Decades later, I decided to attend one. Not just any circus. This one starred kids — Little Leaguers, 4-H ribbon winners, teen hamburger flippers — who reside in a town nestled among cornfields.
I’d known about the Peru, Indiana, Amateur Youth Circus all my life, but never went. Research for a novel sent me to this circus’s spring practice.
I peeked out. No more unicycles. No one swallowing swords. Just everyday children carrying gym bags. I followed them inside.
Adults clustered on bleachers, talking and helping kids with homework. A gold-scrolled wagon — the concession stand — emitted a fragrance of hot, buttered popcorn. Research can be wonderful.
Above, adults climbed webs of ropes resembling the work of overachieving spiders. Below, teens and children hauled equipment without once mentioning child labor laws.
A herd of little kids wearing leotards lined up to turn “somersaults” — mostly belly flops. But they didn’t quit.
Neither did grade-school jugglers practicing with Hacky Sacks®. The “old guys,” who had shaved maybe once, flipped clubs under legs and high in the air, missing most of the people climbing around the ceiling.
I greatly admired the jugglers. From afar.
When more kids hung from the ceiling than clothes in my closet, I white-knuckled my seat. Children swung on trapezes and spun on cables. One teen girl shinnied up another walking a wire 10 feet above the floor. The walker shuddered. The long pole she carried shuddered. I shuddered.
But the walker regained her balance. The climber slowly rose above the walker’s shoulders, legs shaking — then dropped.
I nearly swallowed my grandma fist.
The climber fell into a net. She bounced nonchalantly then dismounted.
A few more practices, and the paramedics and I were on a first-name basis.
Did they ever. No belly flops for the little tumblers. They somersaulted and cartwheeled. Bigger children soared above trampolines and flipped friends onto each others’ shoulders. Performers balanced on bicycles, unicycles, enormous sparkly balls. They hung from hoops, rings and trapezes. Some spun, hanging by ankles, necks and teeth. The jugglers tossed fiery clubs. We watched high wire walkers perform a seven-girl pyramid act.
My buds, the paramedics, stood by.
I didn’t faint once. And I couldn’t wait until the next July.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What are your favorite circus memories?