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1946


smudgepot is not going to be happy...
for the next hour or so she will trade the role of family cat for the glamour of circus life. behind the brightly painted bars of an inverted orange crate placed upon a wagon, she will be taken on an exhibition tour of my neighborhood. i am noel stookey; i am nine years old and this is show business. 

a polka-dotted spread bearing the embroidered face of a clown hangs as a curtain over a clothesline in the garage. placed a respectful distance beyond this divider four precise rows of benches constructed from gallon paint cans and planks await an audience. 

outside, just the other side of the garage door, on the dusty driveway, last minute preparations for the parade are taking place. a top hat is being positioned on gene davis's younger brother, raymond (the only one among us small enough to fit in the ringmasters costume).

it a sticky hot dorsey, maryland summer day and an acrobats cape, fashioned from a towel and safety pinned to jimmy tackett's sweatshirt, lies flat and clinging to his back. the rest of the participants, who will play in the 'marching band', accept their instruments with resignation. these are kazoos and party horns; barely more than noise makers. 

"ok, now listen", i begin. "raymond, you'll go first 'cause you've got the best costume. then comes the wild animal cage." 

a few hands shoot up. "...i'll pull it," i say, waving off band members attempting to escape their musical responsibility. 

"then comes janette, then you jimmy...and see if you can't walk fast enough to get the cape kind of flowing out behind, you know what I mean?". the six year old nods and gulps sincerely. 

"ok, and then tipton and then you dorsey...and...". i trail off noticing our cocker spaniel sitting wistfully by, the leash trailing from her collar into the dirt. 

"who's got midge?" again there is a rush of hands from the band. 

"ok, gene, you take midge..." 

this final selection made, the parade starts and stutters down the driveway toward forest avenue and the shimmering black pavement; its hard surface representing legitimatization of this event. for as we all aware, once we reach the county road, we are on public property...artists in the real world. "come one, come all...", i yell through a cone of rolled-up shirt cardboard, "see the wild animals, trapeze artists, magicians and a free show in the garage. come one come all..." 

a cluster of four or five people stand on the edge of gramma pope's lawn. one of them is waving an american flag on a stick. we square our shoulders a bit and try our best to hide the grins as we pass by. 

later that day, as the sun sets into the tops of the pine trees beyond our picture window, i'm laying on my stomach sorting through the nickels and dimes and pennies and flattening with especial meticulousness the occasional paper dollar bill i discover wedged down inside the cups used as cash registers at the dart-toss, fudge, lemonade, and other booths during the three hour afternoon event.   

"wow, mom...", i look up wonderingly.   

"hmmmm?" she glances over the top of her knitting.   

"i made $14.32! and, gee..." my imagination has begun to spend this fortune on all the material comforts conceivably imaginable by a nine year old; a yo-yo, a de-coder ring, a G-man gun set...when suddenly i realize my mother is speaking.   

"huh?"   

"...and then you'll have to subtract the amount it cost for the purchase of the lemons, and the sugar for the lemonade and the brownie mix, and the paper napkins and... 

as i write down the repayment figures i am aware that this is probably what is meant by 'growing up'. it strikes me as a mixed blessing. i seem to have traded the freedom of non-accountability for the dubious value of adult responsibility...it is an exchange i will be debating for the rest of my life.

 


 

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