Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tears of a clown

Parents worry about their kids. A lot. It’s in the job description, right up near the top. With all that worrying going on, some is bound to be unfounded, but I’m not sure how many other kids caused their parents to worry because of a clown.

My mother had a flair for the dramatic. Before she and my father were married, she acted in plays; somewhere I think I may have a copy of a favourable review of her in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan. Her acting career ended, as most women’s careers were meant to in those days, when she married.

Eventually my mother directed plays at the church. In addition to them, she wrote poetry, two unpublished children’s books and some published book reviews, she painted and sketched and she gave talks at her various women’s groups. I grew up assuming that every family had creative endeavours.

But there was one thing that—to me as a little kid—she seemed to excel at: Children’s birthday parties. It was one of these—for my fifth birthday—that caused my mother to worry about me intensely.

The theme of the party was the circus. In the living room, she set up a “centre ring” with benches for me and my guests to sit on as she performed with her marionettes (which, by the way, she made). The “side show” contained a “fat lady” (this was, of course, a long time ago, when such things were still socially acceptable): She stuffed one of her maternity dresses with pillows and made the face out of a Halloween mask of Wendy (the friend of “Caspar the Friendly Ghost”).

One of her planned highlights for the “games arcade” was a beanbag tossing game: We had a board with a clown painted on it with various holes to toss the beanbags through. Her idea was to make beanbag clowns for the kids, one each that they could take home with them.

As the birthday boy, I got to choose the fabric for my beanbag clown. But when my mother was ready to draw the face on my clown beanbag, I insisted the clown should be crying. Crying! My mother was almost instantly in a fit of worry, though she did as I asked. She wondered what could be wrong, what sort of message I was giving her or if I was secretly troubled by something. She said nothing.

More than a decade later, she finally asked me why I wanted my clown beanbag crying. “So it would different from all the other kids’ beanbags,” I told her. “That way I could be sure I had mine”. It was just a kid’s simple, territorial possessiveness at work and nothing more. Had she asked at the time, I would’ve told her, but instead she worried needlessly—for many years, apparently.

Parents worry about their children, regardless of whether the worrying is justified. I’m sure over the years I gave my parents a legitimate reason or two for their worrying, but the crying clown wasn’t one of them. Sometimes, even the tears of a clown mean nothing.

The photo at the top of this post shows the party when the cake was brought out. I’m the boy at the far end, in the red and black shirt—I guess that's kind of obvious, with the cake in front of me and all. Not surprisingly, I can’t remember the names of the other kids. Below is the table before the party, with the “fat lady” in the background. The basket in the middle of the table held our party favours—I think it was those beanbags. I scanned these photos from 35mm slides using a bad scanner, btw.


kim beaver said...

What a wonderful story :) And Arthur, you were an adorable child! (you still are adorable of course :)

btw - I instantly recognized you on the picture even before I read the story.

Arthur Schenck said...

Thanks! I'll let you in on a secret: There's actually another photo of the kids at the table, taken from the other side, but I didn't use it because I was making a stupid face. Apparently, I still do that…