Monday, June 1, 2009


I started my last year and a half of high school in Sarasota Florida which was the winter home for the Ringling Brother's Circus though by the time I got there, they had mostly moved to Venice Florida just south of us. It was cool to sit in class with a kid whose Dad was shot out of a cannon for a living.

The school took advantage of the fact that we had many kids from second and third generation circus families. Each year, the school put on a big top show known as the Sailor Circus. It was billed as The Greatest "Little" Show on Earth. It is still put on each year and you can learn about it here .

What an exciting thing to have at your school. It featured all the events from trapeze, high wire, Spanish web, tumbling, juggling and of course the clowns. Not only the sons and daughters in the business performed but anyone who wanted to learn was given an opportunity. Many were novices.

Few kids have not been taken in by the glamour of the circus. There is just a certain romance about performing amazing feats to thrill the crowds and traveling around the country. Well this circus didn't travel but it was as big here as any of the sports programs. Besides the glamour, scholarships were available to the University of Florida which also has a circus program. I was the new girl once again and was totally captivated by a possible circus career at least as a means for a scholarship.

I thought about it a lot and decided high wire was my niche. Wearing a dainty tutu as I bravely crossed the wire seemed very appealing. So I signed up and started rigorous training.

The wire is not really a wire but a hefty cable. The training wire was only three feet off the ground. We wore ballet like slippers, kept our bodies straight, looked at the end of the rope and let our arms seek balance. Coach said that balance would come, that our bodies would learn and he was right. Every day after school I practiced till supper time. At home, I had a tape on my floor that I walked heel to toe back and forth. I definitely wasn't scholarship worthy but I was learning.

Eventually, I could drop to the wire on my butt and bounce back up to my feet. That was my only "trick." Then the "you know what" hit the fan. Coach said,"Well I guess it is time for you to move to the high wire."

Duh, what had I been thinking. I could not do it. I couldn't even climb the ladder. I was land locked. I had totally forgotten my episode on the air craft carrier many years before. I was unable to convince Coach that a performance on a wire three feet off the ground would impress an audience.

My dreams of the pink tutu and my daintily prancing across the wire with a pretty umbrella died. The only saving grace out of the whole thing is that I had told no one, not even my family, what I was doing for it was to be a big surprise. My little speech was all planned. "Oh by the way--if you aren't doing anything Saturday night--I will be walking the high wire at the Sailor Circus." Never got to say that. For a while, I was pretty crushed.

Coach was almost as sorry as I was for he had put a lot of time in on me. He was kicking himself for not asking if I had any phobias or at least seeing if I could climb a ladder. To save something from the situation, he asked if I wanted to be a clown. Hum, wonder if he was trying to tell me something? By now I had the sawdust in my veins so I agreed. Anything to be part of the circus.

My clown character was a crowd roamer and teaser. I was to throw buckets of confetti on people and pull coins out of kids ears. I learned the painless pratfall and fake trip in my big feet. Truthfully, I felt a little silly practicing these feats on imaginary people or fellow clown want to be's. However when the big night came and I got in full costume with face paint, fake nose and hair, baggy clothes and big shoes, I discovered I was a born clown.

I loved it. My outrageous side sprang loose and I was a new person. There is something about being in disguise that lets the inner child out. No one really knows who you are so you can be totally ridiculous. I had found my niche.

Tightrope walker has a romantic image but clowns have more fun. A walker's thrill lasts minutes where a clown entertains all night. Much better choice.

If you ever get a chance to slap on the grease paint, go for it. There is another you, in you, begging to come out.


  1. Hi Patti, I lived in Venice during the early to mid 70's and the circus wasn't that far away from where we lived. We could hear the wild animals from our home. Small world, isn't it?????

    Thanks for the memories!!!!

  2. I wish you had photos from that, patti. I would love to see you dressed in your clown suit. You have had such interesting and varied experiences. It's always a surprise what you have posted here.

    Have you ever read Water for Elephants? It's a grand story. Highly recommended.

  3. Betsy,
    Did you ever get to see the Sailor Circus? Those kids were really good.
    We have tread the same paths several times. It is a small world.


    There is one in the year book but in all my moves, I have lost it.
    I did read Water for Elephants and while I loved the story, the cruelty to the animals upset me a bunch.

  4. I loved the circus but no aspirations to perform except, maybe in the band. I loved the music and occasional calliope.

    However, cruelty inflicted on the animals does not endear me to the circus.

    I did love the clowns, which reminds me I also love the song Bring in the Clowns--think I got close to title.

  5. nitwit,
    Totally agree about the animal cruelty. Fortunately our little circus didn't have animals.
    I'll have to check out Bring in the Clowns.

  6. Cruelty to animals is unbearable. There is no place in my concept of humanity where anything ever suffers for our pleasure, our amusement, or our food.

  7. Clowns are a natural hit ... and can make more of an impression, but also requires more make up.

  8. I always liked clowns and I wonder why some people just cannot stand them. I know you must have been a good one, Patti.

    Have you read Life of Pi?

  9. Robert,
    At my age, the make up part could be a good thing.

    Don't know how good I was but I really had fun.
    Some people actually have a fear of clowns. Nope on Life of Pi--but I will check it out. Thanks

    I know your stand on animals. Your gentle heart comes though your writings. We so agree.

  10. Patti,

    A long time ago, my husband and I rented a cottage on Longboat Key for a couple of weeks.

    One day he got a little bored and decided to into Sarasota and look around.

    He didn't come back for hours because he had met a man from the Circus and had spent all that time talking to him and listening to his circus stories.

    When Roy (My husband) had to go he shook hands with the old fellow and said, "It was nice talking to you. I'm Roy Leitz." And the old gentleman said,"I liked talking to you,too. I'm Karl Wallenda."

    My husband tells this story to this day.

    Karl Wallenda died shortly after that in San Juan when the wire he was walking was not properly installed and he fell to his death.