Stephen March: My Dream of Magic
When I was a boy, I dreamed of being a magician.
I even knew a magician—or, rather, I saw him perform
His name was Ken Clendenin and he could change the color of a silk handkerchief by pulling it through his fist. He spread a red bandanna over some crumpled newspapers, and changed them into a dozen yellow roses. He pulled a gold coin from behind his ear.
I once saw him clap his hands and make a white dove appear.
While performing his magic he would talk to the audience in a relaxed and intimate way, making everyone laugh and catching us by surprise. We would lean forward in our seats, wondering what amazing thing he would do next.
I had no dad around, and no male role models who inspired much hope in my heart, so somehow Mr. Clendenin, whom I knew very little about personally, became my ideal.
I even tried to do magic myself.
I got a book of card tricks and learned how to get someone to pick out a card, return it to the desk after which I would correctly identify it.
I knew that a good magician never reveals his secrets, and I never did—although every once in awhile a particularly clever subject would figure out a secret anyway.
In those days I lived first in West Virginia and, later, in Tennessee, where I was the only magician I knew.
In West Virginia, barges piled high with coal went down the river. The men who worked in the factories moved zombie-like through the morning fog, carrying their lunch pails like broken muskets. Some of the kids I went to school with lived in tin-roofed shacks with cardboard in the windows.
It was not a place where people thought much about magic.
I ordered magic tricks from catalogues with money I earned on my paper route, and by the time we had moved to Tennessee I had a small suitcase full of tricks. I even had an black silk top hat and a magician’s coat with a special pocket sewed into the lining, where I hid the live rabbit I pulled out of my hat—much to the astonishment of my audiences.
During all of these years I never had a television—my mom didn’t believe children should watch them—but she took me to the library on a regular basis, so early on I learned how much magic there is in books, especially novels. In the summer I read six or seven books a week.
By the time I was a teenager, I had begun to see that the timeless beauty of a well-written story was much more beguiling than my magic tricks, which had already begun to seem a little threadbare.
I eventually put my suitcase full of magician’s tricks away.
But today, whenever I write a story, song or novel, I am still trying to name the right card in the deck, still trying to pull a white dove from the empty air.