From my earliest memories, the name Toots would come up now and then in family conversations. I was fascinated with her, trying to picture what this woman had looked like when she was alive. She had passed in her seventies shortly after I was born. Toots was a fortune teller and my great-great-aunt. She was my grandfather’s aunt on his mother’s side, a Hickey.
Toots surprised my great-uncle Clifford once when he went to the local carnival. He saw a tent set up advertising Toots the Gypsy Fortune Teller and Toots was there, all dressed up to fit the part, right down to a headscarf and crystal ball. I later learned that she would often travel with that carnival, the Bill Lynch Show.
I would hear other stories of Toots when I talked to family members about her. She always fascinated me, but I had no clue at the time that I would have so much in common with her. Toots, like her sister - my great grandmother - was from the mostly French, North Shore of New Brunswick. She moved to and lived in Fredericton with her husband until she passed away.
Whenever the conversation turns to Toots, someone always brings up the story of her at the fair along with mentioning her funeral.
The parking lot was overflowing and cars lined both sides of the streets as her past clients paid their respects. Many of the vehicles were the kind of luxury cars seldom seen in the area, with plates as far away as New York. It was said that she had given business and investment advice to many who owed their fortune to her counsel.
Not long ago I contacted that same cousin I mentioned earlier from my childhood; she was Toots’ niece. I asked if she remembered any more about Toots. She talked of the lines of fancy cars at the funeral that took place, but she also mentioned something that I had not heard before. On the day of Toots’ wake, the cousin would have been about sixteen and staying in Toot’s home in Fredericton with her family. Back then, the body was laid out in the dining room or living room when someone passed. A man came to the door early that morning, banging frantically, and my cousin opened the door to him. He said to her: “I need to see Toots right away!” My cousin just pointed into the room where Toots was laid out. He walked past her, entered the room, let out a cry, and then ran back out the door. That poor fellow wanted a reading and, not knowing Toots had passed, got the fright of his life.
My cousin said Toots would tell people: “Just cross my palm with silver,” when they asked her how much she charged. I have heard she used regular reading cards to do readings and she would read palms. My cousin mentioned a large crystal ball that Toots had used sometimes, but it had left the family and was given to a friend of Toots. I suspect it was the same crystal ball my great-uncle Clifford saw her with at the carnival.
I discovered a new mystery about Toots when my grandmother mentioned her real name. She had thought it was Leanora. I would later find out she may have been thinking of my great-grandfather’s aunt who had mostly raised him; her name had been Lenore. I asked my cousin about Toots’ real name, but she could not remember because she had only known her as Toots. I was determined to find out, so I asked my uncle, our family history buff, and that was when things got interesting.
Toots – whom my uncle thought was also called Salivana by my grandfather – was named Selina Irene Hickey. At least, that’s what it is based on marriage records. She married James Edward Langley on August 4th, 1923 in Fredericton.
She was 19 at the time of marriage and her mother and father were listed as Angelique and James Hickey (my grandfather’s mom and dad). However, Angelique had a sister named Marcelline, born November 23rd, 1903. My uncle believes that Marcelline and Selina are the same person, known to the family as Toots.
How her name changed from Marcelline to Selina, he did not know. He cautioned me that this information was based off obscure records from the twenties and that he was no history expert. He thought perhaps that the church records that could shed more light on Toots’ past were lost in a fire. But we do know that, in 1951, her son James married and, on the record where she is listed as both parent and witness, she signs once as Celine (a short form of Marcelline) and once as Selina, overwriting the S with C on the witness signature.
I like to think the name changes were the result of her trying to find a name suitable to match her persona as a fortune teller. Selina does have a witchy feel, but from what I have heard she only ever used Toots the Gypsy.
I am happy to have the stories from my family about Toots; she sounded like someone I would have loved to have known. She has never tried to connect with me from the Other Side and I have never had the nudge to connect with her, but I like to think she is looking down and thinking that at least the psychic gift got passed down to someone in the family. To my knowledge, she did not practice mediumship, only fortunes and predictions, but I think there is a lot about Toots that we will never know. I guess if I really want to know more, I’ll have to ask her myself.