Under the Big Top

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Rick Ryckeley

Growing up on that old familiar street not so far away was truly a magical time. And for one week out of each of those seven years we lived on Flamingo, things got even more magical: the circus arrived.

From the time the Big Top was set up on a vacant lot at the outskirts of town until long after it was taken down, the excitement felt by my three brothers, The Sister, and me was palpable.

Clowns, trapeze artists, the strongman, elephants, tigers, food and even the smell of sawdust floors combined to create a sensory overloaded event we would never forget. At the time, I thought nothing could possibly top the Big Top from our childhood. And for 50 years I was right — until another circus came to town just last week.

Trapped inside our house on a rainy March day, an important decision was at hand. I could stress out watching our granddaughters, ages 4 and 5, play with every stuffy, game, and toy that they own as they destroyed our orderly house while doing so. Or I could jump in to divert all that never-ending energy. I just needed a broomstick, a super king-size fitted sheet, and a lot of imagination. Lucky for me, I just happened to have all three.

Little One and Sweet Caroline ran around excitedly gathering everything needed for construction of, and a magical evening in, our Big Top circus: four high-back chairs from the dining room, one king-sized fitted sheet from Mom’s bed, three flashlights, snacks and drinks for the hungry circus workers, and not one but two broomsticks.

We only needed one, but then the fighting over who would carry it back to the living room erupted, which prompted our first major construction decision of the evening. Two poles and four chairs would support our Big Top. The second major construction decision of the evening came soon after the first. No sword playing with tent poles.

We also used one ice pack and two Band-Aids, and consumed three bowls of ice cream, during the only pause in construction. Band-Aids and ice pack were for Big Papa’s head. It got whacked by tent poles during the grand sword fighting. Ice cream was for everyone traumatized by Big Papa “crying.” Twenty minutes later, our Big Top was finally raised.

A mini-flashlight hung down from the two tent poles to provide illumination to the acts soon to fill the three rings below. Chairs facing inside made perfect seating for the many stuffies, Barbie dolls, Paw Patrol action figurines and army men who would soon witness the Greatest Living Room Tent Circus on Earth. With everyone under the Big Top and spotlights shining on the center ring, the show was about to begin.

Then a question floated up from the red headed granddaughter who was lying on our tan shaggy throw rug serving as our make-believe sawdust floor. “Papa, did you make a tent when you were a kid?”

Why, yes. Yes, we did.

Late one night after sneaking downstairs to the basement laundry room, Twin Brother Mark and I returned to our bedroom with a tent-sized sheet. The spare sheet from our parent’s bed made for the perfect tent. After an hour under the Big Top, we got bored, and that’s when Mark had an idea. The Grandfather clock at the end of the hallway had just struck midnight when he said, “Get some scissors. I’ve got a great idea.” Mark’s “great idea” was to tear the sheet in half, cut eyeholes, and then we could be twin ghosts.

The haunting of Big Brother James and Older Brother Richard that night went as planned, right up to the point they started screaming. Both Mom and Dad bolted down the hallway and into the room to find James and Richard throwing their stash of emergency bedside water balloons at two ghosts — ghosts who had just destroyed their parents’ best king sheet.

After surveying the room, our parents exchanged looks and then started to laugh. “Clean this mess up and get to bed,” Dad boomed in between chuckles.

“You didn’t get into trouble?” asked our now wide-eyed little ringmasters.

Smiling, I said, “No. But we had to work for Dad to earn money for a new sheet set.”

Just like my brothers so long ago, Little One and Sweet Caroline made Big Top memories that night. Memories, I hope, that will last until they are under another Big Top with their children … or grandchildren.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]