|smudgepot is not going to be
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
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
"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
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.
i look up wonderingly.
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.
"...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