The circus! I feel like a child trying to understand a death in the family. “What do you mean I can’t see it again? It’s just headed to winter quarters. It’ll will be back.” I struggle to accept that R.B.B.& B.Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth, is folding. It’s never coming back? For 143 years it toured, and for 2 of those years I toured with it, The Blue Unit traveled coast to coast. How can it call the acts “death defying ” and then die? It was always there, ageless, never growing old, like a grandfather, waiting with timeless stories of danger and daring: three rings of romance, and travel, big cats and elephants, a colossal conglomeration of cultures and characters, all created to bring ballyhoo to your back yard annually, all there for the audience to enjoy, and performers, like me, to inhabit.
Some seven hundred days of circus clowning, infused me with a sanguine sawdust spirit, setting my life’s course, shaping it into a circle that I continue to renew, now for a third time. As a teenager circus life immersed me in 3 ring wonder and the historic magic of Ringling. We clowned while other performers devoted to the grueling life, risked it daily for love of circus. That passion, that still attracts me, the romance of the lifestyle. Pride in The Greatest Show on Earth cannot be discounted or understated. Even at 19 I knew that the baton of history was in my hands. Those who taught us handed us their craft from days hatched of vaudeville and silent film. We were the next generation . It was our turn to run with the tradition, to ride the circus train to the next stop. Full steam ahead, no turning around, we barreled forward. That was many long years ago. It was a great ride!
And now the train is approaching the last stop. And now we are asked to believe that ‘the greatest’ show is no longer on earth. Taken for granted, and unattended. the final move-out day has come. And I hear the words echoing, “Get your props. Use ’em and pack ’em!” Everything in it’s place, and no place left for this show to go. And here it is, the final move-out night, the show torn down, the house dark.
The prop trunk in my basement says “Blue Unit” in circus font, the props replaced by photos. Photos of memories that trigger stories. I am the age of those who taught me, When I see, I feel the sawdust adrenaline of the show. It must go on. And a voice says, “Take your props, use ’em, unpack ’em.” Package ballyhoo in storied form, circus bombast in bigger than life lies, form 3 rings of fact and fiction into stories about a great time once; maybe a time when a boy was at a circus, was in a circus..
Once upon a time, a boy stood, staring at the tracks. “It’ll be back.’ he said, “It’s just headed to winter quarters.” He thought. Next year. Next year. Next year. Next year. But the train had left the station, and deep down he was sad.