I loved my old rusty spring bed with a tight fitted sheet bed in my little room that I shared with my brother Bill. Out our window was an apple tree and an in ground pond that housed overfed, over weight, luminous orange carp. This room remains, even in my memory, even after the room and its house is gone, even in my 58 year, a place of safety, comfort, and domicility. It was the place I came when I was a child and I left as a young man. It was the place I met my oldest brother. Two-year-old Bill met me when I came from Chicot County Memorial Hospital and, I suppose, my care was transferred from Chicot Memorial to my brother’s tutelage. I learned so much in the eight years that we lived in that room.
One vital fact was manifestly evident from the moment I could walk. Our ancient beds, if they were decrepit and old, were to me, the defining moment of my young life. I had my own bed and my own brother. Our little brother, John Hugh, was to come some day, but that was a half a decade away.
The old beds, too, were wonderful creations. They could stand almost any abuse. For one thing, I loved to jump on them. I never remember Bill doing that. It may have felt too risky to his three year old universe for his savvy and composure were already becoming evident. There was no hyperbole in my beloved big brother.
When my big brother was away I would bounce from bed to bed. It seemed like I could bounce to the stars! As fate would have it, his bed facilitated higher jumps that made his divan much more springy than mine. I suspected that my bed, allegedly my dad’s bed, had already been shamelessly broken in by my dad’s mischievousness decades before. Perhaps there was limited spring in every bed and my bed had exhausted much of its quota.
I was you see, preparing for the circus. This was not play to me. I was preparing for the circus.
Last Saturday, after I saved six RC Cola bottle tops—it was easy to do—my Daddy Bobby had a coke machine at his Laundry Dry Cleaning business and reckless employees who obviously did not appreciate the value of a metal RC Cola top—deposited hundreds behind the Laundry. I was able to get enough discarded RC tops to gift Craig, Pip, and almost everyone on South Highway with a free movie pass. My largesse in RC Cola distribution extended even to Dubby Towles, who, I confess, threatened to beat the crap out of me if I did not give him 12.
Dubby Towles’s mind, however, was no match to my brother’s business acumen. Bill could sell anything, negotiate any deal. Bill once negotiated two scooter rides for me from Hershel Parent, and, in another transaction with Dubby Towles, who had threatened to castrate me and his little brother Craig if we did not bring 48 acorns to the school bus stop every morning, somehow persuaded Dubby to desist from pernicious behavior toward Craig and me. Dubby never threatened us again—but I could not help noticing that Dubby sported a new green John Deere hat with a golden tractor on the visor. I remain forever in depth to my dear old brother who in his 8th year saved my manhood!
My friends and I, notwithstanding Dubby Towles, deposited our RC Cola caps with a frowning ticket lady standing behind a glass enclosed station and saw the Saturday morning Malco Theater matinee Walt Disney Toby Tyler. The doorman, the appointed conductor on the amazing imaginary dream train that was the esoteric Malco Theater, opened the door and invited us into the tinsel cathedral that was the Malco Theater. The Malco brought us lands and stories that could never be or happen in quiet, halcyon McGehee, Arkansas.
On this particular Saturday there was a plethora of cinematic offerings. Beside Toby Tyler, a Bugs Bunny and a Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon was showing. I could hear “Whatssss up doc!” as I walked into the cavernous Malco.
Next we were delighted by, my personal favorite, a Three Stooges short feature. And all for 6 RC metal bottle caps!
All of these unexpected gifts were sincerely appreciated. But, truthfully, we bought our 5 cent sour pickles and sat in the sticky, dark Malco theater to see Toby Tyler impress us with his obvious ability to do any trick connected to circus life. Everything else was ancillary if appreciated.
Toby Tyler runs away to the circus—something I fervently wished to do–where he soon befriends Mr. Stubbs, the hilarious chimpanzee. However, the circus isn’t all fun and games when the evil candy vendor, Harry Tupper, convinces Toby that his Aunt Olive and Uncle Daniel don’t love him or want him back. Toby resigns himself to circus life even scoring a much bigger role at the circus. When Toby realizes (with the help of Mr. Stubbs) that Tupper lied to him, and that his aunt and uncle truly love him, Toby leaves the circus to go home. On the way, however, he finds that Mr. Stubbs has followed him. Deciding to take Mr. Stubbs home with him (to keep him safe,) Mr. Stubbs is chased by a hunter’s dog. The hunter accidentally shoots Mr. Stubbs as Harry Tupper hauls Toby back to the circus. This precipitated my second animal rights crisis—only to be rivaled by Bambi when I was reminded that no doubt Uncle Brian murdered Bambi’s mother when he killed a doe the previous winter. It was all I could do to eat the rich, dark venison loins that were diurnally deposited on our supper table.
Toby discovers his Aunt and Uncle are at the circus, with hugs all around. Just before Toby’s big performance for his family, he discovers, surprise, Mr. Stubbs is still alive and well after all, having been brought back to the circus by the hunter. Toby performs on horseback, only to have Mr. Stubbs join him, creating a great new act for the circus.
Along the way I feel in love with Mademoiselle Jeanette and I just knew that I would someday marry a circus queen who sailed through the air with the greatest of ease on trapeze poles. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered my wife of 35 years had never worked at the circus! I married her anyway.
So I jumped from bed to bed like Toby Tyler, listening attentively to make sure I ended my circus practice before my mother, Bill, or, worst of all, Mammy Lee came into my room. I was Toby Tyler. Like George Samsa in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis I went to the movie theater, saw Toby Tyler, and woke up the next morning a circus rider—I remain a circus rider—you might think I am an author. But, no I am a circus rider. If only the world could grasp the import of this metamorphosis.
Mammaw, who owned these beds, and this house, before my parents did, told me, like I said that I was sleeping in my dad’s bed and Bill was sleeping in Uncle Bobby’s bed. I don’t know how she could tell—they looked the same to me—but I was very glad to hear this. Uncle Bobby was a professor at Harvard, or would be soon, and my brother Bill had already purposed to go to Harvard, even when he was 6 1/2 years old. That boy said he was going to Harvard. And he meant it. And he did just that.
I knew he was on his way when he gave his 5 year old brother a quarter and told me to buy 10 McGehee Times. I was to sell them for 50 cents and return 35 cents to him. What a deal! I made 15 cents. That sort of thinking has gotten me in big trouble over the years, but that is another story. Bill gave me the South Second Street paper route that was full of lugubrious widows who inevitably invited me into their homes and plied me with white divinity candy and purple cool aid. I often forgot to charge for the paper. Bill was always patient with me though.
I on the other hand slept in my Dad’s bed whose ambitious extended no farther than King Tut Lake whose cypress knees hid four pound black bass who were the apex of his salutatory magnificent ambition. In fact, in my young life, I had heard so many stories about Buddy Berle, Dad’s hero and fishing buddy, that Mr. Berle had assumed epic proportions in my life. Apparently, Dad had spent 90% of his youth, and 75 % of his adulthood catching bass and crappie with Buddy. He was fond of saying that he would only take an old quilt provided by his Mammy Louise on fishing trips and he and Buddy would take everything else from the land. Except Vienna Sausages and Louisiana Hot Sauce. Dad had a definite weakness for Vienna Sausages and Louisiana Hot Sauce.
I am 59 today and I still wonder what happened. I never became a circus rider, never married the lovely Mademoiselle Jeanette. 6 year old Bill is right. I am hopelessly floundering in credit card debt—Bill once warned me, “You are like Dad. You should stay away from credit cards.” I have no clue how I will pay for my health insurance most days—and my toxic living habits pretty well make that important. Life is that way I suppose. In my weak moments I still ride those ponies with Toby Tyler. But in my more lucid moments I thank God for the life He has given me. If my life doesn’t have much cotton candy it provides other things, more nutritious, and as time has passed more wonderful. Even than the circus. Really.