
Apparently the Lady also knew when you were naughty and when you were nice.
"The Wood Basket Lady always favored my brother, the perfect, straight-A student. Whenever he'd ask a question, she would nod her head off — the basket swayed all over the place. But when I asked her a question, it would just barely move, it was like she wasn't really interested in answering me."
And why was that, Mom?
"Because I never did my homework at that age. I'd come home and hide all my notes and poorly marked papers under my bed. Then Ping Ma or my father would find them and scold me. Ping Ma warned me that I was bringing shame to my parents and that the Moke Nam Quoo knew what I was up to."
The game would end as suddenly as it started, says Mom.
"The air would suddenly feel still — like some energy had left. Ping Ma could feel when the Moke Nam Quoo had left. The basket would suddenly stop moving. Then we would all bow our heads, and the girls would put their hands together and thank Quoo for the grace of her presence. She never stayed long."
The girls and my mom and her brother would then begin to put the room back in order, so as not to be found out. Now and then as the girls approached the broom, the basket would start swaying again, and everyone would fall back.
The Lady was not ready to leave yet. Everyone had to wait in silence until the basket stopped and stayed stopped.
"We were never allowed to remain and watch how they dismantled the broom and basket. The girls told us it was because the Lady's companion ghosts might not be good and kind spirits, and they might try to possess my brother and me."
This makes me wonder if Ping Ma and the girls were doing some next-level ghosty stuff after their boss's kids FINALLY left. Did they give my mom and her brother the "possession excuse" to get them out of their hair?
Maybe I'll ask my broom tonight. (No I won't.)
So there you go — yet another story that answers the question "Why do you believe in all this creepy stuff?"
Do I really have a choice?
And for those of you who are into spirit communication, here's a new "game" for you to play. I don't exactly recommend it (I don't recommend screwing around with any "conjuring" rituals), but if you know what you're doing, tell the Lady that Louise's mom says hi.
And for those of you who are like me, you now have one more thing to potentially freak you out in the middle of the night. The next time your broom inexplicably falls over, you can ask yourself, "Was it just an accident? Or is there someone trying to get my attention?"
It's your lucky day.