Of Memory and Circuses

In honor of the final show of the of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus that is happening today, May 21, I thought I would reminisce on the circuses of my past. In truth, my life as a single mom is often a bit of a circus, but I will stick to a discussion of circuses in the entertainment sense of the word.

When I was very young, I attended my first circus. I don’t remember how old I was, and I don’t remember where the circus was. I only remember that it was under a tent in a large field. It was a cold, rainy day, and my very scattered memories of that event include the fabric of the tent, the hay that was scattered on the ground to keep the mud under control, and the mingling smells of damp hay, dirt, and animals. I remember Dad’s large, warm hand holding my small one as we made our way to our seats. And that is pretty much my only recollection of that trip to the circus.

My second trip to the circus did not involve a performance under a tent. This one was a performance of The Great Moscow Circus in a large indoor arena about an hour from our home. [Side note: my childhood took place during the Cold War years]. It was a beautiful, sunny day, though I cannot remember the season of the year; I think it may have been somewhat cool outside. We made our way to our seats, and Dad left to visit the men’s room before the show began. A few minutes later, as my sister and I bounced in our seats in anticipation, we heard an announcement that began, “Ladies and Gentlemen….” The announcer continued, letting us know that we needed to evacuate the arena. We had a brief moment of disbelief before Mom gathered us up and headed for the door. As we descended the stairs and began to move toward the exit, we met up with Dad, and we made our way back to the car. We sat in the car, listening to the local radio station, but no news came as to why we had to evacuate. After a time, we were allowed back in the building, and the show went on as if nothing had happened. Later, we would learn there had been a bomb threat which necessitated the evacuation for a thorough search. I don’t remember any of the show that day, only the evacuation.

My third trip to the circus was to celebrate my younger son’s sixth birthday. We went to the Ringling Brothers pre-show first, where we met some of the clowns and saw some of the performers. I’m not sure how much of that experience my children will remember as time marches on. This is the only circus performance I remember—because it was much more recent—and I only remember bits and pieces. I think traditional circuses tend to be far too busy and flashy to appeal to those of us who can only pay attention to one thing at a time.

The moral of my circus story is that parents can spend time with children in all kinds of activities. Ultimately, what children will remember is the time together (and sometimes any occurrences out of the ordinary) rather than the activity, itself.

Healing

 

I am happy to say that I have found a solution to my mug problem. I now have new mug from which to drink my coffee and reminisce in the mornings.

As the weather grew warmer and spring was definitely arriving, the Christmas mug—despite the sentiments it held for me—was starting to feel a bit wrong. There was snow and a Christmas wreath on the mug, but outside, the weather was reflecting an altogether different season. So on my last, rather timely trip to visit Mom, I acquired a new old mug.

This mug was Dad’s and is one that I made back when my children were little. That Christmas, I made several similar but unique mugs to give as gifts. I painted faces (which barely resembled) my three children, and I included names of the grandparents. This mug—the Grampa mug—is now mine.

I thought it would be the perfect replacement for my Christmas mug. My sister questioned whether I would actually use a mug that says “Grampa” on it, and admittedly, it might seem a bit odd. Here I am, a woman of a medium age, using a mug made for a Grampa.

Do I care? Not at all. I use it every day! I think it might just help in my healing process.

 

Winter’s Release

This is the time of year when winter releases the many captives it has taken during the long, snow-smothered months. One never knows what will appear when the snow melts, and sometimes the discoveries can be downright surprising.

Two winters ago, I recovered a cell phone that had been buried in the snow for the better part of the winter. When I turned it on, it still worked, though the service had been disconnected weeks earlier by its owner. My challenge then was to find the owner and return the phone, which I was ultimately able to do by finding common contacts.

When my children were young, I found a wallet plowed into a pile of gooey brown road-slush. I took it home to dry it out and find its rightful owner. The wallet contained cash, credit cards, and identification, and I don’t think the man’s wife was pleased that a strange woman was calling her husband relatively late at night—at least not until she found out the reason for my call. The next day, I delivered the wallet to the bakery cafe where the man worked, and he gave my children each a large cookie from the display case.

One night this week, when I stopped at our mailboxes on my way home from work, I noticed a pair of eyeglasses in a case sitting on top of the box. The case looked naggingly familiar. It pulled at the memories contained in my brain, and as I dragged out the heavy box in which I store all useless tidbits of memory, the lid squeaked from lack of use. Interestingly, memories can slip into the storage box nearly unnoticed, but getting them out again can sometimes take great work and strain.

The memory started to emerge: A month ago—maybe two—my BF appeared at my house with new reading glasses (because we are at that age, and reading without them is challenging). He had purchased a new pair because… well, because he misplaces them. All. The. Time. These new glasses were contained in a nice case.

But the next day, the glasses had gone missing. BF seemed to think he had left them at my house, and he launched a futile search. I tried to tell him the glasses weren’t there, but he wouldn’t believe me until he didn’t find them there. He then thought he had left them in his car, but I never saw the glasses again after that. Until now.

Because now, they were sitting on top of the mailboxes, dirty from the weeks spent in the snow, but they were intact, unbroken, and in good shape. Luckily, it seemed they had not been plowed into a snowbank or run over by a car. And the case had done a good job of keeping them free of scratches. BF now has them back. At least for now.

Sometimes, I am amazed that anything can emerge intact after months buried in snow. And sometimes, I just wish winter would give up the fight and release the spring….

Missing…

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of one of the things that my children have missed in their lives. Because my children have been brought up almost exclusively by one parent, there will always be things that I could not provide and attention that they did not get.

This weekend, I took my daughter out to buy a prom dress. The dress was one she had picked out several weeks ago, and one that we almost didn’t get. Not because she didn’t want it, but because it almost wasn’t available.

As we walked into the store, we found only two of the desired style on the rack, and both were the wrong size. My daughter briefly seemed to think she could make the smaller of the two work, but I was doubtful. Nevertheless, we made our way to the fitting room to try it on. Because it is prime prom dress season, there were piles of cast-off dresses littering just about every available surface throughout the store. As we walked by the register, I spotted another dress like the one she was about to try on. Amazingly, this one was her size!

When we arrived home with the dress, I had this crazy flash of memory that caught me off guard and allowed me to glimpse something from my past that my kids are missing. When I was young, Mom would take us shopping for clothes (new school clothes, special occasion dresses, etc.). Later that day, when Dad got home from work, we would model our new clothes for him. He always had some approving comment like, “That looks sharp!” or “That’s a great dress!” Always, he was positive and supportive of our outfits and our emerging sense of style (no matter how odd or colorful). Always, he was supportive of us.

Back at home this weekend, I had the thought that my daughter should have someone so encouraging in her life, someone for whom to model her new dress. Every kid needs more than one person who will say, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” or “What a great choice you made!” or “You make me proud!”

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of what is missing, but I pause and remind myself of what my children have. Not all children have the same memories, but they will still have memories that are unique to them and to their experiences. Hopefully, no better or worse. Just different.

A Random Cardinal

These days, there is always some random something lurking around every twist in the road that can flip the switch that allows grief to flood through me like a downpour.

Today, as I drove home from work, it was a cardinal that flew in front of my car as I navigated down the same street I drive every day. In fact, I was enjoying the routine of the drive. I was relishing the late afternoon light brought in by the weekend’s time change. I was enjoying the snow-less ground with its brown grass and scattered leaves left over from autumn, as it seemed it would be only hours before the landscape is once again buried under the heavy weight of winter’s last hurrah. (It’s almost spring, I have to remind myself. It won’t last long.)

But then it appeared—the cardinal. The vivid red bird flew across my path, dipping slightly as it crossed the road and disappeared into a row of bushes. My breath caught as I was simultaneously reminded that spring is near and that Dad is not. He would have noticed that bird before I did. “Look, at that cardinal!” he’d say, pointing. Sometimes it would be an oriole, or a bluebird, or a redwing blackbird. He always had a keen, birds-eye view that spotted them first.

It was that bird that brought the tears today—a random cardinal on a sunny Monday at the end of winter. While spring may bring the promise of new life and increased light, the newness will be intertwined with a million more random somethings just waiting to slip in and spark the grief anew.

{Image credit: FreeImages.com / Mike Munchel}

Vacuuming

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Last month, I had a very interesting text exchange with my oldest child. He started out, “Do you remember the time you got that chest for my room back in the old, old house and you picked me up from school and told me you got something for my room and it was a surprise, but you said it was something to help keep my room clean?”

In fact, I vaguely remembered how I presented the situation, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew what he was talking about. He was just a little kid at the time, probably four or so. After all, we only lived in that house until he was five. I had found a “treasure chest” at the Christmas Tree Shop, and I thought it would be the perfect addition to his room to contain his toys.

He went on with the text exchange to let me know that at four, he had thought he was going to get his own vacuum, and he was very excited. Now, on the one hand, I wish I had known that he wanted a vacuum because I probably could have capitalized on that. But on the other hand, I know he was likely only three feet tall, at best, and I doubt he would have been able to handle a vacuum of his own.

I wonder why it is that we don’t create child sized working appliances, like vacuum cleaners? Instead, we create toy vacuums and toasters, blenders and lawnmowers. I understand why some of these things could not be actual, functioning appliances (lawnmowers, for example). But hey, it seems my kid would have been all over vacuuming his own room at four years old because at four, a vacuum is a pretty cool item.

And if he were vacuuming himself at that age, he might have saved me some time on cleaning. Then again, I might have had to spend an inordinate amount of time searching the vacuum bag for trinkets that were accidentally run over and sucked up in his youthful excitement and inexperience.

Sadly, I will never know. But at least now I know what to get him for a housewarming gift!

Memories

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I have a mug that I have been using all winter for my morning coffee. It made its way from the back of the cabinet right after Thanksgiving, and I have been using it ever since. Supposedly, it’s a Christmas mug, but in truth, there isn’t much about it that screams Christmas. Aside from the wreath on the door of the house in the background, it is more of a winter mug. Which is a good thing because I’m having a tough time putting it away this year.

When I was little and winters were snowy, we would spend hours playing outside in the snow. We built snowmen and snow forts and entire houses with room upon room upon room on top of the snow banks in the parking lot across the street. Our fingers and toes would be numb, and it would be dark outside before we finally retreated to the warmth and light of the house. Or we’d wait until Dad got home from work and we had to go in for dinner….

These memories are why this mug has always reminded me of home. But this year, especially, it reminds me. When we were little, Dad would take us sledding on one of several different hills in town. We would load the sleds in the back of the car (or the back of the truck) and off we’d go. Dad built snowmen with us, sometimes adding an extra couple of snowballs for ears and noses and calling them snow bears, families of them, at times, populated our yard.

This year, winter has been a challenge, and I’m not ready to put away my Christmas mug. So I’m calling it a winter mug. This mug, it’s keeping me centered. It’s giving me pause to sigh and remember the good times. Remember Dad.

So if you see me using what looks like a Christmas mug in the middle of the summer, just let it go. I’m reliving some good times. And holding tight to some memories.