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Random Childhood Memory: The Circus Family Kids

January 7, 2007

I don’t remember how old I was, but it was in the neighborhood of eight or ten. At that time we lived in a fairly close-built neighborhood in T-Town, and as with most such neighborhoods there was the occasional swapping of a family. One family moves out, another moves in, and it’s a dice roll whether or not things get better or worse. New kids our age? Mean dog? You never know. But in one such instance, across the street and down a couple of houses, the Circus Family came to town.

To my knowledge they weren’t actually in the circus, but it’s sort’a how I’ve always thought of them. They were a large family, with kids of all ages under the one roof. And they were always doing something. It wasn’t enough to play baseball in the big field behind our house or ride bikes or hunt rabbits (that remained perfectly safe), or just to lie around in the grass and contemplate life in general. The Circus Family kids had doings that were always more dramatic and usually offbeat. When they came out to play, you could count on something unique, usually something theatrical, and often a major event. For example, the neighborhood fair.

The CF kids had this idea of holding a neighborhood fair with games, food, and a play to cap off the evening. The local gang (as I recall, that was me, Brother Number One, GI Joe, Bart, and the Gardner) were all roped in. Now keep in mind we’re talking kids here, the oldest maybe fifteen. The idea of doing such wouldn’t have crossed the mind of any of the regular gang, but it isn’t the least surprising to me that it happened with the Circus Family around.

Their plan was to plaster the neighborhood with fliers inviting all the kids to come join in, charge an admission plus a fee for the games, and knock back significant money we would split. They (I suppose I should say “we” but it was mostly “they”) had each person in charge of a game, with the standard fair-like motif. You tried to accomplish some difficult task and won a prize if you pulled it off. Throw a ring over a coke bottle, snag a paper fish with rod & reel, that sort of thing. Being one of the younger ones, I was mostly left out, but they did finally let me bring over my electric football game; if the plastic player could run the length of the field, you won a prize. Each game cost a dime or some such, with the prizes being junk we drug out of the back corners of our collective closets.

Then there was the play. It’s been too long ago to remember exactly, but I recall a Dragon, a Hero, and a Fair Maiden. The ring leader of the CF kids was the oldest boy of the clan, and he played Fair Maiden (yep, in retrospect from some forty years later, it explains a lot about this fellow and this family, but at the time we had not a clue). I also recall Brother Number One having the part of Hero, saving Fair Maiden, and the play ending in a kiss.My memory is that while Brother Number One wouldn’t agree to the kiss (reasonable, in my opinion), he did agree to Fair Maiden holding up a fan to hide their faces and then fake the kiss. This was after much work on Fair Maiden’s part to get the real deal, and finally settling for the fake. Brother Number One’s memory is that even the fake kiss never took place and he’s pretty iffy on even taking part in the production at all. Well, he can write his own blog. I think he’s just exercising selective memory, and I’m sticking to what I remember, right or wrong.

So the night of the fair came along, we had passed out fliers all over the neighborhood, door to door and stuck up on light poles. Circus Family’s backyard has been transformed to a fairground, with sheets draped over the clothes line for curtains to hide the stage (the yard between the fence and the clothes line). Cookies and Kool-Aid have been made (and priced), the prizes were ready, there were probably six or seven games including my electric football game, and the play had been practiced twice. We were ready for a deluge of excited kids to show up, raining money on us, and having a good time.

We had one customer. One. Which, granted, is infinitely better, both mathematical and emotionally, than zero customers, but it was still seen as a disappointment. Some neighborhood kid I’d never seen before brought a bag of change and became the target of every pre-teen and teenage game hawker at the fair. I was especially glad he came, because his favorite was my electric football game. He spent most of his time and most of his money bending plastic tabs on the bottom of his runner, trying to make it all the way down the vibrating field of randomly dancing plastic fellows and win a prize. He never did, but I think he had fun trying. He stayed with the electric football game until Fair Maiden, by this time dressed in drag, required him to watch the play. After the fake kiss finale had occurred, there were a couple more tries at winning a prize on the football field, at which time he had gone broke. Three bucks as I recall, and as I also recall, even though he spent nearly every cent on my game, I never got a cut of the proceeds. Ah, well. Not much has changed over the years; I still get financially screwed on every business venture I attempt — but I digress; this is about the Circus Family kids.

When I think about them, I always think of them as being clannish in that when you got one, you get the entire clan of kids. They were gone quickly, less than a year after moving in, which was normal from what they told us. With that much moving, sticking together probably becomes second nature. But my main memory of them is the neighborhood fair — and also the gun and knife episodes, but those are other stories, only vaguely remembered. Probably because I was scared to death.

Later in life, I would see reruns of old Andy Rooney movies with some variation of the gang banning together to put on a musical to save Farmer Brown’s land from Banker Scrooge. Some folks might watch those movies, laugh, and toss out a sarcastic “Yeah, that’d happen.” But I know it could happen, at least if the CF kids were around. If Farmer Brown is about to lose the mortgage because Mrs. Brown took sick and the medical bills were too much to handle, I can easily see the CF kids throwing together a musical to save the mortgage. It would fail utterly, of course, Farmer Brown and the missus would get thrown out on their asses and die broke and destitute, and Banker Scrooge would sell the family farm to a developer for one-point-two-five million . . . but the important thing is that there would be a musical and manly Fair Maiden would have another shot at a kiss from Hero in the end. Perspective, people. It’s all perspective.

I occasionally wonder what ever happened to the Circus Family kids, not to mention what happened to our one guest that night. The boy that showed up seemed quiet, introverted. I figure his Mom pretty much forced him to go, so he could “meet some of the other kids.” I never saw him again, but I like to think somehow or other he and Fair Maiden remained in touch and even ended up together, that maybe they run a little theater somewhere — Gatlinburg or Branson or some other off-beat, way, way off Broadway locale, that Fair Maiden and the Hero is on the bill Tuesday through Saturdays, with a Sunday matinee, and that finally Fair Maiden . . . well, you know.

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