We had a tradition in our family when the kids were little of going to Ringling Brothers Circus each year on the day after Thanksgiving.
Believe me, it was more fun than Black Friday shopping, for mom and dad as well as the kids.
Even in those days – more than a decade ago – the circus was a bit politically incorrect. Animals performed tricks. And there were elephants, lots of elephants, doing stunts no elephant would do in the wild.
The idea of trained elephants rumbling around the United Center in Chicago was more than some activists could stomach, so they protested and petitioned and eventually pressured the circus to retire the elephants.
Absent its elephants and with kids more interested in video games than tightrope walkers working without a net, Ringling Brothers is folding its tent after 146 years.
I will miss the circus.
It was remarkable combination of hokum, fantasy and skill. The price of admission was low enough for families, especially with the “special discount coupons” that seem to be available everywhere.
Of course, like the $1.00 movie shows with the $6.95 popcorn, you had to watch out for the $8.95 snow cone that included the souvenir tiger-head cup. And each year there was a special gizmo that every kid had to have; life would be meaningless without it even through it likely would break before you got home.
The actual show was a mixture of animals, clowns, gymnastics, dancing, singing and music. There really were three rings, which meant that sometimes you weren’t sure what to watch. I always tried to convince myself I could keep an eye on everything, but I was fooling myself.
Just when you thought things were getting predictable, a demonstration of the amazing capabilities of the human being would burst forth: trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, people balancing to avoid a fall that could maim or kill, perhaps someone shot from a cannon.
It was corny, sometimes silly, old-fashioned and blustering. But people – and animals – did amazing things.
Perhaps the do-gooders are right and it isn’t kind to keep an elephant in a circus. It wasn’t like they were given a choice. However, I always figured the circus treated the animals pretty well, if for no other reason than it costs a fortune to get a new elephant if something happens to the one you have.
If I’m blessed to have grandchildren, there likely will come a day when one of them asks if I ever saw a live elephant. I’ll tell them about the circus and they may wonder why they can’t see the elephants on parade.
I will miss the circus.