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.

The Best Gift

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My grandmother loved to laugh. She had a bit of a silly sense of humor, which we first began to notice as children, when she made us birthday cakes on which she placed “trick” candles—the kind that we couldn’t blow out.

As I grew older, she would give me gag gifts. These were usually things she came across as she was cleaning out her house. One of the most memorable (because it went back and forth several times) was a crocheted miniature chair that she boxed up, wrapped, and addressed to me from “Nobody.” We had some fun with that chair, including the time I reupholstered it (in the same material she had just used to cover a chair in her home) and gave it back.

In my mind, the best gift I ever gave my grandmother was the silliest and the simplest. It was her birthday, and if my math and memory are right, I believe she was turning 90.

Now, if you have any 90-year-olds in your life, you know they really don’t need much. So I thought long and hard about what I might do for her. And finally, I knew what I would do. I went out and bought a mylar balloon that said, “Happy Birthday!” I put it in a cardboard box, sealed it up, and addressed it to her. In the spot for the return address, I wrote, “Nobody.”

When the package arrived at her house, my aunt handed it to her to open. “There’s nothing in this box!” she chided. “It’s empty!” But (thankfully) she went through the motion of opening it, anyway.

When she pulled open the flaps of the box, the single balloon floated to the ceiling. According to my aunt, my grandmother laughed and laughed and laughed. As my aunt went about her business that day, she would hear my grandmother start laughing all over again.

That was truly the best gift I ever gave. It was also the simplest and probably one of the cheapest—a single balloon in a box. But what I really gave my grandmother that day was the gift of laughter. And in return, I received a memory that I will cherish forever.

[image credit: FreeImages.com/John evans]

Summer Jobs

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Since there has been some talk of teenage jobs in my house of late, I got to thinking about some of the jobs I held in my early working life, jobs that were increasingly interesting and varied. I had some not so good jobs and some really great jobs. Being open to the experiences that come along is always a good way to approach life.

My very first job was stocking shelves in my father’s hardware store. But beyond my family circle, the early jobs I held were fairly typical high school jobs. I worked in fast food and motel housekeeping. The fast food job hung on for two years while I simultaneously worked other jobs. The motel where I worked (only for one summer) was owned by a man who felt the tips left by guests were his to fuel the bets he made on the horse races. When we arrived for our day’s work, he could often be seen making the rounds of all of the rooms before the maids went in to clean them. The only time we ever got tips was when the guests would hand them to us directly, which wasn’t very often.

My first summer home from college, I took a job in a gift shop. I worked long days, and the work was not the most interesting. However, it was better than flipping burgers. I didn’t go home smelling like food and feeling greasy, and the people I worked with were ridiculously mischievous. There was always a prank… or ten… in the works, and one never knew what would happen on a given work day. I fit in quite nicely. You said prank? I’m in!

That same summer, I created newspaper advertisements for my father’s business. I caught the attention of the ad salesman who also happened to be the salesman for the gift shop. He would often stop by to chat, and at his recommendation, I took an internship working in the art department of the newspaper during the January term of my sophomore year. That internship grew into a summer job that filled the summers before my junior and senior years of college.

The second summer at the newspaper, they allowed me to take three weeks off so I could go back to my college campus to work as a teaching assistant in a program for gifted upper elementary and middle school students. One of my professors was the site coordinator for the program, and he had offered me that position. The funny thing about that TA job is that one of my present jobs is for the same organization in their online program.

My all time favorite summer job—and one that was truly one of those opportunities that most people never have—was working in the photo lab of an art museum. I spent six to eight hours of every day during the summer in a darkroom. I cataloged the art work that was in the vaults, and I made prints from stacks of negatives. To this day, I am not sure why I did that….

But the most exciting part of the job was dealing with actual works of art. If my boss was working on a particular project in the studio, he would talk to me about it and explain what he was doing. He would tell me about painting and light and the best angle to capture damage or decay in a painting. He would explain how infrared reflectography would create an image that could  “see” the various layers of paint used by an artist. For example, this technique would show the various leg placements Degas used for his ballerinas before he got it right.

One day, as my boss was photographing some paintings from the vault, he called me out of the darkroom. He told me what he was doing, explaining his chosen angle and what it would show about the pieces in question. And then he handed me a seldom seen Monet painting that spent much of its time in the vault–for lack of wall space. Upstairs in the museum, these paintings were connected to alarm systems in rooms with guards. If a visitor accidentally leaned on a painting or touched it, an alarm would sound and the guards would come running. And here I was holding it in my hands!!

Yes, I held (in my hands) the very same canvas that was painted and held by Monet, himself. It was one of the amazing perks of that summer job. Because summer jobs are like that. You never know what might come up. The job might lead to a position that you will hold for many years, or it might just lead to an opportunity of a lifetime!

November

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Tomorrow is November 1st, and several of my friends will be taking on the challenge of NaNoWriMo, a month in which the goal is to write an entire novel or 50,000 words. While I have always thought this would be a great contest to participate in, I am realistic, and I know I wouldn’t get beyond day two.

However, in support of those of you who are gearing up to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge, I have decided to ramp up my blogging for the month of November. There are two reasons for this. First, I need to write more often, and second, my blog is feeling neglected.

I have downloaded a November blogging challenge from 2014, and I will use the prompts to fuel my writing of daily (or nearly) blog posts. The first day’s challenge: 20 facts about me. In my mind, I figure that’s 20 days of material right there!

Stay tuned, Friends. November will be a great month for us. You’re going to learn some things you might wish you didn’t know….

Monsters

There is a monster under my bed. Really. A monster.

Remember when you used to think there was something under your bed? You used to be afraid to get out of bed (or maybe you still are) because you felt that something might grab your ankles as your feet touched the floor? Perhaps this is an unreasonable fear from childhood that has carried over into adulthood.

And you can’t get rid of it. No matter how hard you try.

In the middle of the night, when all is dark and quiet and your mind is racing from some crazy dream you had, you think about getting up to use the facilities, and you can feel that hand closing around your ankle.

Rather than venture the few steps to the bathroom, you snuggle more deeply under the covers, avoiding the inevitable confrontation with the monster.

This morning, I awoke to find that my normal nighttime companion had been abducted by the monster under my bed. I am deeply thankful that I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night, as the monster might have chosen me instead of my much lighter companion. The evidence left behind by the monster was more than obvious, and I have recognized that this is a warning for the future.

There is a monster under my bed, and I (now) have evidence to prove it!

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Necessities

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In the living room, my son is trying to convince my daughter that some colleges don’t provide toilet paper. I’m not completely sure, but she doesn’t seem to be buying his story.

He and I had this discussion while she was in the shower. It started like this: he decided it would be good to add paper towels to his college packing list. That naturally devolved to the need to bring toilet paper, as well.

“I think you’ll find the school will provide that,” I stated, amused at the ludicrous thought that such a necessity would be overlooked.

“I hear some colleges don’t provide it,” he pushed the issue, spinning this new story as he spoke.

“Really?” I asked, recognizing he was going to make up something. “Like what school doesn’t?”

He threw out the name of an institution that one of his friends will be attending. Since his friend recently returned from his orientation, he would know first-hand if the school didn’t provide such a thing. It was a plausible story, but my son was joking, and I knew it.

“Can you imagine paying all that money for college and having to provide your own toilet paper?” I snickered. “That would just be ridiculous!”

Not to mention how that might work in a shared dormitory bathroom….

Yes, we have some crazy conversations in our house. And yes, I end up thinking about things I most likely would not otherwise consider. Sometimes, that would be a good thing.

Surprise Memory

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I was cleaning a drawer today, on a crazed hunt to find matches for the socks that had become separated from their mates months ago. Sometimes, the matches reappear in a future batch of laundry, and the individual socks linger in the drawer, one buried and the other floating near the surface. Once in awhile, I am motivated enough by the mess that results from my daily “stirring” of the drawer’s contents that I take the time to sit and straighten things out.

This morning in my straightening, I came across a pair of socks that I put in the drawer for safe-keeping, a pair that I frequently forget I have saved. It is a pair of teeny tiny baby socks that I received before C was born, 18 or so years ago. Each time I come across them, they catch me by surprise. The socks are so tiny that it’s difficult to believe he actually wore them in his first months. But he did.

Each time I stumble across these socks, I am reminded how quickly time passes. I finger the soft material as I mentally measure the passage of time in the exponential growth of my children. I click through each of their stages, from infancy to now.

I see smiles and a hint of mischief in their eyes, feel the warmth of their tiny hands in mine, remember random moments like how each of them would lick soap off their hands when I washed them after supper. I can hear their little voices, their footsteps, their cries. The socks bring back images and memories of so many of the things that have happened in our lives: the funny things they said and did, the experiences we had, the life struggles we faced. All of these things we did together.

Each new rediscovery of these socks is a gift. I find the socks, Itake a walk down memory lane, and then I place them back in the drawer where I can find them again in a month, a year, or two. Perhaps when I discover these socks again in six months or a year, when C is off at college, the walk down memory lane will be even more bittersweet.

 

[Image is a photo of the socks in the hand of the child who once wore them.]