jessica tholmer
October 30, 2017 5:36 pm
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

I feel like there aren’t many things about me that people don’t know at this point. I’ve been a writer on the internet for years and years — in the personal essay era — which means everything from relationship history to family stuff is on the web. Google me, and you’ll know I love Friends and The Simpsons and I have three brothers and one mom and I’m biracial. But here’s a thing we don’t all know.

I really love Lucille Ball.

Like, I really love her. And I really love I Love Lucy. And I know a lot of people really love I Love Lucy, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that I love I Love Lucy in a bigger way than most people in my generation. I loved her enough to try to summon her spirit with a Ouija board as a kid.

I grew up watching Nick at Nite at my cousins’ house because a) we didn’t have cable at home and b) we spent a lot of time with our cousins. They were basically extra siblings to us; everything my older cousin did, I did. Everything she liked, I liked. And everything our respective mothers liked, we also liked. They got us into cool stuff — movies from their adolescence, TV shows that they watched as kids, books that they enjoyed reading at our ages.

But I Love Lucy stood out.

We loved The Dick Van Dyke Show. We thought Bewitched was great. We even enjoyed Newhart. But Lucy was everything. I started watching the show when I was young, maybe 8 or 9 years old. It wasn’t long before I was enveloped in it. Somehow, I caught every single episode except for two — which was a pretty impressive feat before streaming became the standard. When I was a kid, DVDs weren’t even a thing, so I had to regularly tune into Nick at Nite to even hope I’d see anything new to me.

Eventually, per my usual pattern, I was so into Lucy that my devotion grew beyond watching the show. I started to read every book about Lucille Ball ever written.

I read Desilu, the book about her production company with Desi Arnaz. I read every unauthorized biography. I read Love, Lucy, her autobiography, three times before I was 12 years old. Ball was everything to me.

And then I discovered Ouija boards.

My mom wasn’t super stoked on the idea that my cousin and I wanted to play around with a Ouija board (she’d had her own eerie experience as a kid), but I’m pretty sure she bought us our first one. Since it was the late ’90s or early ’00s, the Ouija board wasn’t that cool, old-fashioned, or authentic. It was just a glow in the dark board from a toy store. The little triangular piece (or planchette) was bright green and the board was purple. I was a little bummed out by its inauthenticity, but I was still ready to give it a go.

We were ready to summon Lucy.

Listen, as an adult, I understand that there are probably major “disturbing the dead” vibes here. I am not recommending that one does what we did. I, however, 100% felt that it was appropriate to try to speak to a dead celebrity. I felt so connected to Ball — she was still alive when I was born! My dad met her once in an elevator! My mom loved her for years and years! I loved comedy! — that it didn’t even creep me out. My brothers thought I was being weird, but I didn’t even care. I was ready to talk to her.

We crawled into my closet, which consisted of gallons and gallons of water (because Y2K paranoia) and was also lined by tons of pictures of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy stills. I had everything — the chocolates, the gang in the car on the way to California, the episode where Lucy tells Ricky she’s expecting Little Ricky, EVERYTHING.

My cousin and I lit candles and began trying to make contact. We were nervous at first, but we also thought it was silly.

Slowly, we started to let the spirit guide us. We talked to her. I told her how much she meant to me. How cool it was to be able to watch a fiery redheaded woman dominate comedy. How I was still pretty sure no one was as funny as she was on television. I talked to her like I knew her, like she and the cast were my friends. It was emotional, but really cool.

The little Ouija device moved around, but not much. Slowly, but only a little.

She “spoke” back to us — but I think we both knew we were guiding the piece and Lucille Ball was not actually present.

It was still cool. I still felt something, as though I was surrounded by the woman I loved so much. It didn’t matter if it was her spirit or just her pictures lining the closet walls.

We giggled a lot, pretending and not pretending that we were talking to Lucille Ball. But, after all, isn’t that what she did best? Made people giggle? Made the absolute most out of completely unbelievable situations? Didn’t Lucille Ball, after all, make a career out of not being beautiful (though jeez, she sure was) but out of making a bit of a fool of herself?

That’s what I did that day. It was absolutely ridiculous to think a small stranger could summon the greatest comedienne of the 20th century through a Ouija board. But it was fun, and it made me laugh, and it made me feel something. And, in the end, I think that’s all Lucille Ball ever wanted.

I love you, Lucy.

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