The rooster’s crow outside my trailer abruptly woke me to the warm morning. Great, another day is beginning. I know if I don’t get to the community showers soon I’ll be late for breakfast. Mama Jones shuts down the grill promptly at 7am. It’s the same every day this time of year and the routine suits me. Tomorrow the place will be crawling with kids, out of their adults’ way for a week and ready to learn about living the circus life. My job is to show them how to care for and train the elephants without getting trampled. It will be unbearably hot before everyone gathers back at the food tent for lunch.
“Come one, come all to the circus!” Ringmaster Roy called to herd the children and their parents into the main tent. “OK, children, let’s get settled so we can begin.” Rowdy boys jumped from step to step in the bleachers as timid little ones screamed not to be left here with strangers in the big scary tent. My elephant and I took our place in line as Roy called for the parade to begin through the big top. Screams of delight and applause overshadowed the cries and lives and dreams would begin to change forever.
I was like most kids, I wanted to run away and join the circus. My father had taken me to see the big show every year when The Collins Family Circus came through our town. The lights, the animals, the clowns and oh, the high wire acts all thrilled me. Those dreams faded as I grew, finished college, and then married my high school sweetheart. Life got in the way. In retirement I found myself alone with children out of the house and my wife dead 4 years. I decided it was time to revive my dream and started working as an apprentice to the animal trainer for this travelling troupe. That was 11 years ago.
“Harry, here are your campers for today. Kids, this is Harry and he will introduce you to caring for these big beasts.” Maybe Roy shouldn’t have called them beasts for the scared little boy hiding behind the others.
I looked at the little guy and gave him a smile of reassurance. “What’s your name?”
No answer came until the larger boy said, “He’s my little brother, Sam. I’m Jerry.
“Well fine. What shall I call you?” The only girl in the trio spoke firmly, “I’m Jackie and I’m not afraid of them things.”
“Good. There’s no reason to be if you follow some simple rules. This is Mr. Majesty, our oldest elephant.” The rest of the morning was about getting to know the elephant and its care. I noticed that little Sam was hanging on my every word and didn’t even leave my side at lunch. I asked why he would be put in this area of the circus if he was so afraid of the elephant.
Jerry answered, “I chose the class and Mom said he had to stay with me.
Sam stayed a fair distance from the elephant and stood by to watch as the others fed and watered him. Jackie never ceased teasing the scared little boy.
When the parents returned to retrieve their tired campers for the night, I noticed Sam stopped to rub Mr. Majesty’s leg and said, “Goodbye. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The following 3 days were much the same for Sam. He wouldn’t go near the elephant when anyone was around. I knew he was interested because he asked so many questions. Midweek I had offered them all rides on Mr. Majesty but Sam wouldn’t even ride with his brother to hold him on. I was baffled at his ease of talking to the animal each evening since he wouldn’t go near him otherwise. There was some kind of connection between them they didn’t share with the rest of us.
There would be a large parade and show on Saturday for all the campers to show what they had learned. My kids kept Mr. Majesty ready and they practiced their rides and tricks. Sam would simply walk along beside with me and wave at the crowd.
When Saturday came, the big top was full of family and friends and the kids were all anxious for the parade to begin. When our turn came in the ring, Jerry led Mr. Majesty while Jackie rode the big elephant and waved wildly to the crowd until Jerry’s turn came. He looked for his mom in the stands and blew her a kiss with his wave. Mr Majesty was at his best adorned in his best circus finery. I looked at Sam and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to make a ride for your mother?”
“No, I’m ok.” I realized his face bore the biggest smile of any of the kids. “Being here with you and Mr. Majesty is circus enough for me. I don’t have a dad and the landlord won’t let us have a pet. This fills every dream for me.”
I couldn’t respond for the lump in my throat. What had begun as a routine week for me, had turned into so much more. You just never know where your own dreams will live. Maybe they are reborn in a small child.