The Time My Mother Did Magic

on May 12, 2010

My mother was a little bit psychic and more than a little bit mystical — but that was usually as far as it went. There was one occasion, though, on which she declared, “I want to try an experiment” — and the results were very strange indeed.

In the late 50’s, my father had started bringing home a little extra income, and he began cautiously putting some of it into the stock market. My mother initially played no part in his investment decisions, but one night she must have decided she wanted to try playing the market her way, because she asked me to come over and sit on her lap and hold her hand.

I complied somewhat awkwardly, wondering what was going on, since I was perhaps ten or eleven and clearly too big to fit comfortably on her lap. “I’m going to read out five names,” she said, “and I want me to tell you which one you like.”

She went through her list, and though none of the names meant anything to me, one caught my ear. “Ang Wupp!” I repeated. “That sounds funny. I like that one.”

So at my mother’s direction, my father bought shares of stock in what turned out to be Angostura-Wuppermann, at that time the US distributor of Angostura Bitters.

And the stock immediately started to go up. And up. It went from something like $9 to perhaps $15 over the next week.

But then (as my mother explained it to me) the head of the New York Stock Exchange called up the president of Angostura and asked, “Do you have any idea why your stock is skyrocketing like this?”

“Beats me,” the president of Angostura replied. And the head of the Stock Exchange spread the word around and the stock slid back to where it had started — but not before my father had managed to get out with a nice little profit.

Now it’s one thing to have a sudden urge to buy a lottery ticket for the first and only time in your life — as my father-in-law once did — and come up with a winning number. In a situation like that, the ticket already exists and somebody was bound to get it. You haven’t done anything to upset the cosmic balance.

But in the case of Ang Wupp, something happened that had no earthly reason to happen.

Did my mother’s venture into magic actually cause the anomalous rise of that stock? There’s no way of knowing, but I suspect my mother believed it had, because she never repeated the experiment.

And I was left with the lesson that fooling around with magic without knowing what you’re doing is all too likely to have unforeseen consequences.

A few years later, we moved from Manhattan to Queens, and while taking a long meandering walk of exploration around the neighborhood, I stumbled upon Angostura-Wuppermann’s headquarters. It was a strange and unsettling moment of recognition — like one of those fantasy stories in which the protagonist wakes still clutching the talisman that proves their dream-adventures actually happened.

A little googling reveals that in the early 1960’s, Angostura-Wuppermann was indeed located at 79-20 Barnwell Ave, Elmhurst 73, N.Y., about a mile from my family’s apartment — so it’s not surprising that I would have come across it. But though I took a lot of later walks in the area, for some reason I never found that particular block again.


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