An Unforgettable Memory
By Alfred M. Albers
Part of the excitement of being in the U.S. Navy is the numerous port visits throughout the world. Countries such as Japan, France and Denmark, and the historical cities of Rome, Athens and Cairo are but a few. Each place is unique in the language, the customs, the food and the people.
Twenty-seven years have passed since I last visited some of those overseas ports, but tucked away in an old scrapbook are unforgettable memories. However, one place in particular stands out from the rest: Palma de Majorca, on the Bay of Palma, which is an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. It was here, in October 1978, that I had the opportunity to perform a magic show for a unique group of school children.
On the morning of the show, I was met on the pier by the President of Club Elsa (a Charitable Association for Immediate Help). Joana, a middle-aged lady, greeted me with a smile and a hearty handshake, and in fluent English thanked me for volunteering my time. I smiled and graciously thanked her for the opportunity. Minutes after leaving the pier, she asked if I spoke Spanish.
“My comprehension is better than average; however, speaking leaves a lot to be desired,” I sheepishly replied.
“Then we’ll continue in English,” she said.
“What can you tell me about the school and the children?” I asked, as we drove through the city.
The school’s name was Colegio De La Purisima Para Niños Sordos. I knew the meaning of all but the last word: “sordos.” (Translated, the other words mean: School of the Virgin for Children.) When Joana saw the quizzical look on my face, she instinctively knew the question I was about to ask.
Before I had a chance to speak, she said, “La Purisima belongs to the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate.” She paused a moment and then asked, “Which word do you need help with?”
I told her.
Joana nodded and said, “Deaf.” Seconds later, she continued, “The children you’re going to perform for were born prelingually deaf.”
There are many magicians who perform a silent, manipulative routine full of color and action, complete with background music. My show was just the opposite. I talked to the audience and looked forward to the personal interaction when I was assisted by an audience member.
My thoughts drifted back and forth; I had no experience performing for the hearing impaired. Yet, in less than an hour I was expected to entertain children who can’t hear, and speak exclusively in sign language. I had no idea how I was going to pull this off; that is, until I remembered the question that Joana first asked. Suddenly, it all made sense.
I quickly prepped a few of the props I brought with me and stood off to the side. There weren’t any spectacular illusions like the ones seen on TV; I carried my props in a suitcase, a very compact show, but nevertheless very entertaining. Signing to each other within their respective age groups, I saw the sheer excitement on their faces. Though I’ve long forgotten the children’s names who graciously helped me “on stage,” I can still visualize them sitting in the large multi-purpose room looking at, and then quickly turning away from, me … the American sailor. It’s an enduring remembrance that I’ve carried with me ever since.
When everyone settled down, the Mother Superior arrived, stood in front of the group and signed. Simultaneously, the group responded to her. A few minutes later, the show began. Resolving the language barrier was easy. As Joana translated my words, a school teacher simultaneously signed to the children. Right on cue, they signed back and … well, you get the idea. Yes, the show was slow going, but no one missed anything. When the silk vanished and then reappeared, and the magic wand was suspended in mid-air, the children and the few adults who were present sat in awe. When the show ended, the response I received from the children and the adults was humbling.
With my suitcase packed and the audience long gone, I headed for the Mother Superior’s office to bid farewell and to thank her for the kind hospitality she extended to me. I left, promising that the next time the ship returned to Palma I would return to perform once again.
The following morning, the ship’s Public Affairs Officer called me to his office. I knocked on the door and as I walked in he put down the newspaper he was holding.
“Have a seat, Al,” he said, pointing to an empty chair. “I wanted you to know that one of the adults at the school was a reporter for the Majorca Daily Bulletin.” He grabbed the newspaper and handed it to me. “You made quite an impression; turn to page 15.”
In his column titled, “Who’s News,” Benito put pen to paper.
“As I wrote the other day, one of my favourite acts is a magician and since they seldom talk during their performance, they are also much appreciated by people of all nationalities and, of course, deaf mutes.
“CTF [sic] Al Albers of the USS Kennedy is an accomplished prestidigitator and through the auspices of the Elsa Club, he gave a performance for about 70 deaf mutes at La Purisima School and they loved him. Good work Al and the ladies of the Club Elsa.”
First impressions are, indeed, last impressions. I couldn’t have asked for a better review!