The Magic Box

By Frank Kennedy Adams

It is hard to remember the way we were, what we felt, what we did, but most of all the magic. We get older, jaded, grumpy and real. Magic slowly fades as we become more practical, hard working and important. We read the newspaper each day, watch the television, and solve the world's problems. We earn money, prepare budgets and have stern, serious faces. If you try you might remember magical moments. You can re-capture them. Sometimes you can see the magic in children's faces, in the neighbourhood kids, in the baby carriages at the park. The world is a magical place and we become blind to this when we age. Some of us do. Others among us, not many, hold onto the magic. We play with the kids, skip down the street, smile at rainbows and laugh a lot.

My Uncle Frank is such a one I was thinking, seventy years old, but still not a grown up; a young lad inside the man. He would give me a silver dollar on my birthday. Shiny and bright, real silver, the coin would come out of my ear, or I would lay a silver dollar. I was magic - like the golden goose. He would not simply give me a dollar. No, it was round and silver, it would magically appear underneath my bottom, would fly out of thin air, or come straight out of my ear. My mouth was open in amazement, my eyes wide with wonder and my voice filled with laughter. My Uncle Frankie was magic, and when I got my dollar his smile was as big as mine.

He lived with us throughout our childhood, a confirmed bachelor, or so we thought. At age 47 he would marry and have a whole new set of kids and grand kids to spoil and care for. Then though, I was his world, as were my brother and two older sisters. I had a Mommy and a Daddy and an Uncle Frankie. We would go for ice cream and sing our hearts out as we skipped up the Danforth, our street, then. Oblivious to the stares of passersby we would sing, "Were off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz".

No ice cream cones with Uncle Frankie, only banana splits. Do you remember when banana splits were magic? I do. I remember my first one. I remember not knowing exactly what a banana split was. Imagine looking at a banana split for the first time. A banana, split in two, one half on each side of the boat shaped dish. Three ice cream hills covered in chocolate, strawberry syrup and butterscotch. Don't forget the whipped cream, chopped nuts and crowning cherry. After you looked at it for a while you got to eat it. Remember?

Remember chocolate bars? Of course you do. Back then you could munch them fast or slowly let them melt in your mouth. You might have a favourite one: mars bars, crispy crunch, aero or rollos. Uncle Frank on his way home from work would bring us chocolate bars. A brown paper bag full of them. You had to close your eyes and dip your hand into the bag; you get what you get, was the rule. In the early days you'd reach in and grab the first object your hand touched. Later, older and wiser, eyes shut tight, you'd root around for the shape of your favourite, a nice smooth aero bar or a round tube of rollos. Uncle Frank made getting chocolate bars fun, exciting- magical.

Then there were the pennies. He would save them in a big jar. When it was your turn you could cash in. It was up to you to decide when. Half-full, over-flowing, three-quarters? You decided when and then it would be your brother's or sisters' turn. Removing the pennies from the jar. Rolling them up in brown paper wrappers, off to the bank for some hard ready cash. A penny saved is a penny spent he would tell us and laugh. Down to the exhibition grounds, big eyes, bright light, whirling rides and gales of laughter. A penny was a penny then too.

A silver dollar for my birthday, in later years it would arrive in a magic box. My grandfather was a carpenter. He had made a box in the guise of a book. A wooden box that looked like the bible. It was old and worn, and could only be opened in a secret way. Uncle Frank taught me how to open it. Inside it was hollow and always empty. On my birthday I opened the box and it would be empty. Closed again with my hand slowly circling over it, my young voice whispering, "Abracadabra", and "Voila!" my silver dollar would appear. A solid coin stamped sharply, a bright voyageur moving downstream, on a river of fast running silver. Turn it over and see the queen with her crown. After my birthday I would take out the box and study my coins with care.

Do you remember magical moments from your childhood? Try. My happy go lucky Uncle filled my early days with wonder. And most wonderful of all he shared them with me. His eyes, bright and blue, sparkled with excitement; he marvelled at my marvelling. He was dynamic and dramatic, full of magical energy and full of love, love for children. A complete joy for living seemed to rule him, dominate him. A simple walk in the park, a trip to Niagara Falls, the first time I saw Snow White at the movies, all wonderful journeys when Frankie came along.

A bunny rabbit brought home and me chasing it down the street, out of the bath, buck naked smeared with soapy suds, all the while a smiling, laughing Uncle Frank chasing me as I chased the rabbit. Later he would bring us a little puppy dog. There were bright balloons, candyfloss and Lime Rickeys, fishing trips and bicycles. Uncle Frank's bright eyes, booming voice and love of magic.

He was not a big man, only a tough wee Irish man out of Belfast over to Canada. I was not the only child who fell for him hard, who joined with him, connected with him. There were my brothers and sisters, cousins, local children and my dear friends. Now there are grandchildren, all love the magic of Frank.

I'm with him now, it's evening, he's smaller and thinner, he can't talk much but he's stubbornly breathing. I hold his hand and rub his back and speak quietly into his ear as he struggles to live. Uncle Frank seems scared, he is dying. I wish I'm saying the right thing as I try to sooth him, try to relay pure love from my hand to his. Awful as this may be, it is a magical moment between us.

Uncle Frank's body is ravaged from the inside. An evil cancer is taking him from us. Surrounded by loved ones he fights for life: a losing battle. God gave him the gift of breath and he loves it, seems to struggle for it. The doctors had given him a day to live three weeks before, yet he breathes on. No words does he speak as he stares straight at death. He struggles to get up, legs swollen; he's tied to his bed. His essence, his self remain, he wants to go for a walk. Magical, marvellous Uncle Francis, calms and sleeps, breathing easily. It is in this quiet space between dusk and dawn that I reflect upon our time together. I begin to scratch down these notes.

Beside his bed I doze and sleep, slipping into a half dream connecting possibly with Frankie's morphine induced visions. I see there is a boy at an old desk in the corner of the room. He has the magic box and whispers over it, "Abracadabra", he moves his hand slowly over the box in a circular motion. The boy opens the box and a silver dollar appears. Over and
over silver dollars appear filling the hollow of the dark mahogany.

He gathers up the coins and rubs them together. "Look", he says, "Magic dust." Silvery dust sparkles from the coins falling away into my grandfather's box. Soon it is full. The boy smiles, "For Uncle Frankie", he whispers. I look towards the boy and see myself stare back.

Slowly I wake and the dream stays with me. I wish I resided still in magical times and could sprinkle the glittering, silvery dust over my Uncle's old and tired body. We could skip down the street merrily, holding hands and sing, on the way to get ice cream. In the twilight, in the hospital room, near his bed, on the night table, is that it? The magic box? In the dark, shadows play against the wall; I see the shape of a book made from wood. I hold it in sight afraid the dawn will take it from me. I look to the box and slowly re-focus; the sun rises in fullness and the box is no more.

I begin to dwell upon important things, my Uncle's pain medication, funeral arrangements, my life, my work. In the morning light, magic remains, lingers, lives on. Frank turns In his bed. He smiles strongly and looks out from blind eyes, in a raspy voice he whispers, "You know I love you boy". Then he is gone - he breathes no more. I do not cry as I hold his still, warm hand.

I shed not a tear as he is closed tight into the wood and placed in the hearse. Quietly I watch him complete his journey. I help lift him from the car, up the stairs through doors carved from wood. We move through the doors into the church, Our Lady of Peace. The funeral director asks us, the pallbearers, to place our hand on Frank's casket. This we do as his box is wheeled slowly to the front, near the altar. I walk with him, my hand touches the wood containing him, tears spill from me in torrents. Though I try I can not stop sobbing. A power embraces me, holds me and won't let go. I look through the tears and the light is diffused, the tears bring focus and light is sparkling. I strain for control. Many tears follow, soft words echo. I know. Uncle Francis is not in this box - he is not gone.

We had buried him on Thanksgiving, all those years ago. The sun was bright and clear, the leaves as full bloom reached for the sun. Bright reds, deep orange, full yellow, drift down. Dark turned earth covered in colour. It was the most beautiful day.

Later, in the winter, I walk through the valley, behind my small, and green painted house. It is near night and I look back to my big black dog, he circles in the snow. He stops and sniffs trees caught in icy silver. The light is going and the bright white snow turns to silver grey. Shadow, my dog, cuts circles in snow. The moon appears from behind clouds to touch the good earth. On a field of perfect snow the moon catches hold of a shining circle. I reach down to pick it up. A quarter left here. Smiling strongly, old and grey, I put the coin in my pocket. I move through the winter without strain and skip lightly towards the certain spring.