On Throckmorton Street in Fort Worth there was a magic shop and I remember as a kid that I was completely charmed by it. We all love mysteries, and in each of us, there is a yearning that somehow, somebody or something out there is watching over us.
So when I first heard the story of red candles, it wasn't hard for me to believe.
The legend of "the force" that would capture all of us in Star Wars was right there in the flicker of a flame.
The year was 1941 and the Texas team that year had been so impressive that it was featured on the cover of Life Magazine. However, when Baylor tied Texas and TCU upset the Longhorns, things began to look bleak. On Thanksgiving, Texas was about to make its annual trip to College Station to play the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. The Longhorns had never won at Kyle Field and had won only once in College Station … ever.
It was then that a group of students sought advice from a fortune teller named Madam Hipple.
From the inner sanctum, they came with one piece of advice, "burn red candles."
Throughout the campus and the city, the flame ignited. Longhorns supporters bought every red candle in town and orders went out for more.
On Thanksgiving, Texas defeated A&M, 23-0, and the Kyle Field jinx was broken.
The legend of red candles lay dormant for 12 years. In 1953, with the Longhorns preparing to face a Baylor team that was unbeaten and battling for a National Championship, Bill McReynolds, who was managing editor of The Daily Texan, broke out a call for the red candles.
Again, the campus burned with frenzy. Time magazine called the candles "The most potent whammy in Texas tradition and nothing to be lightly invoked."
A blocked extra point was the difference and UT won, 21-20.
Efforts to revive the magic of the candles failed in the 1950s, but with a team that won only one game in '56, not much else helped, either.
In 1963, as Texas drove for its first National Championship, the red candles came out again for the Baylor game and the Longhorns won, 7-0.
During the 1980s, when environmentalists forced the halt of the Texas bonfire, the Longhorns faithful turned to a midnight "Hex Rally," where red candles were featured again. That tradition continues today, but this year, the rally was cancelled out of respect for the Texas A&M coaches and players, who lost a teammate on Monday morning.
Through the years, the story has gone from being a visit to a fortune teller to an old Chinese legend of hex-breaking.
Ten years ago, after 30 years of knowing the story, I finally picked up the phone and called Mrs. Hipple.
A strong voice answered the phone and there was a slight chuckle as she began to tell the story.
"Our boys were really down and they needed something to help them," she said. "I had just begun my practice when the young people came to see me. I told them that 'red means alert' and that they needed something to show the team they were behind them."
After Texas beat Baylor in 1953, Dougal Cameron, a Longhorns player at the time, put the candles in perspective.
"Spirit makes you play better than you can," he said.
Mrs. Hipple was in her 90s when she died a year or so ago. She remained active for almost a century of living and was still telling fortunes the day I called her, more than 50 years after the students came to visit with her.
"The most important person, from the cradle to the grave is the person that is within you," she said. "That is healthy ego, not diseased conceit. The boys were struggling, so they only needed something to relax the child that is within us all."
Sixty years later — and still remembering her words — I have had a chance to reflect on the message of the red candles. It wasn't magic, it wasn't an ancient Chinese hex breaker.
It was the simple truth that applies to whatever in life you choose to do.
There is a "force" out there when people ban together in a common goal and the strongest force of all is the bright burning will that lives inside you.