One day my father phoned home from New York City to say he’d been given tickets for a classical concert that evening — would I like to come join him? Absolutely! I bounced with excitement and ran to change into dressy clothes. While I did, he told Mom to put me on the five o’clock bus, at the Upper Montclair bus station, and he’d meet me at Port Authority.
In a classic confusion, he meant the bus that arrived at five — Mom thought he meant the one that left Montclair at five. So by the time I arrived (bus was on time) at the Port Authority bus station, Dad had panicked half an hour earlier and the police were calling out my name on the loudspeakers. I found him, and in a grumpy tone, he announced that it was now too late to get to the concert.
However, he’d had enough time to think of an alternative. It wasn’t the classy sort of thing he wanted to expose his children to … but the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had a show we could get to. Did I want to go? You bet!
Entertainment for “the People”
Dad’s performed life in America had to fit with his British accent and his pipe, so he played records of classical music and took us kids to high-end art museums (I didn’t see the firetrucks and mummies in the Metropolitan until I’d grown up). And Mom’s move-every-year family of origin didn’t include playtime as a child’s activity … picture white gloves and edge-of-poverty gracious teatimes. (More on that, another day.) I think their marriage worked in part because they both had no connection to mainstream America, and they passed that on to us kids. No football on TV, or in person; no baseball; no musicals. Mom was creative enough to help us put together “fun fairs” for the neighborhood kids, but a circus? I’d never even dreamed of going.
The circus was FANTASTIC. I couldn’t keep track of all the tricks and displays going on, in five rings and up in the air, and the music and shouting added to the excitement. Elephants! Trapeze artists! High-wire walking, and someone shot out of a cannon!! Horses with feather headdresses …