Never too old to learn new tricks
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Saturday, 28 April 2012 07:45
With her lap quilt and walker, Fern Sipe appears so innocent.
|Fern Sipe. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
But don't be fooled. Behind that twinkle in her eye, lies a mischievous woman. And beneath that lap quilt may lurk a fake mouse that she occasionally springs on unsuspecting people.
Though her magic shows are fewer now that she is turning 100 years old on May 11, the amateur magician still thrills people occasionally with her slight of hand tricks and tongue twisting tales.
Her hands are still nimble enough to perform her classic rope trick, though it's a little slower than in the past.
And her mind is sharp enough that she can quickly rattle off the story of "Petey the Snake," whose mother frowned upon him hissing in their pit. With that twinkle in her eye, Sipe weaves her way through the story until its climax, which finishes with poor Petey having no pit to hiss in.
"We're all waiting for her to make a mistake" one of these days, said Sipe's sister, Margaret Davis, who is 94 herself. "She doesn't make a mistake."
Sipe first tried her hand at hocus pocus decades ago when her husband and children spent their time playing guitar, saxophone and piano. Sipe turned to magic since she wasn't as musically talented as the rest of the family.
"They had jam sessions all the time, so she felt left out. So she took up magic," Davis said of her older sister.
Her act expanded over the years to include routines with a fake arm and the infamous fake mouse.
"I have no idea how she does them," said her sister, who is particularly fond of the trick in which Sipe pulls a series of scarves out of a can. "That's one of my favorites."
Over the years, Sipe has shared her magic at churches, senior centers and nursing homes.
It seems that Sipe has always had an ornery streak. That could be seen as she was growing up on a Cloverdale Road farm in Portage Township with her seven siblings. When the parents would leave, the children would covertly create checker boards or card games out of cardboard.
"Our folks wouldn't allow us to play cards," Sipe explained. Her role was often to be the look-out person. "They had me watching out the window for the horse and buggy."
Davis remembered her older sister as always playing tricks on people.
"She was always up to something. She's full of it," Davis said.
"I was kind of nasty," Sipe admitted with a grin.
One night in particular, Sipe made a bet that it would rain overnight. It didn't, Davis recalled. So Sipe went outside in the dark of night and sprayed the garden hose so it would appear to have rained.
Sipe's mouse also made an appearance at inopportune times - such as when the sisters were dining at restaurants.
"She had more fun with that darn mouse," Davis said.
Sipe has other, less sneaky skills, and used to do volunteer sewing at Wood County Hospital. "We made the baby gowns, the X-ray gowns, the surgical gowns."
She decorated cakes, stitched countless quilts, and still plays some mean euchre and pinochle.
"She's a good card player," her sister said. "There isn't anything she couldn't do."
Sipe quit driving when she was 95 - a decision she made on her own.
"I didn't want people to say, 'that old lady's out driving again.'"
Her secrets to longevity? She walks every day and eats right.
"She never pieces after supper," Davis said.
"I didn't drink and I didn't smoke," Sipe added.
And she limits her naps, setting a timer next to her recliner for 20 minutes a day. She doesn't have time to waste lollygagging around.
"Lately, I've been working puzzles," Sipe said.
Plus there are always tricks to practice. One recent day, she was searching for that pesky fake mouse.
"It might be down in the cushions of your car," she informed her sister with that mischievous twinkle in her eye.
(Editor's note: Sipe had a mini-stroke earlier this week, but is doing well, according to her sister. "She's just so ornery and full of life. She's got all those nurses laughing," Davis said.)