Hard Times

Christmas during this time in my life was on the lean side. Those fancy holiday packages usually contained necessities—like socks, underwear and handkerchiefs.

However, on my ninth birthday I did receive an exciting Chandu the Magician set with all kinds of sleight-of-hand paraphernalia. I took to this magical array like a young Houdini.

Once, when the Martells came over for Sunday dinner, I set up a card table with a sheet over it and put on a show that totally mystified them—I think. Anyway, they applauded wildly. Magic became a hobby I thoroughly enjoyed. Later on, it got me started delving into strange and obscure books on early magic and mysticism.

When I made objects disappear, such as coins, handkerchiefs, cards, that sort of thing, I spoke in what I called a magical cabalian chant. It was simply a bit of Indian-French-Canadian doggeral taught me by my grandfather. Phonetically, these were the “magical words”: Bo-Knee-Bo-Nah . . . Ch-Plee-Ch-Plah . . . Koo- Row-Shmah . . . Bow-Yer-Kiv-Yah.


I owned two pair of shoes at the time. One was a pair of leather oxfords and one was a pair of Keds. When I wore holes through the soles of the oxfords, my grandfather would carefully cut out cardboard insoles for me to stuff inside. It’s surprising how well that worked— for awhile.

I also owned a pair of rubbers for walking in the rain.


Geography was an early favorite of mine in grammar school. I even learned how to spell the name of the capital city of Turkey by singing the silly lyrics of a song that went like this: “Con-stan-ti-nople . . . C-O-N-S-T-A- N-T-I-N-O-P-L-E.” In 1930, this had been a popular ditty.

Then in 1931, the wily Turks turned around and changed the name of their capital city to Istanbul


My grandmother, Josephine Martell Dewey, had a passion for Pinochle, which she sometimes called Bezique. I often listened and watched the grownups play. Early on, I learned that my grandmother was an awesome card player. The other players handled her with caution and care and the utmost respect.

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