Some of my earliest memories involve spun sugar, cross dressers, and men in red sparkly jackets.
This is because these memories are circus memories. (What were you thinking?)
One of the many perks of having a newspaper man for a father was getting amazing tickets to things like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. We also got to attend fabulous press dinners (I mean, I thought they were fabulous) and ride in the circus wagon during the show. It was exhilarating and magical, and I was only moderately worried that we would never find our way back to our seats when the ride was over.
Even when I got older and developed a dislike of most animal acts and a horror of clowns, I still loved the circus. In fact, I still do love the circus.
Spectacle. Daring. Sequins. Showmanship. Razzle Dazzle.
And I haven’t even mentioned the souvenirs and snacks.
So: when my parents’ recent visit to Litch coincided with the visit of the Jose Cole Circus to nearby Willmar, Grandma and Grandpa and I were seriously excited.
So excited that we arrived at least a half an hour early to stake out the very best spots on what soon became crowded, uncomfortable bleachers in a sweaty civic arena.
So excited that we sat in those cramped, uncomfortable, sweaty seats for a solid hour and a half.
Now, the Jose Cole Circus is not Ringling Brothers. It is not the greatest show on earth. But it was the greatest show in Willmar last weekend, and it made us laugh, and cheer, and gasp, and only occasionally cringe.
There is something special about a small traveling circus. It’s earthy and honest. I know that’s a funny thing to say about a show full of tricks and illusions, but this is what I mean:
The ringmaster is walking around the arena in his shirtsleeves before the show starts.
The foot-juggling father is setting out folding chairs.
The boy who sells you your souvenirs is also the boy who spins massive flaming cubes around and around his body in the third ring. At intermission, he is also the boy taking your ten dollars in exchange for a comically awful Polaroid of your child and Spirit the Circus Pony. (He’s from Russia. He’s sixteen. He’s been doing the cube thing all his life.)
So even as I look forward to sharing the Greatest Show on Earth with Zoe when Ringling Brothers comes to Chicago next fall, I treasure that cramped and sweaty evening in Willmar.
Zoe didn’t even notice the lack of elephants until we were halfway home.