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I know this is pretty long. I debated whether to post it here (It's from my journal, with some changes for clarification). It's been on my mind now since yesterday late morning...and you folks will understand why. Just gotta get it out there. I'm sure some of you have had similar experiences. This would be a good time to share them, I think.

Here goes:

Yesterday did my annual Christmas magic/ventriloquism show for the developmentally disabled at the local neurological hospital/residence facility. The fire department hosts the show and provides refreshments and little gifts and Santa.

For years it was in various fire department locations. They’d move the trucks outside and bus the kids in. This was good for the kids in many ways, as they got a field trip and got to see firetrucks, but it was bad, too, because the staff had to get umpty-ump wheelchair bound folks into busses…and get ‘em out in cold weather (some have kinda sketchy immune systems).
The last few years, they’ve moved it into the hospital auditorium/rec room/gym.

This is my 40th year. Man, I'm old.

By the time I’d finished, my tux was soaked through, my mouth was dry and my lips were cherry-red chapped.

But NOW the holiday season can start for me!

I've had some real lows this year...but some ups as well...and doin' this show every year makes me feel like I'm making a contribution.
And makes me realize anew just how lucky I am.

We've got it down to a science. Five or six magic tricks...things appear in boxes, things disappear...colored tennis balls go from here to there and back again. The magic has to be fast and colorful and miraculous. No think tricks. Nothing that goes on for too long. The magician has to be loud and encouraging and jumping all over the place…keeping the energy up.

For each thing that happens, I try to get one of the higher-functioning folks to wield the wand and do the magic himself/herself. They handle the magic wand reverently. At the end of each miracle, I tell my volunteer magician to “take a bow."

They always take the loveliest bows.

But most of my audience is wheelchair bound...and many of them are locked up somewhere inside themselves.
Still, they know how to applaud...and those who still can seem to love doing it.

The magic goes fast...keep moving...projecting and laughing and running back and forth and pulling up volunteers, or, more often, going to where they are to hand them the wand...and "Abracadabra" or "A La Peanut Butter Sandwich" or sometimes just the word "Magic," and they do magic of their own...and the guy in the tuxedo crouching next to them makes a big deal out of it.

And then I pull out Louie. Louie is a vent figure who's been with me since I was about fifteen. I recently retired the original Louie and replaced him with a hand-carved, somewhat larger Louie (A Hartz figure). With Louie, I go through the audience and visit individually with each one. I crouch down or lean down or whatever it takes...a nearby aid provides me with each name and Louie addresses each one that way. They’re not terribly interested in me at this point. I’m not a cool wooden “talking doll.”

Some of those kids...(I call 'em kids, regardless of their ages, because I've watched many of them grow up)...some of those kids can't see, so Louie gets close and invites them to touch his face while he talks. Some of 'em don't seem to be at home behind their eyes...and then something snaps to...and suddenly they focus...and smile at Louie.
That's the best.
I've been told that this is the only time all year that some of them smile.

I wind up sweating through the tux...and I'm always grateful for a wheelchair with an attached table, so I can set Louie on it and wipe the sweat out of my eyes.
Hard to say how many. Usually about 50-80, not including perhaps a dozen or more aids and family. Used to be more kids, and I'd do four shows over two days...but they started "mainstreaming" them during the Reagan administration, and so, though some of them come back "home" for the Christmas party, many of them don't. Or can't. Or have passed on.

I wonder about some of 'em I haven't seen for awhile. Victor, for instance, and Donnie, who was a hospital/residence hall tenant from the 1960's on. Last time I saw him, he was well over six-six and growing. Donnie used to come in delivering most of my lines from the public television auction I host each year. Rapid fire. the KTWU auction each year...rapid fire: "KTWUchanneleleven.Callinnownumber'son thescreen..."

Hope Donnie and Victor and the others I miss are well and happy. And alive.

About the time I'm halfway through the house, Louie interrupts me. "Hey, do you hear that?" "What?" "I heard reindeer on the roof! And bells!" "What? Hey, kids, anyone else hear reindeer? You know what that means? That means Santa's here!"
And then Santa comes bursting in...and his helpers bring drinks and cookies and Santa visits with each kid where he or she sits...beginning with the front row, while I finish up and move toward the back of the house...then back around...pack up Louie and the magic in their cases, and sneak out on little cat's feet.
And somewhere during the jumping and laughing and magic and ventriloquism and hard-won smiles, the holiday season slips into my soul.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Winter Solstice and whatever else you’ve got.

Let the festivities begin.

Bob Baker
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I am not ashamed to admit that I teared up reading your post. What a wonderful thing to do, and year after year. Two of my children are autistic, though high functioning, so I hold the developmentally disabled dear to my heart. I strongly suspect that the gift of yourself you gave will be remembered by the "kids" long after Santa's toys are broken and forgotten.

Kudos to you. You make me proud to be a vent.

Mr. Pitts
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David Pitts
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This really is a great story, thanks for sharing it. I too have children with disabilities, so I appreciate your years of kindness in doing these shows.

I have found that my figure Henry has the same effect on folks at nursing homes, even those who are withdrawn during everything else seem to come alive for Henry. It's an amazing thing to see.
David Pitts
The Astonishing Mr. Pitts
Comedy Magician and Ventriloquist
Dickens & Dave
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North Central Florida
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This would have been a great story any time Philip, but especially this time of year. Thank you for taking the time to share with us.

"Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest."
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