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The First Magic Shop

The First Magic Shop

As a middle school-aged boy I would occasionally stay with my paternal grandparents, Loyd and Ruby Humston for a night. Maybe it was the comfort of their older home. That little bungalow style home sat just a football field away from Lake Arianna, in Auburndale, Florida. As a boy, I remember watching early eighties television shows like The Incredible Hulk and Dallas while I’d push my fingertips into their deep orange carpet. My granddad would sit in his big recliner, while my grandmother sewed religiously in that quaint front room—whose windows had a view to the sparkling lake Ariana. Maybe I liked being there because my aunt Marilyn who lived with them was blessed with a fun, happy, care-free spirit. Or just perhaps it was just to get away from my older middle sister, who at the time thought I was the biggest dork around. But most likely it was that the little house on Illinois Avenue was a consistent spot in my life. From birth until age eleven, I moved every two or three years.

Their home, with its vast yard, filled with oak trees dripping moss to the fruit trees that grew grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, and tangelos every spring, was the unchanging place of my childhood. So, after spending a Friday night on the little bed in the front parlor, Saturday I was eager to get out and do something. Luckily, granddad needed to go to “town.” (For you city folks that usually means Wal-Mart.) It was about a 10-minute ride from their home to “town” The road to get there is called “PK” by the locals because “Pilaklakaha Avenue” it is just a mess to try to pronounce. PK Avenue changes into a street called Bobby Green, the city manager for the last twenty-seven plus years, that winds right through the little downtown area.

As we approached the right turn on Main Street, I saw the sign. “V.I.P. Magic” high above the front door. Another sign hung in the front window: Magic Shop.

“Stop, Granddad! Stop!” I could hardly get the words out.

“There’s a MAGIC SHOP!” I exclaimed.

And like any best-granddad-in-the-world would do, Granddad Lloyd turned his 1978 red, four-on-the-floor, Chevy truck, around. We parked on the street, just in front of the door. I approached the door with excitement, caution, anticipation…it was like a dream.

By this time in my “career,” I knew I liked magic. Having twelve-year-old perfected the small tricks from the Presto! Magic set…I was about too, quite literally, open the door to new wonders. And a life of possibilities.

Until this moment 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, my childhood best pal, Michael Micucci and I had a year earlier pulled out our respective magic sets from our closets; Mike’s set was an impressive Marshall Brodien Magic Set (also known to millions of children as “Wizzo The Wizard, on the Bozo Show in Chicago on WGN.). The Brodien set included its very own briefcase (box) and alphabet stickers to put your name on the outside. Filled with plastic prestidigitation to perform “200 amazing tricks”.

My first box magic set was from Pressman Games, aptly called “Presto Magic Set” it carried a meager 50 tricks…with cardboard props. There’s nothing like quality…and this was nothing like quality. So, going from plastic and cardboard props to discovering shelves filled with handcrafted hocus pocus was mind-bending.

As Granddad and I entered the shop… it was akin to Grandpa Joe and Charlie going into the Chocolate Factory. “We’ve got nothin’ to lose, Charlie!” The bell jingled as I pushed open the glass door. The smell was overpowering. It was stale cigarette smoke mixed with paper, paint, and wood. But the scent didn’t matter to me. It was better than Ollivanders. It was the smell of magic to me.

A man named Sherman Williams was behind the counter. I looked around, quite mesmerized.

“Hello, son” Sherman remarked.

“Hi,” I responded quietly. “Hello, sir”

Sherman spoke to my Grandfather. A lit cigarette held between his fingers. A gold pinky ring on the same hand. He placed the lit Marlboro into the ashtray on the glass counter. “Have you ever been in a magic shop?” He quipped.

“No, no I haven’t” I continued, “But I like magic, and I know a few tricks.”

“Good, Good.” Sherman retorted. With his gruff manner, Sherman proceeded to show me wonders I had never witnessed. He took that lit cigarette, made a fist, placed it in his fist, opened his hand and…it was gone. Vanished. “What just happened?” I said to myself. I knew how to make nickels change to a stack of dimes…but this was different. Colorful boxes lined the shelves, cards, silk scarves, coins lined the glass cases. A playing card vanished from one box and appeared in a frame—that had just been shown empty. He took a piece of rope, cut it in half…and voila! It was back together. Time was moving too quickly. I didn’t want to go. Granddad seemed impressed but wanted to be on his way.

“Granddad, can I get something?” I asked, boldly.

“Sure, Scotty” He replied.

My grandfather bought me three items: a trick called “Ball Thru Glass,” a book, Abbott’s Encyclopedia of Rope Tricks for Magicians, along with a “hank” (25 feet) of magician’s rope. I still have the book, the ball, and the glass. I am sure we went on to Wal-Mart, but I don’t remember anything else about that fantastic day.

I am so thankful for Grandparents who’ll take U-turns.

Eventually, I convinced my mom to take me back to the shop. She could easily see my enthusiasm and excitement about this craft, and understanding that it might just help my confidence, I easily persuaded my mom to sign me up for magic lessons with Sherman. It was during one of those lessons that I remember Sherman distinctly saying, “Listen, do you want to play magic, or be a magician?” I don’t recall my question or comment that brought that response, but I do remember then and there that I didn’t want to “play magic.” I was at the ripe old age of thirteen by this time—and I didn’t fully know what it meant, yet, but I wanted to be a “magician.” Shortly after starting lessons Sherman sold the shop’s inventory and closed up. I am sure that there just wasn’t enough people interested in “tricks” to keep the lights on and pay the rent. Thank goodness he didn’t close before that afternoon trip to town. Sherman reached over that glass case and created wonder in me. By sharing secrets and stories, he caused a spark to turn to a flame that would eventually set the course of my life.

Defining moments can come when we least expect them. When wonder is awakened in us, it can become a defining moment. A serendipitous experience can change the direction of our day, our week, or even our life.

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