As a middle school-aged boy— I would occasionally stay with my paternal grandparents; Loyd & Ruby Humston for a night. I am not sure why I wished to do such a thing. Maybe it was the comfort of their older home; my aunt Marylin who lived with them and her fun, happy spirit. Or maybe it was just to get away from an older sister, who I didn’t get along with very well at that age. Whatever the reason, it was destiny. I had been interested in, and performing some magic tricks around the house and even door-to-door in the neighborhood (that’s a different story). But I liked magic.
Having spent a Friday night on their couch in the “front room”, I was, on this Saturday, eager to do something. And it just so happened that Saturday afternoon my Grandad needed to go to Wal-Mart. So, off we went. It was about a 10-minute ride from their home on Illinois Ave to the Wal-Mart store in Auburndale. The road to get there is called “PK” by the locals, because “Pilaklakaha Ave” is just a mess to try to pronounce. Well, PK Ave changes into Bobby Green and winds right through the little downtown. So, as we approached the right turn on Main Street —low-and-behold! I saw the sign! V.I.P. Magic! It was high above the front door—and another sign hung in the front window. “Stop, Grandad! Stop!” I could hardly get the words out. “There’s a magic shop!” My grandad turned around and pulled in front of the store.
I wish—really wish I could tell you the “scent” of that store. I believe it was like stale cigarettes mixed with paper and cardboard boxes. But it was magic to me. A man named Sherman Williams (not to be confused with painting company) was behind the counter. (For you magic historians, Tom Craven had just moved back to Ohio and sold the shop to Sherman.) I looked around, quite mesmerized. I wish I could tell you the tricks that I saw demonstrated there—I don’t remember many details, but I do remember he showed us some pretty amazing things! My grandad was impressed enough to buy me three items: A trick called “Ball Thru Glass” and a book, Abbott’s Encyclopedia of rope tricks for magicians, and of course a “hank” (that’s 25′) of magicians rope. (I still have the book and the trick.)
I am sure we went on to WalMart—but I don’t remember anything else about that fantastic day. But, I do know that I had burning desire to spend more time at my grandparent’s house.
This was a defining day for me. Up until that time I had never been in a magic shop. I knew they existed because my friend Mike had been to Ash’s Magic in Chicago. But to go from reading magic catalogs to walking in a “real” magic shop was life-changing for me.
You see Mike, and I had already pulled out our respective magic sets from the closets. He, as I recall, had an impressive Marshall Brodien set. I had a “Presto” magic set. And, I am sure, by this time, I had read and re-read the great book by Walter Gibson, Master Magicians. So, you can imagine the impact had of going from the “muggle world” into a shop that carried “real” magicians’ props!
A couple of weeks later I had convinced my mom to take me back to the shop—upon arriving; we noticed that it moved just a bit up Main to the other side of the street. Thank goodness we found it! It didn’t quite have the mystique the first shop had. It was, as I remember, a bit smaller. There was a room in the back…where I’d soon attend my first magic club “lecture.”
Because of my enthusiasm at such a vital age, and my speech defect due to the cleft-lip and palate, my mom was easily persuaded by me, to sign me up for magic lessons with Sherman Williams. I believe that I got to attend two or so times, before the shop again, was sold and moved. It was during one of those lessons that I remember distinctly Sherman saying, “Listen, you want to play magic, or be a magician?” I don’t remember the question or comment that brought that response—but I do remember—right there—that I didn’t want to “play magic” but wanted to be a magician.
It was after that second-or-third lesson, Sherman let me borrow some props to use in an upcoming show; A top hat, a prop called a “dove pan” and a couple of other items. When we went back, we found the shop closed…I do remember getting in touch with him to return the items, and he said: “just keep them.”
Sherman soon after sold the shop’s inventory. There hasn’t been a magic shop in Auburndale since. I never saw Sherman again— but he, along with the VIP magic shop caused a spark to turn into a flame, that has lasted for more than thirty years.
Defining moments can come when we least expect them. That’s usually the best way, actually. A serendipitous experience can change the direction of our day, week, or even life.
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Sharing His Wonder,