Monday, November 15, 2010

Surviving the Circus

"I guess l'll never get to do that." This is a relatively new thought that's popped into my mind in the last few years. It doesn't come to me when I'm thinking about travelling, or studying art history or perhaps even writing a novel one day. It comes to mind when I think of things like, I guess I'll never be able to join the circus, or I guess I'll never be a tap dancer in a Broadway show. It kind of makes me sad, because it speaks of getting older, and time passing. We really can't go back, we can only move forward. Ever since I can remember I wanted to join the circus or be a hoofer.  I'll save my tap dancing escapades for another time.

 My mom isn't here any longer to ask, and dad wouldn't remember, but I'd love to ask what possessed them to take these two pictures. Did they plan some day to remind me of my circus performer days? Maybe...

My wanting to join the circus was connected to my ability to fly, something I was absolutely sure I could do when I was a kid. In my childhood dreams I could effortlessly 'lift off' from wherever I was standing. These dreams were so real and vivid, a feeling of lightness and warmth stayed with me long afterwards. Once in awhile, even now, I still dream of flying.

Circus High Wire Aerialist-  Nice teeth...
As a kid I remember jumping off roofs or whizzing down the clothesline in a cape and flying off before hitting the pole. The only place I could think of that needed people who possessed such a talent was the circus. I could join as one of the 'flying trapeze' artists. I can only remember going to the circus a couple times. The trapeze performers were the highlight, closely followed by the high wire act.  

My circus career aspirations came to an abrupt end one day while performing my own version of a high wire act. In front of a small audience of friends, I demonstrated my ability to hang from a wire clothesline in the basement, by my teeth. I'm not going to wrack my brain trying to figure out what possessed me to think I could actually do this.  Suffice to say it didn't turn out as planned. I still had my baby teeth in front, at least until the wire broke through and got stuck between what remained of my two front teeth. I was extricated by my dad with a pair of wire cutters. The dentist had a field day, and my circus career was at a standstill.  

Circus Cyclist 

I took my act underground for about two years, then for whatever reason I resurfaced with another life defying act. This one included my bike. I only ever had one two-wheeler bike. We couldn't afford to buy progressively larger bikes as we grew older. This was a ladies adult blue bike I got for my eighth birthday. When I first learned to ride it, I remember the seat hitting me in the back of the head when I was on the down pedal. The pedals had wooden blocks on them at first. We'd attach pieces of cardboard to our bike spokes with wooden clothespins so the bike made a great whirring noise. This act was an imitation of those wonderful cyclists in the circus who can ride their bikes while standing on their bike seat. I think the picture tells the story. I think a doctor was involved this time as well as a dentist...and just when I was getting my adult teeth.   

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Hairdresser

The 'scowl' or
maybe I just want to strangle Carol

I don’t know where my mother ever got the idea she was a professional hairdresser, but for the first ten years of our lives she practised on us as if we were her personal lab rats. Actually, looking at my sister Carol’s pictures it’s obvious I probably got off lightly. Mom’s bag of torture implements included scissors (the same ones used to cut material), boxes of Toni permanent solution, bobby pins, scotch tape, rat tail combs, enough hairspray to turn your hair into a nylon wig, and my favourite... curlers with porcupine like nylon needles that were attached to the head with plastic picks.

Carol's Toni
I remember having to sleep sitting up in bed like some Stephen King clown ragdoll, bangs and kiss curls taped to my forehead and the sides of my face with scotch tape. When I slowly ripped the tape off in the morning, I was left with red marks that took a couple days to disappear. I suppose I could look at the experience as my first face waxing. As if the sleepless night wasn’t bad enough, I’d have to tolerate the brush-out and having my neck snapped back a few times too many.
Toni-back of head only
Mom was intolerant of ‘bangs’ hanging in your eyes, or even touching your eyebrows. This grievous error was generally spotted from across the dinner table. She’s glare at us then say it was time to ‘cut your bangs’. I’d start the whining and snivelling immediately. Once the dishes were cleared it was time to sit in a chair near the kitchen sink with a towel draped around the neck. She’d start with ensuring the bangs were wet, then proceed to try and cut them straight across. Inevitably they’d be crooked so she’s take another run at it. Then another...and another. Soon my face was a mess of tears intermingled with snot and hair. My bangs would be maybe 1 inch long and still crooked, but I’d be released to find the scotch tape which I’d use to try and tape them down.
Nice Bangs!
The Toni was a real favourite of hers. This treatment always took place in the basement using a cement laundry sink. I can still smell it; there must have been some sort of chemical reaction between the cement and whatever the hell was in that box. She never followed the timing instructions (KD could cook for 20 minutes, no problem). The results were to be expected. Our hair was fried, crispy in fact. I remember times when I could actually snap the ends off. The smell followed us around for days. I’d douse myself with some of her Evening in Paris cologne, which she hid in her dresser drawer.
For whatever reason, sometimes it wasn’t enough to have just a Toni. To calm the frizz, we needed pincurls. This act included winding a piece of hair around her finger then using two bobby pins which she crossed in an x pattern to hold the curl down. Most of the bobby pins had had their plastic ends bit off because she held them her mouth, so when she shoved them across your head they made mini ski trails across your skull. I’m sure this is where I developed my permanent scowl.
I did get her back eventually. After our parents moved into the retirement home, I somehow became her unofficial hairdresser, usually on a Sunday after church. I have even less talent than she did. Mom would get out her plastic box of hairy rollers and picks. I wash her hair in the kitchen sink, with her whining it was too hot or cold, then afterwards I’d attempt to curl her hair. As careful as I was, I sometimes scraped the pick along her skull which resulted in a yelp and a scowl. My silent words to her were always “How do you like it..huh?”