Late Summer. That Circus.
She lived at home with her parents until we were married. They lived in a rather run-down section of West Sacramento called Broderick, which is just across the Sacramento River. Most of the homes there were small, inexpensive and quickly-assembled for returning Korean War vets and their families.
One late afternoon, a Peruvian circus arrived and began to set up their tents across the street from her parents' house. It was the athletic field of a school that had closed some years before.
We were amazed to see elephants used to help raise the tents, as if this were not the late 1980s, but the 1930s. They wrapped their trunks around ropes and leaned back, effortlessly pulling the tentposts upright. It took only a few hours for the small, 3-tent circus to set up.
Afterwards, the men played soccer, many of them barefoot and smiling, shouting and carrying bottles of beer as they played. That field is gone now, given over to squat, low-income but not unattractive duplexes.
I think it must have been the following night we went to the circus. Broderick has a large Mexican-American population, and the big top was packed to watch the show. The pretty girl who took tickets was transformed by golden satin into the daring bareback rider who performed almost-amazing stunts on a white horse in matching golden silks. The horses charged around the ring in circles, like a miniature-scaled Ben-Hur.
The man who would later work the concessions was also the ringmaster and general emcee of the evening. The smell of popcorn and cotton candy mixed with the odors of manure and horse piss was similar to every county fair you have been to, but I was still a little sad to leave.
Yes, the tattooed lady was a disappointment, her tattoos were small and perfunctory--she was less a tattooed woman than a woman with a few tattoos. Most of the other attractions were similarly disappointing: a bearded lady with an obviously fake beard; a not-so-strong man. Even so.
Just a few years later, I took my daughters to a Latin circus. It wasn't the same. In place of elephants raising tents, there were performers setting up satellite TV dishes outside their trailers. The performers were better at what they did, the show was more professional and practiced, but it lacked, utterly, the charm of the genuine.
The first circus was a little bit sloppy, a little bit casual. But the ringmaster and the bareback rider were obviously in love--we saw them kiss during a break in the show. This was a circus we never should have seen, something from fifty years ago brought forward through time like a gift. And when the tent flap was opened at the end of the show, and we walked out into a late summer night just beginning to cool, I felt as if I would never see anything like it again.