My grandma Trudy used to tell us that she had “healing hands.” According to family lore, she once saved the life of a dying horse that, after she pressed her palms to its flank, stood up and trotted happily away. While I can’t vouch for the veracity of that tale, I do know that a touch on the forehead from her would always make my headaches vanish.
Trudy was a librarian at a library in central New Jersey, where I spent many a childhood afternoon pawing through the low end of the Dewey Decimal System, where books on the paranormal and other oddities are kept. I’d thrill as I read about the alleged mystical energy of the Egyptian pyramids and swoon over the entries on witchcraft in “Man, Myth, and Magic,” a 24-volume “Encyclopedia of the Supernatural.”
My favorite novel was “Wise Child” by Monica Furlong, a story about an orphan girl who gets taken in by a kind witch named Juniper, who teaches her magic and loves her like a mother might. The villagers come to them in secret whenever they need healing, but in public, Juniper and Wise Child are shunned.
Witches, I learned from the book, are complicated creatures: sources of great comfort and great terror.
But my interest in magic remained a largely private, solitary pursuit. I wasn’t ashamed of it, exactly. My discretion arose from an urge to protect one of the few things that was mine alone. When you’re a weird kid, you learn to put guardrails around the things you love.
I would often coax my parents to drive me to towns many miles away, where there were shops with names like Red Bank’s Magical Rocks or Mystickal Tymes. This was where I could find precious artifacts like old “Sandman” comics and bootleg CDs of