Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

“The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood – who kills the brightest stars in her crown and will allow no private life for those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth.”

-Henry Ringling North, The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story

 

At about seven years of age, I first went to the circus in South Dakota. I was overwhelmed with the largest crowd I had ever seen, the organ music, the enormous animals, and sheer excitement of it. They were selling tiny green chameleons that magically turned the color of your blouse or anything else you placed it on. I never gave a thought as a child to the fate of the little creature, the performing animals who were constricted to circus life, or the folks who lived the circus life.

I haven’t been to the circus for forty years. Even before we knew of the alleged mistreatment of animals and the perils of circus life for performers, I hated to see wild animals in captivity. I remember the last time I attended watching a regal white tiger run circles ad nauseam within a huge sphere; it was heartbreaking to me. I’m sure it was to the animal too. That was my last circus.

After 133 years Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus has called it quits. The changing nature of entertainment, decreased ticket sales, increasing costs, lawsuits, and pressure from animal rights groups made it difficult to continue. Despite efforts to restructure the circus and re-vamp the entertainment, the curtain is closing on the beloved time-worn show. The circus has such a deep-rooted history; it’s older than the light bulb, older than Coca-Cola!

I am both sad and relieved to hear it is coming to an end.

Circus life is not only hard on animals but for circus performers as well. These are multi-generational families who live out their lives on the circus train. From the feeling of loss from continuously moving, to dangers of loading and unloading large wild animals, to setting up the huge tents and performing, they face perils daily.

Circus injuries are very violent, sometimes leading to death. In 2004, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey acrobat Dessi Espana fell thirty-five feet to her death when a mechanism in her aerial act malfunctioned. Last June, Cirque du Soleil artist Sarah Guillot-Guyard died when a wire rope that suspended her was severed. Just weeks ago five of the famous Wallenda tightrope walkers fell twenty–five feet and were injured. Nik Wallenda and three others were able to save themselves by grabbing the wire as they fell. Nik told CBS News “Yesterday was the roughest day of my life and I’ve had some rough days.”

The difficulties of accommodating large wild animals for circuses are numerous, and animals suffer from the stresses of social and psychological deprivation as well as well as abuse. The effects of extended confinement have been documented many times, not only of circus animals but domesticated animals left chained or caged for long periods. So, for these reasons, I am glad they are calling it quits.

It was only a few years ago I learned from my friend Samantha that over twenty different circuses wintered just miles from my childhood home in Southeastern Oklahoma. Hugo Oklahoma is still winter home to three circuses, the circus museum, and the Endangered Ark Foundation retirement home for elephants (home to a large open-to-the-public elephant herd). The Endangered Ark Foundation attempts to perpetuate the dwindling Asian elephant species in the United States.

There is another gem just outside Hugo Oklahoma; a special section of Mount Olivet Cemetery called Showman’s Rest is reserved for those who loved and worked in the circus. Mount Olivet Cemetery is off the beaten path and nestled in the country, a charming, peaceful setting filled with huge pine trees. You walk on a soft, fragrant carpet of pine needles under the canopy of the enormous trees. The monuments are striking and pull you into the lives of those honored there. Headstones tell the stories of chimp handlers, elephant trainers, high wire performers, clowns, and ringmasters.

It really is an extraordinary site and as you walk among the headstones; childhood memories flood your mind. What child at some point hasn’t threatened to run off and join the circus? At least once a week when we were kids, my brother told us he wanted to be Toby Tyler. (the lead character in a 60’s Disney movie about a boy who joined the circus) I fell in love with Dumbo the elephant when I was a kid and felt sure I’d see him when we went to the circus.

Few are cut out for circus life, but for those who are, it’s all they have ever known. They grow up going to school on the road, often marry other circus staff on the road, give birth on the road, rehearse on the road, and are devastated to see this journey end. These folks have skills the rest of us will never know, intimacy with large animals we cannot fathom, and honed performers bodies we can only dream of.

The only way to ever see elephants perform, watch a human pyramid move across a high-wire or see a man literally fly through the sky is at the circus. The movies are just not the same; it does not feel real because it isn’t. No physical training and rehearsal year after year, no risking your life to be the best. Yet, the movies affect the circus performers negatively, ever striving to do yet more dangerous feats, because after all, we are accustomed to seeing breathtaking feats on the big screen.

The Ringling Brothers circus was grander than the troubles of hard working Americans when it opened in 1884, a welcomed reprieve, and larger than life! An era is coming to an end, and this is one of the reasons I am sad, so many things are ending. It was a simpler way of life, of focusing on what or whom is in front of you instead of the electronic gadget of the month. I salute you Big Top and all the animals and folks who made your marvelous!

Seven Cold Weather Cures

Seven Cold Weather Cures

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” ― Ernest Hemingway

 

I have books all over my house, on my shelves, on my bedside table, on my couch, and on the floor. I think there are books in my underwear drawer. I l-o-v-e to read. Reading transports us to worlds we may never get to see, to ideas that would never come to us otherwise, to characters with depth of purpose we may never experience. Time and perception are altered, and we are given the opportunity to experience our wildest dreams.  Could anything be more delicious on a freezing afternoon than a good book, time to read, and a cup of hot chocolate?

On the road incessantly, I often listen to books that I download from the library. That four-hour drive across the state seems to float by in about an hour. Wonderful wizardry!! Sometimes I read on my iPad, laptop, or iPhone, but I prefer the real deal, an actual–book. You cannot really “curl up” with a Kindle.  Besides, my books are highlighted and underlined, with notes in the margins, and many, many, dog-eared pages.

“Must Reads” suggestions are rotated on the home page of the blog, (Yes, I have read each of them.) but today let’s focus on seven books that touched me, taught me, and opened a door I was better for having walked through.

City of Tranquil Light, Bo Caldwell, 2010

https://www.amazon.com/City-Tranquil-Light-Novel/dp/B0044X158A

Caldwell’s story broke me open. It is historical fiction, but inspired by the lives of her grandparents, American missionaries with family in Oklahoma, who served in China under horrific circumstances. As a Christian, it revealed to me what purposeful, intentional trust in God looks like. It also reminded me of the sacrifices made by those who choose to share their spiritual gifts, and do so by listening rather than preaching and by healing rather than judging. The story also schooled me regarding life in mainland China in the early twentieth century during civil war. Caldwell delivers scene after scene with such clarity and devotion that I was brought to tears over and over again.

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Uncommon Mercy

Uncommon Mercy

 

I looked up from my hymnal to see bright, brown, innocent eyes peering back at me from two pews up. Fresh-faced and beaming, most likely of Chinese heritage, she looked about fourteen. My heart stopped, and I gasped out-loud.

I didn’t recall ever seeing her at St Augustine’s and have not seen her since. Looking back at the day, I am not sure I physically saw her.

The night before I watched a movie called “The Flowers of War.” I was drawn to it because my favorite actor, Christian Bale, was in it. I got a great deal more than I bargained for; the story had a profound effect on me. Six months later I feel compelled to tell the story.

Nanjing City

The movie was about the Chinese city of Nanking, the setting of one of the most horrific war crimes in history. I had never heard this story; it awakened me and revealed a depth of sacrifice I am not sure I possess.

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Are You Ms. Letters?

Are You Ms. Letters?

“At Midnight, even bad days come to an end.” —MsMoem.com

 

Ninety-nine percent of the time I am not naked when I write my blogs. I guess that begs an explanation.

With meticulous detail, I dressed this morning, a new blouse, my cutest crème colored jacket with the cool belt that ties in the front, and my best Antonio Melani slacks. I took extra time with my eye makeup, careful to enhance my blue eyes. I even wore my best bra, not that anyone ever sees one of my bras, but I just wanted that extra confidence boost you have when you know the girls are up in the general vicinity where they belong.

When I arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting my manager for lunch, I jumped out of the car eager to be on time. The only parking place was on Sheridan Avenue, after all, it was Bricktown, Oklahoma City; there is never any parking. A man in a big truck squeezed into the last shaded spot; I inched into the last sunny spot.

West 50

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Searching for Our Better Selves

Searching for Our Better Selves

For those who lost their lives,

those who suffered unspeakable loss,

and those who were forever changed.

 

In this sacred garden, I walk among the pines, saplings not long ago. I look toward the Journal Record building and realize it was long ago, twenty-one years ago. For residents of central Oklahoma however, the memory is still fresh. Those who stood exactly where I am standing on April 19th at 9:01 that morning back in 1995 cannot walk among the pines.

Pool

I had been on vacation and was on my way back home to Oklahoma City. It was a romantic getaway to Key West Florida at a picturesque bed and breakfast, with peaceful beaches, fresh seafood, fancy concoctions of dark rum, pineapple, and coconut, and badly needed relaxation. Read the rest of this entry

Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy

Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy

Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it boys, in-di-gestion!

Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude —
The food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.

Oliver! -Lionel Bart

I love to eat. Constantly. If I am not eating I am thinking of food. You too? I figured. Eating makes us happy in a way nothing else can. Dining not only fuels our bodies and senses but is a superglue binding our memories and emotions. Those endorphins are furrowed right into our little taste buds.

When that combination of hot peach cobbler and sweet ice cream hits my tongue I am right back in 1966, huddled around Grandma Sander’s kitchen table with my sister Jan and Roger and Howard Sanders. We are playing a game; I don’t remember it, just the flavor of her cobbler and ice cream, like I have a bowl of it right here. I can feel the affection of those old friends and hear the music we sang. “Make the world go away, get it off my shoulder.” Cochran, Hank 1960

Unknown Coffee

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A Valentine to My Younger Self

A Valentine to My Younger Self

“God asks us to jump from our secure perches, to stop calculating the risks. Jesus bids us, “Take up your cross, follow me. . . . Don’t insist on knowing exactly what comes next but trust that you are in the hand of God, who will guide your life.”  Henri Nouwen —Turn My Mourning into Dancing

 My niece Jessica turned thirty recently; seems like she should still be my little four year old shadow. Her birthday takes me back to the thirty-year-old I was. Sometimes I think about that naive girl and wish I could tell her what only time and maturity can.

I found a worn photo from my thirtieth birthday; I worked for KATT radio in Oklahoma City then. I was holding my birthday cake with a sleepy KATT mascot iced onto it. The clock above her head read 8:15; I was supposed to be at work by 8:00. Still don’t like that morning thing.

30 B-Day Cake (3)

My expression in this photo clearly says “bite me”. I was newly divorced, on my own for the first time, and had just begun a new commission based sales job. I was poor, persnickety, and pale. Also a smidge insecure and overwhelmed.

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Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?

Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?

Wakonda high school, hats off to thee.

And our colors, true to thee we’ll ever be.

Firm and strong united are we!

Hoorah rah rah, Hoorah for Wakonda high school!

 

When I was a kid we lived in the Tundra for eight years. The incessant cold all but atrophied my grey matter; the above is what is left in the memory bank of our school song, a cloudy memory from the second grade. This Christmas season brings back memories of that time, and my parents, whom I miss more than I can say. This was a divine time in our lives, a time of innocence and possibility.

Our first years as a family were fairly idyllic in small town South Dakota, Wakonda, population 405. Wakonda is an Osage Indian word meaning “Great Creator”, an abstract, omnipresent spirit. Curious that my awareness and seeking of God began when we lived in Wakonda.

SD House Sized (2)

My folk’s first home was actually their dream home; they paid less for it than you would a used car now.  It was on a corner two acre lot with cherry trees, apple trees and crab-apple trees. This place was an absolute marvel for a kid!

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Mary and the Teeth Gnashers

Mary and the Teeth Gnashers

 

It seems to me that if there is a bad taste in your mouth, you should spit it out. You don’t constantly swallow it back.”  Amazing Grace, Michael Apted, 2006

 

Hours on end we sat on those hard pews looking up at the minister.  We listened, my girlfriends and I.  Week after week we learned and prayed and wondered why.  And, why not?

The Good Book was read to us and by us, stories that left us out. We felt less than. God was male, disciples were men, preachers were all men, deacons were men, and choir directors were all men. We felt less than.

So few examples to look to, to emulate. Women were revered because they were obedient and docile. From the bible, it seems the only way for a woman to redeem herself as worthy was to give birth multiple times and preferably to male children.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I am grateful for the bible stories that do tell other stories of women.  We see the perseverance and divine insight of Anna, the faith of Mary Magdalene which lead to healing of her chronic illness, Pilot’s wife warning her husband of her powerful dream about Jesus, “this innocent man”(which he ignored).  The story of Priscilla was encouraging, as she was chosen by Paul to shepherd a church he left behind, and Miriam who questioned authority and helped Moses lead the Hebrew people to the Promised Land.

There were too few of these stories and unless you excavated them, you never even heard them.

It’s sad when you remember where value was placed when many of us were girls. It was accepted as just the way things were. Girls grew up understanding their worth, and later as adults hid the hurt because mentioning it brought on not just opposition, but wrath. Not only from men, but sadly from other women.

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Where We Came From

Where We Came From

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”
― Robert Frost

 

In the late afternoon I walk out in the garden and step under the Weeping Balsam trees; feathery very low hanging branches brush my skin and I marvel the trees do not fall forward. True to form, the Morning Glories have shriveled back into themselves and the Hydrangeas look like they could use a long drink.

Yellow Daffodil Tiny15

Feather Tree-tiny

The little red, citrine, melon, and blue, glass garden lights are glowing.  They bring a smile to my face, primarily because they are so pretty they make me feel like I have entered Fantasia, but also because I have failed twice at setting the timer for them to come on at night as they should.

I was well into my thirties before I ever planted a single plant. I used to kvetch to my Mom that she always wanted me to “grub in the dirt” with her. Gardening was just not my thing back then.  I was my thing back then.

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