Bobby learned his first slight-of-hand trick from a local St. Thomas Butcher, who ran a small shop on Talbot Street.
Frequently sent on errands to buy salami, cold cuts or stewing beef at the butcher shop, he’d eagerly snatch a quarter from his mother’s hand, scurry out the door and race down the sidewalks toward the rickety wood clad building. Once inside, he loved to wade through the thick layer of sawdust covering the hardwood floor. No matter how busy the Butcher was or how long he had to wait, Bobby would doddle around the meat counter until an opportunity to personally hand the coin over presented itself.
Measuring no more than three and a half feet tall, Bobby was too short to reach over the display so the Butcher would walk around the counter to greet him. Crouching down on the floor in front of the small boy, the Butcher would gingerly take the quarter from the palm of his hand. Acting as though the coin was red hot, he would throw it from right hand to left, blow on it, flip it smoothly over and under each finger, toss it in the air and then change hands. Every time, the quarter would unexpectedly disappear right before Bobby’s eyes. “How’d you do that?” the mystified boy would ask. “A magician never gives his secrets away!” the Butcher would abruptly reply as he stood up and wiped the sawdust off his clothes. Bobby begged to be shown, swearing he would never tell a soul how it was done. Back behind the counter as the Butcher wrapped the meat order in brown paper, tightly tying the package with string, his head would nod as he smiled and said “Perhaps”.
Finally, the day came when the Butcher patiently taught Bobby how to perform the coin trick. He reminded him not to tell anyone “the magic secret”, nor perform for them until he could do it perfectly. Bobby never forgot this advice.
Bobby was so excited to practice, that he raced home to ask his mother if she would give him a quarter and in return, he would show her a spectacular magic trick. Pearl watched curiously as he awkwardly tried to flip the big coin between his tiny fingers, dropping it on the floor over and over again. By the time he had swooped down to retrieve it from under the kitchen table for the ump-teenth time, she determined that a shiny new penny might be a better fit for his small hands saying “Oh my cleaver boy, why don’t you go work on it for a while before you show me?”
Bobby dedicated hours to perfecting his first slight of hand trick, eventually wearing down its imprint of King George IV as the coin’s bright copper hue turned to a dull, muddy brown. Time went on; he grew and practiced with bigger coins eventually manipulating silver dollars through his fingers with ease.
Bob McNea’s life-long expertise in performing the “French Drop” captivated spectators the same way the Butcher had enthralled him so long ago. When asked “How’d you do that?” he’d reply “A magician never tells his secrets!” His wise advice to aspiring magicians and his own children was always the same; “don’t ever perform a trick until you can do it perfectly”.