LIFE CHAPTERS

He called himself ‘Magic Man,’ as did I: A veteran who sometimes lost his way

Bill Stamps
Posted 9/9/17

Almost 30 war veterans commit suicide every day. It’s a tragedy.

When I was a child living with my grandmother, Miz Lena, Saturday mornings started out like a page out of Heaven. Breakfast on a …

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LIFE CHAPTERS

He called himself ‘Magic Man,’ as did I: A veteran who sometimes lost his way

Posted

Almost 30 war veterans commit suicide every day. It’s a tragedy.

When I was a child living with my grandmother, Miz Lena, Saturday mornings started out like a page out of Heaven. Breakfast on a TV tray. Just off the kitchen, in the den. Watching Roy Rogers, Mighty Mouse cartoons and the Little Rascals on my grandmother's stand-up Zenith. All the while, feasting on Elizabeth's award-winning biscuits and blackberry jam. Wash it down with fresh-squeezed orange juice. A few more cartoons.

Ahhhh, the good life. Sitting there, on my grandmother's big, sink-into-salmon-colored, circular couch. My favorite blue-and-white striped Fruit of the Loom pajamas. Wrapped up in the little embroidered quilt Grandmom kept on the arm of the couch. A big stretch and a long yawn of sheer ecstasy. Thank you God, for this most perfect of mornings. Yep, I could do this all day.

It was like lightning hit the room! Here comes Miz Lena. Bundled up, purse in her hand and in a hurry. She goes over to the door and pushes it open to let some of the autumn morning air seep through. It was crisp to cold. She opens the blinds. White blinding sunlight shot across the room. I was squinting. “Warm and cozy” made way for Miz Lena's insistence of “alive and awake.”

Standing directly in front of the TV, hands on her hips, Miz Lena said, "Looka here, go put on yore play clothes and take it outside. Git some fresh air and some sun on yore face. You sit in here long enough, and yore gonna end up gittin' sick."

Brunch was over.

She said, "I gotta run into town, and Elizabeth needs to git in here." Elizabeth, Grandmom's maid, was one of my favorite people in the world. Off and on, she had helped raise me since I was born.

Grandmom continued, "You be on the lookout for Carter. Elizabeth may be running the vacuum machine and might not hear him. Make sure to stay outta his way and let him be."

Grandmom kissed my face goodbye, licked her finger and rubbed her lipstick off my cheek, then headed out the door. Her last words to me, "And don't take all day gittin' outside."

I knew I needed to hustle it up. Every once in a while, she'd sit in the car, out by the mailbox, until she saw me come out.

Grandmom called him Carter. Elizabeth called him Mr. Carter. I never knew whether that was his first or last name. I called him what he called himself to me. Magic Man. He did card tricks. He’d shuffle up the deck and invite me to pick one.

He'd say to me, "You is holdin' da ten a' hearts." He was right! He'd chuckle and we'd do it, again. He never missed. And, he had me convinced he could talk to the squirrels and birds. Anytime he was in the backyard, robins and cardinals left the other yards in the neighborhood to be with Magic Man. They were everywhere.

I was fascinated by him.

Magic Man came around on Saturdays, just before lunchtime. A stocky built black man. Strong. Receding hairline and big hands. A heavy moustache and a three-day growth. Faded grey work clothes and a soft-brimmed hat. A pair of cloth gloves hanging out his back pocket. Slow walking. Gentle talking.

For a while, he had a pet squirrel that lived in his coat breast pocket and hung out on his wide shoulders and raced up and down his trousers.

Miz Lena always had a list of things for Magic Man to do. He could make a little money and fill his belly with a meal that Elizabeth would prepare for him. Generally, leftovers and fresh biscuits. He'd eat it out of an old Army mess kit he brought with him outside under the backyard trees. Maple, oak and a couple of dark, thick-trunked walnuts, ablaze with the colors of fall.

Most of the time, his food got a little cold. Before he took a bite, he’d give thanks to the Lord for a good 10 minutes. Elizabeth said she had known him “way back when” from church. They had Sunday School together. She said he knew his Bible. From time to time, their pastor would call upon him to preach to the congregation.

Elizabeth knew from experience not to serve Magic Man his meal until he'd completed his chores. Otherwise, he'd find a good spot outback and take a nap. Once, when I was sent to go wake him up, he sat up, coughed and told me with a sigh, blinking eyes and a rolling smile, "I kain't helps it, boy. Sister 'Lizbeth sho' do make some good cookin'."

Magic Man always showed up. Rain or shine. He needed the money. After all, he had to live and he had a bad habit to support. He wasn't as confused about things and felt less threatened by everyday life after he threw back a swig or two. To my recollection, he never drank on the job. It's possible that he had a few nips before he got there.

Memories of the war and the death of his wife had tipped his scales. Even as a child, I could see the hurt in his eyes. You could tell that he was just going through the motions of a sad and lonely existence.

I guess, one day, he decided that he’d had enough and ended it all. My grandparents went to his funeral. They were the only white people there.

My grandmother came home and wept. She said the trees out in the front of the church were filled with red cardinals.

God’s a magician.

———

(About the writer: Bill Stamps can be reached by email at bill_stamps@aol.com or on Facebook.)

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