I didn’t. I was self-taught. I started out with regular playing cards when I was very young. We always had decks of regular cards. My family and I played card games on rainy days, weekends and holidays. We played many different variations of poker. We played rummy, Hearts, Spades, War, and countless variations of solitaire.
My mother liked card games, especially Blackjack. Years before I was born, my mother was a lieutenant in the Navy WAVES during World War II. She had been thrilled to be placed in the Navy’s cryptography section only to find the assignment crushingly boring! How could it be boring, I wanted to know? I loved puzzles. Think about having a job where you solved puzzles all day long! She patiently explained that since she was an officer, she wasn’t really allowed to solve the puzzles and crack the codes; she was charged with supervising other WAVES who were working on code breaking. Mom’s strong point was never people management, “soft skills,” and personnel work.
She put nearly all her wages during her stay in the Navy into U.S. Savings Bonds but kept just enough out for a vice or two. One of them was Blackjack. She was good at it. She won more often than she lost. I never credited her with having a “poker face” and silently speculated that her trim figure and excellent legs (which she selfishly did not pass along to me, darn it) served to distract her predominantly male Naval officer poker partners just enough to lose track of the count of cards. As she was able to tell the story and as evidenced by the matured savings bonds that she cashed in when I was six, she cleaned up at the poker table.
We learned Blackjack, 5 card stud, 7 card stud, Spit in the Ocean and a number of other poker games. She dutifully explained that there were people, usually people who were very strict about their religion, who felt playing poker was evil. Why, there were even those who thought card games of any sort were evil. They probably didn’t approve of dancing, either. She thought it might be that this kind of thinking could be more prevalent in smaller towns in the Midwest, like the one she and Daddy had grown up in. But she had seen the world, or at least most of the United States east of the Mississippi, and felt more sophisticated than that.
Cards weren't bad unless you cheated or somehow got lost in trying to win your money back and got deeper and deeper in the hole. But cards were just pieces of paper with numbers and pictures on them. And they were a great way to learn your numbers, especially in the late 1950’s. I was suddenly able to count to 21, 13 and 52, deal five and seven cards, and bid speculatively on my chances of winning. We used wooden matches for currency at first, then graduated to poker chips. We never bet real money. Who would do that?
They made fun of me for dealing “backwards” using my non-dominant left hand to distribute cards around our large, round, low round table in the family room. But I could hold my own in spite of being the youngest.
I was fascinated with the cards, the smooth linen finish, the complicated Bicycle pattern on the backs, the mirrored court cards, the pattern of the arrangement of pips, always showing that numbers were made of smaller numbers in smaller patterns. I started to find something more meaningful within the suits. I knew I should love the hearts best or perhaps the diamonds, since diamonds were my birth stone. And spades were “scary,” so gentle, rounded and handy at one end sharpening to a dangerous point at the other. But I liked clubs. I didn’t know why. And the queen of clubs was my favorite in the poker deck because she was smart, energetic and talkative, sociable. Why, she liked cats and dogs and would set up her veterinary clinic for teddy bears on the weekends. Somehow, the cards had a language of their own and I began reading cards and the stories they told there on that big round maple table.
Mom didn’t stop me. She didn’t mind. While she was a stickler for the concrete, a Doubting Thomas, a scary “spades” kind of person, her sharp mind and sharp tongue did not stifle my world of intuition and connections to other. She said she thought it might be genetic, since after all we had gypsy blood, Bohemian Gypsy. She said it with pride and a little defiance, as if it were something she could say at home with us but not aloud in the streets of her home town in the Midwest.
It was OK to be who you were. More than that, nothing ever diminishes you.
I knew it was different. I knew it wasn’t something most people would understand. After all, if my friend’s mother told me I was going to hell for mistakenly saying the wrong age on the Popeye Show, would I go deeper for reading cards? And it connected with the dreams and other experiences I had had since I could remember.
Then I found there were books, booklets, strange little papers that added to and validated what I had already picked up. My mother’s antique shop was a treasure chest of constantly changing reading material, my own personal random library of pulp and lore and leather bound gems. I soaked it up. I read palms. I studied ESP. I had dreams and interpreted. I picked up the rudiments of astrology. We moved to New Mexico and I burned through the entire metaphysical section of the public library. But I had no mentor. The more I learned, the better I became at it and the better I became, the more I understood it wasn’t something you talked about.
“Cindy!” I hissed into the phone I dragged into my bedroom closet one evening, the way teenage girls talk to their best friends. “I’ve met someone!”
In any other conversation, this would have meant A Boy, tall, dark and handsome or some combination of traits that paid attention to me. But this was different. I had met Mr. Schultz at the hospital. Mr. Schultz was a little older than my usual teenage idol, hovering somewhere around 70.
“He’s psychic, Cindy! He understands.” We made arrangements to meet Mr. Schultz the next weekend in the hospital coffee shop during break for the volunteers. We brought a map that Saturday and spread it out on the small table, the three of us, a white-haired angelic old man in a red volunteer’s coat and two wide-eyed teenagers at the beginning of everything.
“Yes,” he told Cindy, never taking his eyes off the map. “You will go to California and dance and meet your destiny.” Cindy’s eyes shone, her dreams certain. The trance-like concentration was catching, a lesson in scrying. He glanced up at me and smiled.
“You’ll go to California, too, but not the same place,” he breathed evenly, his eyes set like jewels in his pink cheeks.
“Yes,” I was suddenly in the zone and understood I had been there before, but suddenly aware of what it felt like. I moved my finger across the map from our tiny town in eastern New Mexico.
“But I have to go here first.” Without lifting my finger from the map, I dragged it to a place I had never been before.
“Fort Wayne, Indiana?” Cindy sputtered over the map, laughing, half in horror. I had to admit, it was a strange thing for me to say.
“Yes,” said Mr. Schultz. That was The Lesson. The 3 of Wands is called a “gating card” in Tarot because it points to the readiness and launch of a new project. The character in the card looks out to sea at the ships he has launched and his vision includes the understanding of the adventure that is yet unseen, just over the horizon.
Years later, while on the telephone company’s private jet on my way to an interview in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I remembered that day. Suddenly I didn’t care about the outcome of the interview. After all, I was going to California.Best wishes.