The Greatest Magician I’ve Ever Known

Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill,
One named Jack,
One named Jill.
Fly away, Jack!
Fly away, Jill!
Come back, Jack!
Come back, Jill!”

This little rhyme and bit of finger manipulation is very old and a variation on an older rhyme you can read about at This was really the first bit of magic I ever saw, performed for me and my sister and cousins by my grandfather. As I think about it, it is probably the strongest bit of magic I ever saw, but not because of the complexity of the trick, but rather, because of the fact that I saw something impossible for the first time and it filled me with wonder.

I don’t come from a family of magicians, and as far as I know, this is the only trick my grandfather performed for us, but man, did it kill every time. I’m pretty sure that the other kids cottoned on to what the trick was long before I did. I was kept in wonder until I found it in the first magic book I ever bought and, sadly, once I knew the secret, all the wonder was gone.

I posted a link to a short film called “The Magic Box” ( , and when I first watched it,  it took me back to my childhood, watching my grandfather, maybe the kindest man I’ve ever known, do this little trick. It sent us into hysterics as kids, asking how he did it. Given the fact he wouldn’t tell, we’d scream for him to do it again, climbing all over him, trying to find the birds. I was always convinced he somehow hid them behind his ears, even when I watched and didn’t see anything there.

Honestly, as I watched that film, I had tears in my eyes.

My wife and I don’t have kids of our own, but we have nieces and a nephew, compliments of my sister, Jennifer. My nephew is 17 and concerned with teenage things, but the girls are far younger. I am remiss at this point for not performing this trick for them, but I’ve gotten the reaction I want from little Whitney by doing my sponge ball routine. Each time the one sponge ball disappears from my hand and she sees she’s holding not one, but two, she squeals and, barring the fact I won’t tell her how it’s done, holds me hostage until I “do it again, just one more time.”

When I started doing magic and started deciding what tricks I was going to do, I decided that whenever I do the sponge balls, it would be in honor or my grandfather because it’s something that always makes the audience smile and laugh. I didn’t even think about the “Two Little Blackbirds,” but maybe that was niggling around there somewhere I hadn’t looked back in my mind.

I dread the day when I lose my grandfather. To me, he is the Greatest Magician I’ve Ever Known. And all because of one trick, maybe the only trick he knew. To me, though, it made all the difference.

I love you, Grandpa.

My Grandpa, Willet Schaefer, surrounded by his grandsons and great grandsons.

My Grandpa, Willet Schaefer, surrounded by his grandsons and great grandsons. Christmas 2012

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