Playing card characters come to life

Dale Jarvis
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Every so often, I get emails or letters from people with stories about strange happenings or odd bits of Newfoundland and Labrador folklore.

It is one of my favourite perks of doing what I do. Sometimes they are stories I have heard before, and sometimes they are new to me.

Sometimes, like with the note I received last week from Francis Furlong, they grab me immediately.

“Hi,” wrote Furlong. “Wondering if you have ever heard stories about playing cards coming to life.”

Could a folklorist or storyteller wish for a better opening line in a letter?

Furlong told me that his mother has a lot of stories from the area, featuring ghosts of British redcoats, children’s voices in the house, people walking around all hours of the night, a local monster with only eyes on its face, a man whose hair turned white after an encounter with the fairies, and the Virgin Mary in her blue dress helping children lost in the woods.

He told me that while his mother’s memory is not as great as it once was, she has one story that stands out in her memory in particular.

His mother’s name is Leone Miller, maiden name Etheridge.

“She grew up on Etheridge Point in Joe Batt’s Arm and always told us stories from there,” he explains.

“Mom tells a story about growing up in Joe Batt’s Arm. She was walking to a friend’s house and she had her mom’s playing cards, also the same cards that her mother would read like tarot cards.

“Well, as she was walking, she dropped the cards and they scattered on the ground. All of a sudden, all the kings, queens and jokers of all the suits came off the cards, like little people, and started dancing around her.

“Then they fell back into the cards they came off of.

“She has told us this all our lives, and swears to it to this day.”

Playing cards in Newfoundland oral tradition often carry a whiff of something supernatural. I have heard stories about the devil appearing at card games, and even of a family near Burgeo who vanished mysteriously, house and all, after playing cards on a Sunday.

But cards coming to life are a new story for me, and I would love to know if anyone else has heard a variant of this story from somewhere else in the province.

It reminds me, tremendously, of Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which was always one of my favourite stories as a child.

The deck of cards in Furlong’s story had something of a history in family lore. Furlong said that according to family stories, these were the same cards his grandmother would put on her nightstand before she went to sleep.

“She would wake up later to find the cards spread out over her perfectly like a blanket, each card end to end in perfect rows.”

If any of these stories sound familiar to you, or if you have a story about playing cards or using cards to foretell the future, I would be interested in speaking with you. You can always reach me by the email address below, or write to me c/o The Telegram.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Etheridge Point, Newfoundland, Burgeo Wonderland

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