First, my father was a corporation man. Every morning he left the house promptly at 6.40 to take the train from Philly to New York.
Our farewells – my mother’s and mine – were always theatrical and heartfelt.
Sometimes I would see him through the open door looking back at us with love and longing.
When he came home on the 5.42, he would say of his workday: ‘What a complete 3-ring circus!”
Since I was very young, he had spoken to me about the joy of circuses and how his father had taken him every year.
We would go when I was a little older, he said.
One day in late autumn, everything golden outside, he stole away to the circus visiting Philadelphia.
The Chief Clown and the acrobats greeted him and escorted him to the Major Domo.
The Major Domo interviewed him.
On your way home, the Chief Clown said, toss the briefcase. Is there money in it? Toss it.
Briefcase into the Delaware.
My father trained first as a clown.
My father’s mother – no mean performer herself – put on a devilish mask and grimaced and said:
“The devil made him do this.”
Devil Face Jug, 1923-1936, painted stoneware.
Design attributed to David Brown, 1895-1967, American. Made by Brown Pottery, Arden, North Carolina, US. Philadelphia Art Museum
After clowning for a year, he trained as an acrobat.
And a fire-eater.
In middle age,
he graduated into the role of the Major Domo.
His corporate training, his air of superiority and resolve, and his old evening suits came in handy.
The Circus of Earthly Delights, glass mosaic, installed 2001.
Eric Fischl, American. Metro at 34th, Penn Center, NY
My mother took care of me when my father travelled with the circus.
We were content, all three of us, with his second circus career. We thought his first circus career was full of really mean clowns.
My mother took me to the Barnes Foundation.
“Look”, she said: Roualt loved us.”
The Little Family, c. 1933, cotton and wool with silk; probably woven by Atelier Delarbre.
Designed by Georges Roualt, 1871-1958, French. Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
They and the circuses and my childhood have gone now.
In golden memory.