March 6th, 2006

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Mom's Magic Trick

I just remembered a great story about my Mom - about how cool she could be, especially before the depression took her.

She used to belong to Parents Without Partners, a group for single parents to go meet other single parents, and keep their kids busy in group activities while they socialized. It was actually a lot of fun, my sisters and I made all sorts of friends, and we did a wide variety of things - camping, hiking, swim parties, holiday events, art contests; and since it was a nation-wide organization, the art contests were pretty big affairs. I once took first place nationally for a photo portrait of my sister with a towel on her head - though I attribute it more to her sad-but-wise expression, which was (and remains) enigmatic in a creditably Mona Lisa-like fashion.

Anyway, at one holiday party or another, there was a talent show. One of my mother's great joys, and one I inherited from her, was playing a clever trick on folks. So for our family's "talent" she pulled me aside and said, "Ok, we're doing to do a magic trick. We'll have someone pick one of three cards, behind your back. I'll say something to confirm their pick - if it starts with "L" it means it's the left card, if it starts with "r" it's the right card. Anything else, and it's the center card, ok?" I nodded, eyes gleaming with excitement.

She got up and said, "This is sort of a family secret because we're worried about what will happen when word of my son's powers get out, but he's been confirmed by Duke University's Parapsychological Investigation Department as a potent psychic. We're going to demonstrate his abilities by allowing anyone in the audience - anyone at all! To pick a card, and he will be able to, without error, pick that card out of a group of other cards." We then proceeded to do the trick. People were astonished, particularly the kids - Mom was really good at very casually saying, "Really, that one?" or "Lovely!, David you can turn around." We did it a few times, took a bow -but then the kids in the group were determined to foil me. They insisted we do it some more, this time I had to be out of the room when the card was chosen. My Mom even took it a notch higher - she said, "Actually he can do it with anything, not just cards. Let's pick .. say, a penny, a nickel or a dime. Don't say anything out loud, just point to the one you want." She played it off like she was just a proud Mom demonstrating her son's talent, rather than the real brains behind the grift, and I don't think anyone suspected her of being complicit in the trick.

When they dragged me out of the room to pick when I wasn't there, I panicked a little. How would I get my cue? When I reentered the room (escorted by someone other than my Mom, so she couldn't whisper and answer to me) I shot her a look of pure pleading worry. She just said, "Ready?" without a care in the world. Ha, the right one! Good ol' Mom. After the talent show, she scolded me for being so transparent about needing a clue from her. "You'll give the whole trick away!" she said. I remember that scolding more than I remember the glow of pulling a good trick on the audience. It was that memory that jarred the rest of the memory loose - but then I think of the rest of the story and I grin, and I know...my Mom just liked playing a great trick, and wanted me to be a cool, collected accomplice. She liked getting one over on people - but never maliciously, always with a sparkling air of mischief and good humor. For the same reason, she loved awful puns and corny jokes ... and I can say I've definitely inherited two out of three of those predilictions.