It’s Monday night at our house. I served meatloaf for dinner (with broccoli and sweet potatoes). There were leftovers. This is where the Tupperware comes into this story. In an attempt to save the leftovers for tomorrow, my FHB went to the pantry to retrieve a container. And the baskets that contain the containers all came tumbling down like a waterfall (sans the water) of plastic. My FHB remarked that picking them up “was a fool’s task”. I was on it, post haste. You mention my name, I show up. I looked at the disarray and decided tonight was the night we were going to organize the containers. I use the term “we” loosely, although I did have an assistant, a bit grumbling-ish. As I picked up what seems to have amounted to at least five hundred tops and bottoms, I walked toward my FHB who was blissfully watching “Antique Roadshow” when he turned and asked “Are you going to be juggling those?” . My response, without thinking was ” Well the circus is leaving town….so we’d better come up with a gig”. Then, I stopped and considered what I said, and felt quite sad.
Going to the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus was an annual event in my childhood. I truly believe that if you blindfolded me (please don’t) and brought me to the sideshow, I would remember the smells and the noise and the tumult that went with the greatest show on earth. My sister, my one and only first cousin, my mother and I, would go to the circus during our spring vacation. It was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. We would take the subway and fight the throngs of circusgoers and hold one another’s hands tightly so as not to lose any of us. My mother, in the early years, did not want to expose us to the “Side Show” since she thought that the bearded lady and the tallest man might traumatize us and give us nightmares. After a lot of cajoling on my cousin and my part, we finally were old enough to see the sights and sounds of the “unusual people” (my mother’s terminology)who made up that part of the circus. My mother also hated the smell of the animals so she would hurry us through the display and usher us to our seats. Our seats usually were high enough so that we could see all three rings from the peanut gallery. It was exhilarating, and I remember it as being very, very loud. As the parade of the animals and performers marched into the rings and the ringmaster welcomed “Ladies and Gentlemen , Children of all ages…” we were mesmerized by the energy and electricity in the air. As many times as we went, it never got old. The anxiety when we saw the highwire acts and the women on the men’s shoulders and the balancing over the nets made us hold our breath. When the lion tamer whipped his or her whip at the lions as they opened the mouths and roared, we held one another just in case something terrifying happened. Luckily, it never did, but the feeling and anticipation never let us down. The crowds were enormous but it felt as though we are all part of the collective magic of the show. We couldn’t see the expressions on the clowns’ faces but we could see their antics. My favorite part was watching them climb out of the tiny car which seemed to hold an endless supply of clowns. I love magicians and always thought it would be wonderful to assist him and be the one to pull the scarves out of his sleeve or his hat. Three rings held our attention and I don’t think any of us minded that we weren’t in the closest seats as we felt safe knowing we were able to watch all the people around us. The time would fly by and when they would dim the lights, all the people who had those special red lights would swing them from the lanyards, and it would create a light show that was spectacular. We always coveted a light but my mother reminded us that tickets for the greatest show cost a lot of money so we never were able to have one. That, however, was not the end of the story.
Many years later when we were all adults, my mother took my cousin’s daughter to the circus, to carry on the tradition. One evening, my mother called and said that she had taken Jessica, age four or five, to the circus. I thought that was lovely and said that it was a nice thing for her to do. She then told me that, Jessica’s mother, had come to pick her up, and Jessica showed her a red light that her “Tante” had bought her at the circus. My cousin’s reaction was to say “you know, Tante, we all wanted a red light when we were little” and then said thank you for doing that and hastily took Jessica home. My mother then told me she had called my sister and told her what had happened. My sister, according to my mother, said “You bought Jessica a red light? We always wanted one and we would have shared it! “. My mother retorted that she didn’t have the money back then and my sister said she needed to hang up. I was the last on the list of phone calls and when she told me of her previous conversations, I remarked “You bought Jessica a red light? We always asked you for a red light! “. My mother said goodbye and ended the call.
Fast forward to Sarasota, Florida, about ten years later. My kids and I went to visit my parents who wintered there. It was the home of the circus, THAT circus and there was a museum. She decided we should visit the museum which was wonderful and brought back some amazing memories. As we were ready to leave, my mother wandered into the gift shop. She walked up to the clerk and said “I would like to buy three of the red lights you sell and put them in three bags”. The woman smiled at her and said “I’m sorry, ma’am. You will have to go to the circus to get those”. She looked at me and I smiled and said “Thanks for trying”. We never did get the lights.
Times change and for lots of reasons, things we have always counted on being around, no longer are. I understand, from an adult point of view, why they decided to close the show. But there are three little girls, in the hearts of three adult women, who remember the lights, and the magic, and the day the circus came to town.
P.S. The containers are organized and many have been disgarded. Like socks, sometimes either one or the other or the top or the bottom, disappear into the stratosphere. It must be magic.