I'm used to this kind of talk from my Mom, so I didn't laugh out loud. Instead, I just responded with a question of my own: "No, but have you?"
She shook her head, telling me that she hadn't seen any. But she had heard of them when she was a child in the Philippines. In fact, she went on to say, her grandmother was a well-known witch in the Leyte province who performed many services for people like lifting curses and blessing babies and such.
I love my Mother's stories of her childhood, especially when she is so matter-of-fact about its more exotic aspects. This is a woman who plants shards of broken mirror in her flower beds so that demons cannot enter her yard.
It took a few minutes to explain to her that my book was a novel, not a history.
This is when my Mom told me that my great-grandmother hunted vampires. My mother explained that such creatures preyed heavily on children in the Philippines, and her tone suggested that my great-grandmother was a kind of local pest exterminator.
"How did she hunt them?" I asked.
"Voodoo," my Mom replied.
"Filipino voodoo?" I asked.
My Mom nodded.
"Why didn't you ever see a vampire when you were little?" I asked.
"My mental abilities protected me and my brothers and sisters," she explained. "Only the most powerful curses and attacks can affect me. But I've been practicing to get stronger."
This was the point in the conversation where she reminds me to give her the names of anyone who is "bothering me" so that she can deal with them. Though I don't really believe in her powers, I have never given her any names, just in case.
Yesterday, I took her shopping. We headed over to Chinatown so she could go into her favorite herbal remedy store, T & T Ginseng. My Mother has a great faith in the restorative power of nuts, but they couldn't be just any nuts. They needed to be the nuts sold at this particular store.
"The grocery stores do something to their nuts," she explained.
Besides getting large bags of shelled walnuts and almonds, which my Mom explained were essential for the health of my prostate, she also got a couple of liquids that she uses as a base for her own special formula of "Good Luck Oil" -- a green, fragrant concoction that I've been instructed to dab onto my neck like cologne whenever I leave the house. It smells like eucalyptus and soap, but I've figured what the hell.
(My Mother's Good Luck Oil)
In the back of the store, an old woman was measuring herbs into little paper packets. Behind this woman was a whole wall of drawers, each with a different plant or powder in it. The old woman would put a scoop of something onto a small square of brown paper. Then she would add a pinch or two of several other ingredients and then fold the whole thing up into a neat little envelope. She seemed to be winging it, and I wondered how she remembered what was in the packets once she finished.
As we passed by, my Mother whispered to me, "The Chinese will believe anything. You might as well just take a Flintstones vitamin."
When I pointed out that she used such herbs regularly, she was only mildly offended. The things she used were backed up by her spells and mental abilities, she told me for the umpteenth time.
In the grocery store next door, my Mother bought an impressive amount of produce: bok choy, bitter melon, and eggplant. She wanted to make a soup base, she explained. She also pointed out cans of coconut juice to me.
"For your lubrication," she said.
A few weeks earlier, my Mother had called me one afternoon while I was editing my manuscript. I let the call go to voicemail, but she immediately called right back, so I figured it was an emergency.
"Are you being attacked?" she asked when I picked up. Her voice was frantic.
"What do you mean?" I asked her.
"Is someone attacking you? I just had a flash that you were being attacked!"
I looked around my den, realizing that, except for my dog, I was alone in the house. I went from the den to the living room, checking the front door and the patio door.
"Everything's okay," I said. "I don't think anyone's attacking me."
"What about your bank account?"
I explained that my bank notifies me by text message every time there's any sort of transaction, but, just to be safe, I logged on from my laptop. I reassured my Mom that no one had robbed me via the internet.
"Oh, good," my Mother said. "My spells protected you."
Before hanging up, she made me promise to stop by her house the next day so she could make sure I was okay.
When I showed up at the appointed hour, my Mom spent a few minutes eyeballing me to reassure herself that I hadn't been replaced by a pod-person or an android. It took a little longer to convince her I wasn't possessed. After an hour during which she sprinkled some incense in my hair while making small-talk, she pronounced me healthy and safe, and she sent me home with a bag of shelled walnuts.
Yesterday, as we headed home from the grocery store, with the bundles of bok choy and bitter melon and eggplant in the back seat, my Mother insisted on stopping by an Indian market.
"It's my second-favorite place to shop," she explained.
We pulled up in front of a cramped storefront on Maryland Parkway just south of Tropicana Avenue. The store was appropriately called "India Market," and when we walked in, the young man behind the cash register greeted my Mom with a warm hello, asking her, "How did you like the sandalwood incense?"
"Oh, it really helped my prayers," she replied. "It made them very strong."
The young man nodded enthusiastically and shook my hand when my Mother introduced me as her son.
The place was packed, with overflowing aisles and couples badgering each other in languages I couldn't identify. But everyone also had bright smiles on their faces, and would stop to nod at each other as they squeezed through the aisles.
My Mom began filling a basket with packages of naan and bottles of mango and tamarind juice. She also picked out some packages of spice mix and some incense. At the cash register, the young man rung up her purchases and said, "Your total is thirty-three dollars, but you only need to give me thirty dollars."
He was beaming as he said this, and my Mother thanked him effusively.
On the way home, as we passed the airport, my Mother suddenly gripped my arm and pointed for me to make a sudden right turn.
"Go there! Now!" she yelled.
I did, thinking she had remembered another errand she wanted to run. But when she started turning her head and looking out the back window, I realized what had just happened. She thought we were being followed and wanted to shake off our pursuers.
"That red car," she muttered, pulling out her little notebook to write down a description, place, and time. Whoever they were, they were going to get a big helping of my Mother's mental abilities when she got home. For now, they were stuck at the light, while we made our escape.
Meanwhile, our little detour had put us in the airport itself, and I had to navigate through the passenger pick-up area to get us back onto the road home. While I did this, my Mom just kept scribbling into her notebook and shaking her head.
"They always know when I've cashed my Social Security check," she muttered. "But I'm always watching."
"I'm glad," I said to her. "I feel much safer."
Once I got her home and helped her unpack her groceries and remedies, I could tell my Mother was getting tired and wanted a nap. I said goodbye, promising to take her to lunch in the next week or so.
When I got back into my car, I found a bag of almonds on the passenger seat. There was a little note underneath them: "For calcium and cholesterol," it said. My Mom's handwriting is impeccable.
My Mother may be a witch, but she's my witch. Be nice to me, and I won't give her your name.