Posts Tagged With: South Dakota

A Little Too Close and Personal

When I was a kid, going to the circus was a big deal. In Winner, South Dakota, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the circus wasn’t held in a “big top.” It was in the open air at the baseball field. Since the field was lighted, it was a perfect venue for an outdoor circus, especially at night.

I remember being awed by the elephants striding across the ground with ponderous dignity, carrying beautiful women in splendid clothes. I remember watching the aerialists out over the field, high above our heads. Their costumes glittered in the lights as they swung from trapezes, twisting and twirling and flinging themselves through the air. It was breathtaking. It was beautiful. It was magical.

Then one year, when I was probably ten or eleven, for some reason the circus was held indoors. I remember walking into the Winner city auditorium with my sisters, scurrying through the crowd, almost overwhelmed by the people and the noise, and finally finding room to squeeze into one of the upper rows of the packed bleachers.

In this makeshift space, even our upper bleacher seats were like being in the front row. The elephants were only a few feet away. The aerial acts were almost at eye level. Instead of seeing the performers as remote creatures, way up in the air in the spotlights, we were up close and personal.

And I was shocked.

The elephants were still dignified. But their skin looked worn and rough, their headdresses were a little dingy, and, to put it bluntly, they smelled really awful.

The aerialists were no longer the beautiful, fairy-like flying creatures I expected. They were dreadfully ordinary, even plain. The flowing golden hair on some of the women was clearly dyed. Some of them even looked old—maybe as ancient as 40 or so. Their glamorous costumes, seen that close, didn’t look much different from swim suits. Some of them had obviously been mended. The sequins lost much of their sparkle in the everyday indoor lighting.

Even worse, I started to recognize performers from one act to the next. It was disconcerting to realize that “Madame Yvette” with her dancing poodles was the very same woman I had just seen swinging from a trapeze as part of the “Flying Santorinis.”

Without the lights and the distance, the illusion that helped make the acts so marvelous was destroyed. The reality was such a disappointment that I lost much of my childhood enthusiasm for the circus. I had seen too much of it, too close. The magic was gone.

I’ve been to a few circuses since then. I’ve enjoyed them. But I’ve never recaptured my early awe and wonder. I know too much about the reality behind the illusion.

I clearly remember the last time I went to a circus. Unbelievably, it was 25 years ago. It was the first time I met my soon-to-be stepchildren. Believe me, there were plenty of illusions involved on that occasion.

Thank goodness that, over the years, we’ve grown to know each other well enough to get past most of those illusions. It hasn’t always been an easy process. But the closer we have become, the more we have learned to value reality.

Just think about the distance it takes to maintain our illusions about other people. A couple you know slightly might seem to have a perfect marriage. Unless you get close, you have know way to know what really goes on between them. I used to see other stepfamilies who seemed to be doing everything right. As I got to know them better, I realized most of them had the same struggles and challenges that we did.

This week we enjoyed a performance of “Hairspray” by a local theatre group. The singers and dancers were graceful, energetic, and polished. Whether they were veterans or this was their first time on stage, they all looked confident and comfortable. It wasn’t until after the show, when dozens of cast members surged into the theatre lobby on a wave of adrenaline, that we could feel the nervous energy they must have been feeling. From the audience, we weren’t aware of the sweaty palms and the shaking knees.

There’s a time and place for illusion, and I greatly appreciate the many performers who put so much discipline and practice into creating illusions that we can enjoy. But I have come to appreciate even more the reality behind those illusions. Whether it’s a show, a job, or a family, the most incredible performances are the ones given by people who show up, day after day, and do what they do.

Who have the courage, the grace, and the heart to do what needs to be done—and even to make it look easy. To get up close and personal. To live with reality—even when some of its sequins are missing.

Because reality, I now know, is where the real magic happens.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Flat Green Tomatoes

Despite the belief of my sister's neighbor, who is "kind of different," the United States government does not control the weather. All those jet trails that crisscross South Dakota's expansive skies really are not part of an elaborate weather-manipulating grid that is managed from a secret bunker hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

I find it reassuring that we haven't yet managed to control the weather. It's a reminder that, no matter how high-tech and sophisticated we humans may be, we and the planet we inhabit are still subject to powers greater than ourselves.

Somehow, though, this philosophical point of view wasn't much comfort on Wednesday afternoon as we stood in the doorway watching a hailstorm pulverize our garden. It poured rain (I'm sure I saw a couple of Chihuahuas and a Siamese in there somewhere) for almost half an hour, and it hailed steadily for ten to fifteen minutes.

We could have gone kayaking down our driveway or in the fast-moving miniature river that flowed around the corner of our neighbor's house and filled the gully that separates the two properties. By the time the storm was over, our yard was covered with an inch of hail. Much of the grass was still white the next morning, and on Friday morning one shady spot still held a drift of hail several inches deep.

Of course, half a dozen destroyed tomato plants and a few stripped chokecherry bushes doesn't exactly count as a major life event. We weren't watching the destruction of crops we depended on for our livelihood or even a garden we were counting on to feed a family. The minor pang of a lost garden isn't anywhere close to the heartsick discouragement of a farmer who sees hail or wind pound a year's potential income into oblivion.

Still, the storm made me wish, for just a moment, that my sister's neighbor was right. Then I had a truly terrifying thought.

Maybe he is.

Maybe the government really is controlling the weather. You have to admit it's a bit odd that just around the curve, not 100 yards north of our house, there was hardly any hail at all. A paranoid person might find the apparent targeting of our property more than a little suspicious.

Do you suppose somebody in that secret weather-control bunker knows I voted Libertarian in the last election?

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A What In a Pear Tree?

In what may have been a kind attempt to bring inspiration to the décor-challenged, one of my friends invited me to go with her to the Festival of Trees last weekend. This is an annual fundraiser for a local organization, where creative people decorate trees and other Christmas decorations to be displayed and then sold. Besides the trees, there are gingerbread houses, seasonal music, and an array of wonderful homemade treats like pumpkin pie and brownies. It was fun.

It was also enlightening. All the lights worked on every single tree. The ornaments were distributed evenly instead of being bunched at the eye level of the youngest decorators. Colors were coordinated. Entire sets of matching ornaments appeared to be intact. I didn't see a single tree with a homemade gingerbread ornament that a small child had taken a bite out of. (Even though crucial dental-matching evidence was lost when the culprit's baby teeth fell out, we still know who did it.)

Several of the trees were decorated around specific themes. One was hung with small toys and game pieces, including Scrabble tiles strung together to form words. It was a cute idea that would certainly fit certain members of my family. Of course, playing Scrabble at the Christmas get-together might be a bit of a challenge if half the tiles were hanging on the tree. Maybe we could just make ornaments out of the Q, the X, and the Z.

The most unique tree in the display was the one with an "outdoor sportsman" theme. I can't remember whether it had camouflage ribbon and shotgun-shell ornaments, though it certainly should have. I rather think not—just ornaments in earthy outdoor colors with subtle accents in blaze orange. Maybe the average fabric store doesn't carry a lot of camouflage ribbon.

Appropriately enough for South Dakota, the tree featured pheasant feathers. Long tail feathers stuck out from the branches at random intervals, with a bunch of them clustered near the top. This may have been intended to look like a star, but to my unsophisticated eye the total effect was more like the way my stepson's hair used to look when he first got out of bed in the morning.

The pheasant theme was carried further with several pheasant-feather mounts that presumably were borrowed from a local taxidermist. It might have worked better had these been full mounted birds. True, a pheasant is rather large to perch in the branches of an artificial spruce tree, but at least there would have been some resemblance to living roosters.

Instead, these were flat—just the pelts, as seen from the top, with the heads sort of squashed into the feathers. Admittedly, it was realistic. A rooster pheasant can end up looking exactly like that if he hangs out in the middle of the highway and dares an oncoming semi to get out of his way.

The flattened pheasants reminded me of another decoration I saw earlier this fall. It was a witch and her broom smashed against a tree trunk, along with a cautionary sign: Don't text and fly. For Halloween, it was funny. For Christmas, you might say it fell a little flat.

But it did give a whole new meaning to the term "flocked" Christmas tree.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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