The Circus Comes to Town
- by Bruce E. McKinney
Hard work to set the stage
As a child there were few announcements of greater import. Even the big towns in the Hudson Valley were too small for significant events but when both your town was small and you were small it didn’t take a lot stir the imagination. Because the circus and their more frequent cousins, carnivals, came almost every year they were regular punctuation in the relentless small town calendar that began with the new school year and ambled on through football season, the falling of the leaves, the shortening of daylight, Thanksgiving, the winter solstice and then Christmas.
Next snow and the coldest month February followed by Easter that never arrived predictably, being on the lunar calendar. With spring came flowers and mud and later the flowering fruit orchards that made the Hudson Valley seem briefly a magical place. In June summer would arrive but not until exams, the gatekeepers to ten weeks off, were successfully navigated.
Summer had it’s own punctuation. Many families had summer plans. Did we have any? Most went to places. My family went away as if escape was the key, and really, my Mother’s key. The Hudson Valley wasn’t where she wanted to be but I wouldn’t know this for many years. Once the big summer plans were known I would work on the smaller ones. Would there be a parade on the 4th of July and if so, could I go, and possibly even march? The criterion for inclusion was a beating heart and mine beat particularly fast when I wore my Little League Red Sox or Cub Scouts uniforms. Early on we lived a mile from town leaving me dependent on parents who had other things to do. When we moved into town in 1954 I never asked again. From then on I made my own schedules and commitments.
So when posters went up for the carnival or circus each July I was ready. With an allowance of a quarter and opportunities to earn more I could make plans to spend, a dime on the cotton candy, a dime [for one] or a quarter for three rides and a couple dimes for the games of chance. I could turn these coins into two hours of entertainment and feel like I was observing real life. My parents didn’t like these events but if I earned the money and could get there on my own I could go. Earning your own money was something my family respected. Money always seemed to be the key.